Forest Hills students grill veteran NBC 4 journalist

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Thirty student leaders from Richmond Hill, Forest Hills and Jamaica turned the tables on veteran NBC 4 journalist Gabe Pressman and his colleagues from the New York Press Club last Thursday at the District 28 Auditorium in Forest Hills as the kids lobbed their own questions for a change.

Why was there not more coverage of "good news"? Why are students and young people largely ignored by the press? How do members of the media feel about longer school days and extended school calendars, the students wanted to know.

And then there was sixth-grader Adar Tal of PS 99, who after a Clinton-Lewinsky palaver, asked Pressman point-blank: "Do you think that people deserve some privacy? Do you think that people go too far with reporting?" Pressman replied with a succinct: "Yes."

The students, participants in District 28's student leadership forum, met the panel of reporters and school officials to discuss media concerns and to present findings of a districtwide poll of 9,500 students, grades 5 through 9, on their sources of news and current events.

"When I was your age, we had 10 minutes of national news, 15 minutes of world news," Community Superintendent Neil Kreinik told the students. "Now you see news on TV all day long. When I was your age, I had to get the newspaper to get the details."

Conducted in mid-January by teachers, the poll revealed that 30 percent of the students received their news through reading newspapers, 25 percent through cable television news, 20 percent through non-cable television news, 10 percent through the Internet, 10 percent through radio, and 5 percent through magazines.

The students told reporters Pressman, Carol Anne Riddell, education reporter for NBC 4, and Deborah Wetzel, a former radio journalist with WCBS FM and AM and now a spokeswoman for the city School Construction Authority, that they often thought the press went "a little bit too far."

Pressman agreed, citing the drastic shift in the public's perception of journalists since the early '70s.

"When Woodward and Bernstein exposed Watergate - you've read about that and heard about that in your history and social studies classes," Pressman told the pre-teens, "every kid getting out of college wanted to be a journalist. But it's no longer a prestigious occupation."

Instead the profession tends to be viewed skeptically by most people, Pressman said, and Riddell added that many put journalists in the same league as lawyers.

Also polled were the news topics that appealed to the students. Some 40 percent said world news was of greatest interest to them, while 25 percent said sports news was their primary interest, 20 percent said entertainment news, and 10 percent said government news was their greatest interest. The final 5 percent was "other."

In response to several students' criticism of the press's focus on "bad news" and gossip, Riddell posed the following question: "How many of you heard about Jennifer Lopez and Puffy breaking up?" A sprouting of some 15 slender arms extended into the air within seconds.

"You see, it sells," Riddell told the students. "We say we don't want negative news, but everybody's talking about it."

Everybody, that is except for the students' parents who sat nearby in the audience dumbfounded. "I didn't know about that," one parent said of the high-profile breakup.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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