'What is it you say you do here?'

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 05:06 AM

I have never been one to toot my own horn about what I do or my career.

So, imagine my surprise when I was asked to do just that during Career Day at Cliffside Elementary on Friday morning.

For the week or so leading up to my presentation, I was somewhat nervous over what I would say.

Exactly how do I tell fourth and fifth graders about what I do?

I was assured by some people not to worry and that it would be easy.

So, I figured the easy thing would be to start off with a question:

"How many of you have heard of The Daily Courier?"

Hands spring up across the room. I was very encouraged by the fact that fourth and fifth graders had heard of the newspaper. I thought things were definitely starting off on the right foot.

"How many of your parents get The Daily Courier?"

"Well, we don't get it but my mom gets our neighbor's paper and reads it and puts it back."


Then I dive a little into my background. Instead of focusing on papers that I had worked for, I decided to talk about what events I had been able to cover over the course of my career.

I talked about college football, murders, interviewing inmates on death row and the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo. where I had the chance to do a story involving a visit from President Barack Obama.

I figured the president or college football would illicit several questions but, alas, I was incorrect.

"Who is the coolest person you have interviewed?"

"Well, that is a little subjective," I replied. "It really depends on what your definition of 'cool' is."

So, I explained that, while being able to interview prominent musicians and actors is great, the coolest person I ever interviewed was a 90-year-old woman who spent her time, money and energy knitting hats for underprivileged youth in her community.

That took the kids aback a little bit. I'm sure they figured I would say someone like Jay-Z, LeeAnn Rimes or some other pop culture figure. I guess I wanted to illustrate that there are different "shades" of cool.

"Have you ever had your life threatened because of a story?"

"At one point, that was happening just about every day," I responded.

At that moment, eyes became as wide as saucers. Probably more so because there was the thought that I could write something that would call my life into question, no so much that it would actually happen.

"So, what do you do now?"

"Well, I get to do a little bit of everything," I said. "I get to write, look at other stories and plan how they appear in the paper."

"Have you seen anyone die before?"

"Yes I have," I replied. But I wanted to get out of that arena of conversation quick because I was a little afraid of being too graphic for the likes of the students at Cliffside Elementary.

"Do you have a boss?"

"Of course," I said. "I have a boss in the office and she has a boss and he has a boss."

"Do they tell you what to write?"

"No, we don't have anyone tell us what we can and can't write," I said. "But, that doesn't mean that we can just write whatever we want. We have guidelines that we have to follow and there are things that we can and can't say."

"So, you can't just write anything about anybody?"

"No, we have to make sure that what we write can be proven. Now, we can express opinions about things but that is for another page."

"Ah ..."

After it was all said and done, I had a huge sigh of relief, looked back and was happy with the fact that I got to share a little bit about our profession with younger generations.

It's not everyday that journalists get that kind of opportunity.

And, the kids at Cliffside Elementary were very attentive, excited and asked very good questions of me, my job and this profession.

It served as a reminder of why it is we do what we do every day.


Matthew Clark is the Editor of The Daily Courier. He can be reached at 828-202-2927 or emailed at mclark@thedigitalcourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @UMass_MClark or @TDCMatt