Kid-Wrangling 101

November 4, 2016
in Kids

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times. In this piece, Andy Newman, a metro reporter, shares what’s involved in helping a group of middle-school-age city kids produce the stories of their lives. It sounds so simple: “We asked New York City kids to record their daily lives and send us the footage,” says the title card of a recent Times video. “This is what we got.” What followed was a 10-minute video edited by my colleague Yousur Al-Hlou, along with a 4,000-word article called “What Makes a New York City Kid?,” in which about a dozen ordinary children of approximately middle school age from all over the city offered glimpses into their extraordinary lives. What had preceded that was more than a year of planning, procrastination, logistics, negotiation and kid-wrangling. It all began last fall with another one of those deceptively simple things, a breezy note from my editor. “Have we ever written a story about what makes a New York City kid?” Intriguing — and terrifyingly vague. I put it off for six months, until it became clear the assignment was not going away. The meetings began. How do we tell this story? Ideas were bandied back and forth in the kid-free reality vacuum of a newsroom. Wait, someone said. Let’s talk to kids all over the city and ask them what we should write about if we want to tell the story of growing up in New York. By then it was mid-August. Where do we find these kids? Summer programs were winding down. School wouldn’t start for weeks. Haunting the playgrounds seemed likely to result in arrest. A phrase I never expected or wanted to hear while reporting a story was uttered: focus groups. We started making calls — the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Children’s Aid Society, the Y.M.C.A. “We’re doing a story on growing up in New York City, and...

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