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Lucille Renwick is Executive Editor of Scholastic News for grades 4 through 6. Before coming to Scholastic, Lucille worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times newspaper in California and for The Hartford Courant newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut. As a newspaper reporter, Lucille learned the fundamentals of reporting, interviewing, and writing a story. She has covered politics, education, neighborhoods, healthcare, and poverty issues. Lucille's work as a reporter has taken her to the Mississippi Delta, Haiti, and South Africa. At Scholastic, Lucille helps develop and edit stories that run in the magazine. The best thing about being a journalist for Lucille is meeting people and learning something new every time she reports a story.

"You're constantly learning about different lives and ways of living," says Lucille. "And then when you write, you're able to teach other people about different issues or people they may never have thought about before. That's incredibly powerful and very fulfilling."

Before starting your article, you must know what you are going to be writing about! Then you must get some supporting information. Here are some tips by Lucille Renwick on how to come up with a topic and interview people.

Reporters usually get assignments from their editor. But the best reporters also come up with ideas for their own stories. How? They look, think, ask lots of questions, and talk with LOTS of people. One story I wrote involved kids living with their grandparents instead of their parents. The idea for this story came to me indirectly. While interviewing somebody for a different story, I learned about a woman who was raising her grandson. I later asked questions of a few other people and discovered that many kids live with and are raised by grandparents. I thought it would be great to do a story about this — to show kids and grandparents that they aren't alone.

Topics for stories are everywhere. Do you see a new student in the halls, a new teacher in the classrooms? Has your principal introduced any new programs or schedules that will affect students directly? These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself when looking for a news "hook" or angle. And keep in mind the timeliness of the topic. You may have an interesting subject, but it's not a news story unless something is going on that makes your subject of interest today.

Once you have a few ideas for stories you'd like to pursue, probe a little. If you want to write about new students, for example, ask a school official how many new students have enrolled this year. See if any of the students come from far away. Then try to get their names and phone numbers from the principal's office. Learn as much as you can before making calls. And think about what you'd like to ask. That way, you can prepare questions for your interviews.

While conducting interviews, you may find a whole new angle for the story. Be flexible. The idea you start out with may not make a good news story at all. And the next idea you discover may be just the thing! Follow your information — and instincts — to get the best story. (Be sure to bring a reporter's notebook and a few pens to each interview. If you have a small tape recorder, use that as a backup. But before you turn it on, inform your source that his or her comments will be recorded.)

Asking Questions
Always remember to ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? These are your building blocks to getting a good story. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Such questions don't tell you much, and they certainly don't give you any good quotes for your story. A good quote not only conveys information, it adds life and "color" to a story.

Don't ask: "Are there any new programs for school this year?"

Instead, ask: "What new programs are you introducing this year?"

If the answer is "none," probe further. Ask "Why not?" The answer to that question may be your story.

Make the person you interview talk specifics. Get the details!

If he or she responds vaguely, press for an explanation. If, for example, your principal tells you about vandalism problems at the school last year, ask for the details of specific incidents.

Ask: "How many kids were involved?" or "What was the worst incident?"

If you don't understand, ask again, in a different way. "Can you explain that?" Or, simply, "Give me an example."

Finally, verify your facts. You can get information from other news stories on the Web and in the paper, encyclopedias, and interviews. If you're unsure of something, find out who you can call to get information verified. One of the first people you interviewed may have said that the moon is made of cheese. Don't believe it until you talk to an astronomer or find the information on the NASA Web site.

A special warning about the Web: Not everything you find there can be trusted. While it is a useful research tool, you still have to confirm your information from at least two or three reputable sources: i.e. encyclopedias, government agencies, and/or national newspapers.

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