A middle-school mind is a terrible thing to waste

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — I’ve never been one to turn down a speaking engagement: Civitans, Rotary Club, church groups (believe it or not) and classrooms.

My most recent “guest shot” was last week at Lincoln Middle School, where two classes of teacher Kelly Pearce were learning about journalism. Pearce, whom I’d done a story about in the past when she was an award-winning teacher at Mountain View Middle School, asked, and I accepted. (It’s al-ways nice to be appreciated and sought out for your accomplishments.)

I liked that I saw: Pearce has what I consider to be a cool classroom, with words of wisdom evident: “Even Einstein asked questions,” “We will be kind” and “Words are powerful” are among the posters seen in the room.

The large classroom, which Pearce said had once housed the LMS wood shop, had computers in front of every student. Before my first words, the students logged into the Albuquerque Journal’s website to take a look at the latest happenings—including that bone-chilling polar vortex—and Pearce randomly called on a handful of students to give a capsule report of what they had read.

Once done, each gathered a carpet square and sat on the floor in front of me, and I gave answers—warning all that I talk fast, so they needed to be listening fast—to questions they had prepared and Pearce had emailed me in advance.

The youngsters wanted to know why I became a reporter, were there other jobs I pursued, what kind of education is needed, where did I go to college, what was my most-memorable interview, had I ever been in danger, had I interviewed anyone famous, what did I think about fake news, what are the differences between a reporter and editor, and not only what did I like about being a sports report-er/photographer, but what was my favorite sport?

Inquiring minds want to know, as they say, so I didn’t hold back. Not that I expect any of the 53 or so kids to follow in my footsteps—this is an honorable and noble profession, but I’m not confident in newspapers’ ability to survive in the next decade.

I told them how lucky they were, being able to go online, like with Bing and Google, to do research; back in my day, it required a trip to the library to check the Britannica or World Book encyclopedias, with often-outdated information—until the school or library could afford a new set.

Everybody wants something for free, but I remember a saying that, “You get what you pay for.”

Pearce asked me why the Observer doesn’t post every story online. That may have been the easiest question asked of me: Because we need revenue to keep the lights on, the WiFi going and our staff paid.

If you could get a meal or any kind of food off your iPhone, I said, restaurants wouldn’t be on social media.

But what we sell is content; we can only give away so much.

That’s why I’ll tease some content, such as posting scores of games on our Facebook page or website and saying complete stories and photos can be found in the Observer—the print edition.

I also explained how the Observer is a community newspaper – we don’t provide info on what’s going on in Washington, D.C., across the oceans or, for the most part, in Santa Fe.

There are other sources for that.

But if people want to know what’s going on in Rio Rancho—their community, just as Lincoln Middle School is its own community—then they need to get the Observer. I also suggested that if they want to be successful, not limited to being potential journalists, they should strive to be good readers and writers and keep up with their math skills—and eliminate, or at least cut down, on the use of “umm,” “ah,” and “like.” (Don’t get me started on other mostly useless words: both, different and however.)

I truly believe the kids got something out of it, even if my two “jokes” were over their heads.

As Pearce, who has an impressive résumé and has spent the past 13 years teaching in Rio Rancho Public Schools, emailed me, “Thanks again for sharing your expertise with my middle schoolers today. I am so grateful to have such passionate journalists in our community. It truly was such a blast to get to know you!”

Maybe I need an agent.