How That WNYC Reporter Got So Much Access

Thekids

Q Daily, center-left, and Sadie Erickson raise their hands in their third grade classroom at The Brooklyn New School. (Brad Horrigan/WNYC)

If you happened to miss it, be sure to check out WNYC reporter Yasmeen Khan’s new series on a transgendered elementary school student who attends a Brooklyn school. Where Does a Transgender Child Fit In at School?How Schools Support Transgender ChildrenCreating Safe Spaces for Transgender KidsA Child Moves From ‘She’ to ‘He’ With Confidence.

Gender-nonconforming students are a topic that schools and education news junkies have been learning about a lot recently.Just last week, I wrote here about an education reporter’s description of her child’s evolution and how the school responded. And of course Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.

What makes Khan’s piece particularly notable, however, is the incredibly level of access she gets to the family and the school.

Schools, districts, and teachers are all notoriously reluctant to let reporters in to see their inner workings, and the NYC Department of Education has at times been widely known to be hard for reporters to get access to. And yet Khan’s stories are full of classroom, lunchroom, and recess scenes, interviews with teachers and students, and even pictures from inside the school with students’ faces. 

Asked via Twitter about how she did it, Khan told her secrets, which include not only good old Southern charm but also a two-step process in which she first went and met families and school officials without her tape recorder or notepad and only later returned with her official equipment. 

The full response (over several different Tweets: “I spent some time just introducing myself & explaining what I wanted to do. … I first met w/ his teachers after school (no recorder or note pad) just to chat. Same w/ Q’s mom. Trust was key… In other words, I did a lot of talking and “hello-ing” before I started to collect any tape.”

Too many reporters, rushed or fearing the loss of some critical tidbit, start out in reporter mode rather than taking the time to get comfortable with potential sources ahead of time. I’ve certainly been guilty of this.

But Khan’s series (and others like it) suggest that going slower at the start, perhaps even putting the tape recorder or notebook down, can yield really strong, in-depth pieces of journalism.

Related posts: Little Caitlyn Jenners Showing Up At School Every DayCA May Allow Trans Kids To Pick Teams (2013); Trans at 16  (2013); What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress? (2012); HS Quarterback & Valedectorian Now Transgendered (2010); Our Soon-To-Be Outdated Beliefs (About Education) (2009); Transgendered In The Classroom (2008); Bad Beef, Bad Hawaii, Cross-Dressing Kids

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.