Kenilworth middle schooler joins reporting ranks

KENILWORTH, N.J. — Bobby Liberatos doesn’t have an editor in quite the same tradition as Perry White and Jonah Jameson, of comic book fame, or even Lou Grant, of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” but the David Brearley Middle School eighth-grader is learning journalism.

Chosen as one of 50 students from hundreds of applicants worldwide for the nine-month Scholastic Kids Press program, Bobby is learning what it is to be a reporter — and dealing with editors.
“They do minor edits and suggestions,” he said in a Nov. 11 interview with LocalSource. “Sometimes, they help you get press clearances for events, and if you’re really stuck with stories, they can give you ideas for stories.”

For the program, students between 10 and14 years old are chosen to write for the Scholastic Kids Press website and its affiliated Scholastic Classroom magazines. To be selected, students must write a news story, come up with story ideas and compose a personal essay, then the “kid reporters” are chosen based on their writing ability, interviewing skills and attention to detail.

Suzanne McCabe, an editor with Scholastic Kids Press, said she and her colleagues guide the students at every step of the process.

“I help the kid reporters with their articles from start to finish,” she said. “Either I assign a story, or they pitch a story to me, and I guide them through the interview process, crafting questions to ask, remaining neutral and unbiased for information through their peers.”

While Bobby said he hasn’t encountered any difficulties as a reporter yet, he anticipates that coming up with ideas for stories might be a challenge.

“You aren’t writing 24 hours a day, so you want to use your time wisely,” he said. “I learn about the topic, I learn about the job that journalists are doing every day, and it’s definitely a learning experience.”

Recently Bobby took a trip with his father to Rutgers University, which hosted an event for child entrepreneurs. At the event, which was a combination of entrepreneurship and entertainment, Bobby interviewed four entrepreneurs.

“I interviewed a few of them, and I’m in the process of writing that right now,” he said.
According to Bobby’s father, Angelo Liberatos, his son “was very impressed by the creativity of the kids there. I just think, you know, all these kids have amazing talent, so that’s what he got out of it.”

One youngster “made African artifacts and sold those online,” Angelo Liberatos said. “He also interviewed a girl. She was an author who sold self-help books and she wrote a novel. The other one was the Singing Telegrams — they send you an online message.

“He got some good experience with the process of reporting, and he was enlightened by it.”

The Scholastic Kid Reporters program was created in 2000 to interest young readers in the presidential elections. The program has expanded and has gone international. McCabe said Scholastic Kids Press looks for children with a strong sense of curiosity about the world and a passion for writing. She said the young writers typically gain confidence and are different people by the time the program is finished.

“We’re very proud that we’ve given kids an opportunity to grow and develop as reporters, as journalists,” she said. “We have kids that have grown up and are working in news organizations around the country, and that means a lot to us.”

Bobby Liberatos said his real desire is to write about big issues.

“I would like to do local issues that resonate nationally, so I’m writing about the PennEast Pipeline,” he said, referring to the proposed 115-mile natural gas pipeline from Dallas, Pa., to Pennington. “It’s a local story that has national implications on energy. You have to have a fine balance between your environment and profit.”

Overall, he said that his favorite topics to report on are those that affect people, saying, “You don’t want to make the story about something really trivial.”