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Ask Questions

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 9.50.32 AMI teach journalism at Purchase College, and I also give a fair number of lectures on writing, media, etc. It’s fun, fun, fun stuff. If writing books is my first love, and Alf re-runs are my second, teaching is third.

Oftentimes, I’m asked to offer to best advice for young students. My reply will differ depending on mood or thinking. Write creatively. Ponder outside the box. Creativity. Dig. Reporting. One or another or another—they’re all logical; all important.

Today, however, I have a new reply—and I’m standing by it.

Namely, ask questions.

Two weeks ago, Shawn Green, the former Los Angeles Dodger All-Star, Skyped with my class for 45 minutes. He was wonderful, and discussed everything from press coverage to hitting the opposite way to life after the game. When he was done, I opened the floor to questions for my 16 students. I’d say, five asked anything.

A week later, the great Armen Keteyian came to my class. He literally took the time to drive an hour from his home and spend, oh, two hours with my students. He was informative and funny and smart and fantastic with advice. Number of questions asked: Five.

Listen to me. Seriously, seriously listen to me: Ask questions. Asked two, three, four questions. These are your opportunities to interact with people you don’t normally interact with. They’re there—literally—for you. To help you.

I’m not in Shawn’s class or Armen’s class. I know this. But a few days ago, via Skype, I spoke with a journalism class at Linfield College. When it came time to ask questions, it was akin to yanking teeth. No hands, then one hand, then an awkward pause, then another hand. I do exactly what many of you want to do for your careers—and you can’t think of a single question? How about, “How much money do you make?” or “What’s the greatest moment?” Or, “What’s the lowest moment?” I have dozens of things I’d love to ask Shawn, Armen, the guy at the end of the bar. Truthfully, it’s the one thing you absolutely need to have in this field—true curiosity.

Dammit.

2 replies on “Ask Questions”

Semi-related anecdote: A year or so ago, I visited my college’s student newspaper as part of a visit organized by the journalism department. About 20 students were in attendance, along with several other journalism grads who now work in various publications ranging from trade magazines to the Wall Street Journal. The number of students who asked us questions after the event? None. We work in the field you, presumably, want to pursue and you have nothing to ask us? I left feeling unsettled.

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You guys are like dinosaurs… 🙂 they can google what they need to know, don’t need no stinkin’ old man to tell me nothing

Unsettled? Scared for the future might be better. On the other side, these are same feelings our parents had, right?

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