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Probing and tickling the soft underbelly of journalism

This column was a shared venture among reporters until Jan Glidewell, who retired last week, took it over full time many years ago. The column will return to its multiauthor roots until a replacement is named.

CHASE SQUIRES
Published August 31, 2003

Some aspiring young journalists from Mrs. Picone's Pasco High School journalism class call on me.

"Yo," they say, through Mrs. Picone. "We're starting a school newspaper."

They want to pick my brain, get inside my head and really dig around, suck the knowledge and wisdom from my mind like marrow from a human femur that you found in a field when you weren't even looking, but you stumbled on it and you wondered if you should call the cops or just run away because it gives you the creeps, but you're inexplicably drawn to it, and now you end up hiding it under the spare tire of your wife's SUV.

"Chase," they ask, "can you fit everything important about journalism into one column?"

Yes.

First, get a paper and a pen. No, wait, get the facts. No, get a diet soda.

And get one of those cell phones that plays games. A cell phone that plays games is the best friend a reporter could have, aside from a cat that can type and coughs up solid gold hairballs.

The students tell me they want a name for their paper. They consider something to go with Pasco High School's mascot, a cutthroat, smelly, unshaven, pirate riddled with scurvy and gone half mad from the sun - indeed, not much different than a professional journalist.

Top choices are The Blade, The Sabre, The Crow's Nest, and The Helm.

Personally, I vote for "What's Under The Spare Tire Of Your Teacher's SUV."

But the young journalists instead chose "Lurid High School Tales of Deceit and Mayhem."

That's not really true. I was using "journalistic license." See, they're learning about "ethics" already.

So I tell them, a cell phone that plays games is almost as good as a magic cat. Especially around this time of year, when a journalist must find a distraction during long meetings where local government bodies wrangle over something called "millage."

For those who missed Pasco High School's journalism class, a millage rate determines the amount of rainfall a city or "unincorporated body" will see over the course of a year.

Last year's millage rate must have been very high. I wasn't paying attention.

This year? Well, hold on. There's still plenty of time for wrangling.

As journalists know, there will also be mulling, along with the wrangling, among the people who run our government ("solons.")

There could also be some grappling and sparring. And chariot races.

No, that was Ben-Hur.

But it's an example of how governing is done. As journalists, these fresh students must "understand" what is going on and shape it in such a way to inflame readers.

To do this, a journalist must ask probing questions. I tell the students probing is key. They should prepare to probe many soft underbellies. Underbelly probing cannot be underestimated.

As an example:

"What do you want from your government?" I ask the students.

"A tennis stadium," they say.

Okay, that's a gimme. Pasco County solons are mulling a tennis stadium. I predict anarchy. No one will want to go to work anymore. We'll all go to the tennis stadium. Every day.

Tennis is America's Pastime, or America's Sweetheart, or Really Dull. I can't remember which.

Besides, Hernando County already stole the popular Lawn Bowling Stadium idea.

So, during meetings, journalists should look up once in a while from their cell phones that play games and write "notes" in a notebook.

Only then can a journalist inform the public that to raise money for things like a tennis stadium, the county will have to charge homeowners more for the "recycled" sewage they spray on their lawns, because charging people actual money to spray recycled human excrement on their lawns is just good government.

Not really. Tennis money actually comes from a tax charged on the "unincorporated bodies" found in hotel beds.

Eventually the tennis stadium will support itself through paid admissions.

Hahahahahaha.

And so, dear pirate students, I bid you well. Seek truth, pay for your own lunch and record your overtime. They always stick it to you on overtime.

I leave the mantle of journalism in your able hands, or hooks.

I'm going home to probe my cat's soft underbelly.

Come on golden hairball.

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