As a journalist, I am not used to being on the other side of questions. Yet that’s where I found myself last Friday, when I visited a young reporters’ club at the Barnegat Library.
Youth Services Librarian Lisa Taylor organized the club around the children’s book character of Geronimo Stilton, who is a mouse and a reporter. Through exploration of the mouse’s adventures, Taylor decided to educate young people grades 2 through 5 on the profession of a journalist, and invited me as a speaker.
Taylor and the kids have been working on listening skills, map-reading skills and learning to ask questions. When Taylor had the kids do a “scavenger hunt” in a newspaper, she realized newspapers are a pretty foreign object to these young people.
“They are the children of the digital age,” Taylor said, explaining why she wanted to introduce the Patch to them. “I am showing them the bridge between how it was and how it is now.”
I came prepared with a notebook (the old-fashioned white and blue reporter's notebook kind), filled with questions for the kids. But I didn’t realize, the kids had notebooks of their own at the ready. These kids get asked enough questions in school, I guess, because they were a lot more interested in things that they wanted to know.
Practically the moment I walked in, hands rose high in the air, and questions flew at me from all sides.
“How old are you?”
"How many stories have you written – and how many do you write per day?”
“Have you ever written a robbery?”
“Have you ever written about someone being sick at the hospital?”
“Do you have a code name?”
“Why did you want to be a journalist?”
On the other side of being questioned, I found it isn’t always easy to come up with a snappy quote on the spot. They watched me intently, as they tried to scribble down my answers into their own little notepads.
I had to really think about how many stories I have ever written. “Hundreds?” I said, a question in my voice.
I told them covering a robbery isn’t as dangerous or exciting as they probably think – that it mostly involves sitting in courtrooms or talking to the police on the telephone. I told them with pride how I once spent a rather sleepless night with a first aid squad, riding an ambulance from homes to hospitals, watching these people save lives.
I also told them that though journalists sometimes are forced to behave sort of like spies, they don’t usually hide behind a codename.
(Even though, they got me thinking, “Natasha” would be kind of cool…)
And yes, of course I shared my age with them – I am 34. It was only fair for me to answer it, because I always have to ask the subjects of my own interviews this very question.
But the last question was the hardest one of all.
Most kids usually grow up wanting to be teachers, artists, baseball stars, princesses. In fact, none of the kids in the Geronimo Stilton Club wanted to be reporters. I didn’t blame them. One of them – Kailey Ferguson, “age 8 and a little more than three-quarters” – said she will “feed the president” when she grows up and becomes a chef at the White House.
So, why did I choose this profession?
I like to write, is one possible answer.
It’s in my blood, is another one. My mother tried to build a career as a journalist when she was young, though in the Soviet Union in the 1970s that career was frought with its own unique dangers and roadblocks.
But for me the truth is deeper, and maybe more confusing than that.
The truth is, journalism is something I just sort of gravitated toward as a college student. In funny ways that it happens in life sometimes – in ways kids may not easily understand – journalism chose me.
Asking questions and observing the world around me, then sharing what I have learned with everyone else, it felt as though fate itself handed me that task.
And, hanging out with the young-not-really-reporters whose curiosity about their world delighted me, I was glad of it.