The Importance of An Actual Newspaper

When I decided to start holding daily news meetings with my class, I knew one of the most important details would be to have an actual, physical newspaper in the classroom each day.  We could have gotten a cheap classroom digital account from the New York Times.  Why bother with the actual paper delivery?

Why? This isn’t just about information.  It’s about discovery. There’s something about holding the actual newspaper in your hands, not knowing what you’ll find, what might jump out at you, when you turn the page.  And this is going to be one of the ways you’ll interest and intrigue your students. They are going to find stories they never would have expected. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt, maybe even a bit of a risk. Plus there’s just an intangible sense of control when you’re holding a newspaper in your hands.

Would we have clicked on a story about a farmer growing Frankenstein pumpkins, or Legos from an long-ago sunken freighter still washing up on beaches, or a giant sequoia tree in California being toppled by a storm?  I don’t know. Maybe.  I do know that students finding those stories, on their own while paging through the actual newspaper, was part of the reason our discussions on those days were so successful.

This presents its own dilemma, though.  If you have the newspaper itself in your classroom, won’t your students find stories they maybe shouldn’t be reading? They might find a story that challenges their family’s personal or political beliefs.  They might read about someone living a lifestyle they can’t understand.  They might see a report that’s disturbing in the utter inhumanity people can show to each other.

Yes. They might. And this is part of the experience, and so I’ll write much, much more about having these difficult conversations in your classroom.

But first, I should say that the greater (and thankfully more remote) danger is that they might stumble across something they *really* shouldn’t be seeing, a horrific image from a bombing or a graphic detail in a sexual assault story.  This is why you will want to preview the newspaper each day before putting it out.  The really, really good news on this is: newspapers have editors. And editors have standards. And they have policies and they have discussions and they absolutely want to make sure they’re not publishing anything shocking just for the sake of being shocking.  They take their jobs seriously.

And yet …  News meetings can be hard. They present us with difficult decisions.

The day of my first news meeting, I had a choice.  There were two intriguing front-page stories. One was about a pregnant woman in a coma, being kept on life support to protect the life of her unborn baby.  The other was about … I can’t remember.  I do know I chose to discuss that other story at our first meeting. It was safer. The first was so full of land mines and I might not know how to navigate around them, questions about when life starts and ethical concerns that edged close to abortion discussions.  I just wasn’t ready for that on my first day.

But you’ve already guessed the end to that one, haven’t you? All the students wanted to talk about was that pregnant woman in a coma. And so we did. They were interested enough to want to know more, to look up the Fort Worth, Texas daily newspaper online to answer the questions that weren’t addressed in the New York Times story.  And when the woman was taken off a ventilator and died several weeks later, a student was the first to tell me.  She’d heard it on the news and wanted me to know.

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