Students who rely on technology to communicate may find interviewing sources challenging. - Paula Wolfe

Today’s incoming high school freshmen have a handicap that their elders do not:  They can't talk to people.

Having spent their formative years texting, tweeting and Facebooking, these young people find it difficult to carry on a face-to-face conversation.  Simply put, Generation Z is shy.

Dependence on tech-talk creates communication apprehension for student journalists and hinders fair and balanced reporting.  When student reporters base their source selection on whom they are comfortable speaking with, content and credibility are automatically biased.

Lisa Blanco, a recent graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University said that social media may be behind this apprehension.  

"There is no reason to have a conversation anymore," she said.

Any information a person needs is readily available on a Facebook page.  No one has to talk.

Because of the tendency to hide behind a computer screen, students pursuing degrees in journalism are coming to college without the most elementary conversational skills.

Blanco said that social media can be a wonderful tool for interviewing if used correctly.

"However, many people use social media very differently," Blanco said.  "They use it as a platform to boost their identity.  They use it as a crutch."

"When students get started, there's no confidence, no sense of authority, " said Mark Lodato, assistant dean and news director at the Cronkite School.

“We are constantly kicking students out the door to get their interviews,” Lodato said.

Conversational skills are addressed in Lodato’s classes. “It may sound silly, but we tell them, ‘Look them in the eye, [give them a] strong handshake,’” Lodato said.

Communication apprehension was a problem for students in ASU's Barrett Summer Scholars Program which draws gifted middle school students for a preview of college life.

Liz Smith who directs the program at the Cronkite School said, these students lacked a "face-to-face skill set."

“These were the best and the brightest, and when it came to interviewing, they struck out," Smith said. 

The Cronkite School's Barrett Summer Scholars course titled, Basics of Journalism, covers reporting and writing a story, ethics, objectivity, basic multimedia and how to build a career in journalism. 

Fifteen of the 17 scholars came back from their first interview experience with no interview, Smith said

"I was really surprised.  I told them, 'You have to get your interviews, or you're not going to be in the business,'" Smith said. 

If students are uncomfortable interviewing the best sources, they may choose to interview only people they know, leading to bias in their stories.

To combat this, Alan Weintraut, an award-winning high school journalism teacher at Annandale (Va.) High School, requires his students to submit a list of their 10 closest friends at the start of the school year.  Then he tells them, “I better never see one of these names in your story.”

Jill Cassidy, the Arizona Republic's Travel Editor, is far removed from the struggles of budding journalists, but said she can see that social media usage leads to communication apprehension.

“Most would agree the use of technology has affected social skills,” Cassidy said. 

Yet Cassidy noted the benefits of reporters using different methods of collecting information. 

“Today reporters can do a boggling amount of work,” Cassidy said.  “We have a bigger toolbox.”

Cassidy said email reporting is not bad unless it’s the only method used. 

“You can’t get the whole story without talking,” Cassidy said.  “Meeting a person face to face makes your story more rich.”

Cassidy said all professional life requires speaking directly.

“The problem is way bigger than journalism class,” Cassidy said. “This stuff is always on the test… every day of your life.”

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  • When students only interview sources they are comfortable speaking with, news content and credibility are automatically biased.
    By Paula Wolfe

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Cronkite Connection ASNE Reynolds HSJ Institute at Arizona State University Phoenix, AZ
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