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Opinion: Teaching the next generation about real news

Adventures in Ink

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I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least one future journalist in Kacey Evan’s third-grade classroom at Ozark South Elementary.

They kept Springfield Business Journal Associate Publisher Marty Goodnight and I busy when we visited last month. Met with a host of thoughtful questions, we answered for nearly an hour, before making paper snowflakes from pages of the newspaper.

It’s going to be a lively school year spent with these students – our Adopt-A-Class.

This is SBJ’s first year of involvement with the Ozark Chamber of Commerce program, which connects local businesses to classrooms. However, it’s my fourth year. When I came to SBJ in September, I knew this staff needed to be engaged in Adopt-A-Class – and not just because it’s a great excuse to do cut-and-paste arts and crafts.

As a newspaper, I believe being involved with the next generation is incredibly critical, especially at this point in our nation’s history. Often, we take for granted just how much young children are absorbing from the world around them – sound bites taken from the TV or radio, or words on the pages of a paper.

Their minds are sponges.

Courtesy of the internet and social media, anyone can have a platform and this can be a primary caveat for the true form of “fake news.” And considering the current temperature toward “the media,” it’s imperative to know how to identify true sources of information and sound journalism – plus, how to differentiate between fluctuating opinion and undisputed fact.

In our world today, the one our children will inherit, it’s more vital than ever.

Their world is fascinating – full of technological advances that not long ago seemed like something out of a science fiction movie. Uber’s making flying cars? We can print organs for surgery? Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme joined an executive meeting as a 3-D hologram? It’s unbelievable.

Technology also brings greater access to information than ever before. Rather than consulting the library encyclopedias like I did when writing a school paper, these students hold enormous amounts of information literally in the palm of their hand.

It’s incredible. It’s also a lot of responsibility.

And this is where we must teach them to think like journalists, and likewise act that way ourselves. Is this information accurate? Where is it sourced? Who is cited and are they an expert in the field? Is this opinion or is this based on verifiable fact?

Were you a child who was told they asked too many questions? Yeah, me too. But I encourage all the children in my life to ask all the questions they possibly can. It’s a matter of healthy skepticism, learning and pursuing truth.

According to the Pew Research Center, about four in 10 Americans get their news online – with 57 percent watching TV and 20 percent reading print newspapers. That online use includes social media, websites and apps. Americans who get news on their mobile devices increased to 72 percent from 54 percent in three years from 2013-16.

And this is the part of the study that made me nervous: “About two-thirds of Americans say family and friends are an important way they get news, whether online or offline; 10 percent see them as the most important.”

Think scrolling through Facebook and Twitter.

And while it’s a right to share your thoughts on whatever platform you choose, it’s easily forgotten that Facebook really is one big opinion page.

It’s not a reliable source of news information, but it’s an excellent catalyst for conversation – or at least it could be.

Through Adopt-A-Class, my main mission is to show students how journalists ask good questions and lots of them.

And our class? They’re well on their way.

A few of them were even double checking our numbers and using that to calculate the net worth of SBJ while we were talking. I’m telling you, there are some future journalists in the making in that classroom.

But even if they don’t follow that profession, they’re already cultivating forward-thinking and curious minds. They’re asking questions and then some, and then verifying the information they absorb. Wow.

Certainly, there’s a thing or two we all can learn from them, as well.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Hanna Smith can be reached at hsmith@sbj.net.

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