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This February, students from WHEELS, our Network School in Washington Heights, had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a New York institution: the New York Times office in Times Square.

These lucky students were finishing off a week-long Intensive called “Writing in New York.” Intensives, a regular feature in our schools, are opportunities for students to engage in an in-depth, multi-disciplinary study of one topic. Academic classes are suspended during Intensives while students explore their chosen topic as a group and complete fieldwork, or research outside of their classroom, often with experts and professionals.

During “Writing in New York,” students studied everything, from poetry to storytelling to journalism.  The students toured the main branch of the New York Public Library to observe how other New Yorkers interact with public text and writing, and visited the African National Burial Ground to get inspiration for their own creative writing. They also had a visit from filmmaker Trevor Martin, whose documentary “Ballplayer: Pelotero” looks at the recruitment of young players in the Dominican Republic, who talked about telling true stories through film.  

The Intensive culminated in fieldwork at the New York Times. Students had a Q & A with Mara Gay, a Times journalist and member of the paper’s editorial board. They learned about how the newspaper is put together, the difference between editorials and news reporting, and heard stories about the lengths to which some reporters will go for a story.  “You’re never bored in this job,” Mara said when a student asked what made her want to be a journalist.

Next, three of the paper’s podcast producers joined the panel. Podcasts, or audio broadcasts that can be played on demand from your phone, have become a popular way for traditional media publishers to reach new audiences.  Jessica Cheung and Clare Toeniskoetter, two producers of the Times’ hit podcast “The Daily,” were joined by “Still Processing” producer Neena Pathak to answer the students’ questions about what makes a good story and how they use audio to enhance what might already be available in the printed paper.

One student remarked “It was interesting how different the two [podcasts] were. One was like a conversation and the other was about what was actually happening in the world.” Added another student, “I didn’t know that podcasts were sometimes news-related. I thought they were all chat!”

Finally, former publisher and current chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. visited the students to talk about the history of the Times, how news media has evolved, and his own career pathway. He wrapped up the students’ visit with a tour of Pulitzer Hall, where Times’ journalists are celebrated for their Pulitzer-winning work. “You’re almost out of space on the wall!” one student pointed out. “That’s a good problem to have!” Mr. Sulzberger responded.

In the lobby on the way out, one student reflected, “This trip motivated me: when I’m doing my own writing for an upcoming assignment in school.  The fact that we met these people will push me to do better and do the extra steps that I don’t do now in my writing.”

Huge thanks to everyone at the New York Times for making this visit possible.


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