It seems so obvious — teaching journalism to expand a student’s worldview and help them be better writers.
John Vitti, a 30-year veteran of sports desks in Boston newspapers, was trying to help his daughter write a paper. Like a lot of kids who have to write something for school, she was stumped.
The problem with writing when you’re new to it is that there isn’t typically one correct answer, unlike math or history.
“If I say, describe my shirt, it’s got spots on it, it’s long-sleeved, it’s rolled up, it’s got a pizza stain. What’s the right answer? They’re all right,” he says. “That’s the hard part. The only way to become proficient is to become comfortable making those 10,000 decisions that go into each sentence.”
If kids, starting at young ages in school, had to write more, or were given the chance to write more, they’d feel more comfortable and be more successful with each assignment. By the time it came around to college admission essays and papers and job applications, the blank page wouldn’t be such a challenge.
“We started a newspaper, the Cunniff Kids News, in 2007, just online. We co-opted a teacher page. Whoever wanted to do it could do it. They could talk about new teachers or broken lockers or school lunches. It’s who, what, where, when and descriptions and quotes. It was fantastic.”
Introducing young students to the concepts of journalism, not just writing, opens up new educational opportunities for them as well. The program has evolved into Headliners in Education, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works with students, teachers, and schools across the country.
“Let’s say you like politics and you’re in high school,” Vitti says. “You’re going to learn about 1776 and the Civil War and the Great Depression. You can write about the 2020 presidential election campaign and #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, the school election, town council and the dress code. You have a whole world of different opportunities.”
Another student interested in another topic can approach their lessons in the same way, gaining a richer experience and understanding of the world around them.
“Even at the youngest ages, down to Pre-K, if they’re writing about their soccer team, the writing, the reporting, the picture taking, working with kids, working with boys, working with girls, the please and thank yous and thinking on your feet and asking follow-up questions, those are all wonderful skills that come into play later on,” Vitti continues. “A kid working as a journalist has a much more fulfilling and enriching educational experience.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks to John Vitti, a veteran of Boston newspapers, about Headliners in Education, a program that teaches students the basics of journalism as a way to expand their worldview and to become comfortable with writing.