You Can’t Teach Curiosity

A Scrabble Board with the word Curiosity and Teach

“You can’t teach curiosity,” I found myself saying to a colleague recently. We were discussing an inexperienced reporter who we wondered if we could help become a good journalist.

As a career journalist and communicator, I often meet students and young journalists or consult with managers who either want to improve the quality of their journalism or help others do the same.

Like many students coming out of schools, this reporter had the basic technical skills. She could turn on a camera and stand in front of it. She was presentable and had on-camera ability. She could edit her own video. In general, she could write a script but all too often she would miss a piece of the story or the point of it. She would complain that she wasn’t familiar with the material before arriving on the scene and felt confused once she was there.

That reporter, like many, plans a career “in television.” But she lacks the most fundamental need of all–curiosity. A good journalist–whether multiplatform or otherwise–needs to be a “why” person–wanting to know how and why everything around him works. He needs to want to know everything he can about his surroundings, about business, politics, nature, history, how people live and play. The more curious the better. No one person can know everything but willingness to learn is key. A journalist needs to be a quick study, absorbing what is being explained to her and making sure she understands what’s important at that moment–understanding it well enough to explain it to someone else. A deep interest in all things lays a terrific groundwork for broad knowledge.

I am often asked what’s the best training to be a journalist. Good writing skills are fundamental but beyond that, the answer is “READ and WORK!”

Here’s what I mean by those two simple words: Read everything you can. See things. Do things you might not otherwise. Add biography and history to your list. Head to museums and historic sites. Listen to music of all kinds and see films of all genres. Watch documentaries and news magazine programs. Be filled with wonder and read enough to answer your questions and to ask more.

Work at all kinds of part-time jobs. The current climate of internships is narrowing the way students learn. They come into the job market only knowing about their field and the same kind of people who work in that field. For a journalist this is too limiting. Would-be journalists need to seize every opportunity to learn about how the world ticks and how a cross-population of people live, working with people from different backgrounds than their own. Maybe it’s a job in a diner next to the waitress who is working two jobs, going to school and raising her kids alone or the line cook who bought the diner; in a factory job where the woman at the next station is a minister in her local church and be willing to attend a service with her. Working in a family-run business offers a chance to understand the basic buying and accounting that goes into it and how it contributes to a community. Volunteering is another way to learn–at a community center, firehouse, ambulance corps, Boys’ and Girls’ Club–where you can connect not just with clients but also the passionate workers. You need to walk the streets and sidewalks wherever you travel. And constantly talk to people, listen to them, taste their food and absorb what they know. This is the true training for a journalist.

And in the end it comes back to one thing–curiosity.

While we cannot teach it, we can encourage it.