The Suffolk County News is dedicated to keeping local journalism vital and central to the community. As part of that pledge to our readers and our local towns, we led a journalism merit badge project for two local Boy Scouts of America troops, Bohemia Girls Troop 572 and Troop 76.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, 12 BSA scouts met at the Islip Grange on a chilly afternoon. Socially distanced and masked, the scouts brought their inquisitiveness, attention, and enthusiasm to the workshop. (Note: The session was conducted by SCN reporter Sam Desmond.)
The purpose of the event was to teach scouts about the basics and intricacies of being a modern-day journalist and how to go about pursuing a story themselves, highlighting the tenets of honesty and accuracy.
Discussing what issues they had when observing the news, scouts reported that a lot of what they had witnessed was biased, where reporters gave their own version or in favor of their internal views instead of a neutral account.
To combat that predilection, Suffolk County News discussed with the scouts how to focus their curiosity and be steadfast in getting to the crux of a story.
The scouts were assigned to read a previously written human-interest profile in last week’s issue of the Suffolk County News and asked what questions did they think were asked to generate the article.
What they learned was that most questions were not predetermined and that the best interviews are a fluid conversation between reporter and interviewee, where the latter guides the process and the former delves into each statement to extract the deeper truth or other information.
Prepping for an interview with Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-8th District), the scouts paired off and interviewed each other about how the pandemic had affected them in their return to school this fall.
The scouts honed their skill of keeping a conversation going and how to get to the meat of a statement. Often, it was as simple as just asking “why?” as a follow-up question, but the scouts learned to rely on their instincts of curiosity.
When it came to Piccirillo’s turn, the scouts were able to cover biographical as well as probative performance answers.
Below are some examples:
Q: What is the main purpose of your job?
AP: I feel like serving the public and helping those who don’t have a voice is part of my job.
Q: Did you have to go through any previous elections for this position?
AP: Yes, I went through two elections for this position.
Q: Can you talk about the results of those elections?
AP: One was in 2017, where I lost by 220 votes, and one was in 2019 where I won by 222 votes.
Q: What are some issues you face on the daily as county legislator?
AP: Many of the issues that I face are regarding the cost of living and quality of life. These include if the roads are paved and if parks are clean.
Q: How would you solve these issues?
AP: Many issues we are faced with are dealt with other government officials. I call them and let them know the issues and they take care of them.
Q: So you enjoy your job?
AP: Yes, I enjoy the job.
Q: Where are you from?
Q: When were you elected?
AP: I was elected into office on Nov. 5.
Q: What is your opinion on COVID?
AP: It’s very dangerous and it’s still here, so we should all follow safety protocols and be safe.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
AP: The favorite part of my job is helping people that don’t know where to turn if they have a problem.”
BSA Scout Troop 76 leader Brienne Johnson said, “This merit badge teaches scouts how it is more important than ever for scouts to understand finding facts and honesty in reporting. Most of what can be found in TV is editorial and littered with anchors’ opinion. Classes like this offer scouts an interactive experience. They were able to meet a journalist, receive guidance on how to interview a local legislator and create the story.”
Echoing the sentiment was BSA Bohemia Girls Troop 572 leader, Gesele Barile, who said, “The journalism merit badge provides tools for scouts to learn, understand and ask questions, which help them make better and sound decisions relating to their communities, government including family and their own personal lives.”