Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interview with Petra Zigon: Writing and Reporting on Issues Impactiing Teens

Welcome to an interview with Petra Zigon, journalist who writes for the largest magazine in Slovenia dedicated to a demographic that includes teen, tween, and pre-teen girls. Her work takes her to interesting places and conversations, where she finds out what the latest trends and beliefs are in the world of teens, tweens, and pre-teens.

Hi Petra -- It is a pleasure to talk to you about your work with writing and reporting on issues that are of concern to the world's teens.
Thank you, it is a pleasure to be able to talk about it.

Have you discovered anything surprising about teenagers today?
First of all, I would have to say even though it's only been about ten or fifteen years since I myself was a teenager, things have changed immensely. Of course back then it was a different time but in many ways I think we were privileged. There weren't so many expectations among teenagers, you didn't have to wear certain clothes or labels to be cool, for example. But being a teenager is difficult in itself, no matter what decade you're 'surviving' it in. The most surprising thing is still the fact that there are almost 'rules' to be followed to being cool. It always is wonderful when I meet a young person who is keen about learning, studying or school and education. Especially since some of those are still being ridiculed. I had the privilege of working at a language school for a while and met with some amazing, goal-oriented teenagers who would not be side-tracked by anything and it was refreshing to see them work hard and being willing to sacrifice some of their free hours in order to achieve the life goals they had set for themselves.

What are some of their concerns? Are these new -- unusual?
I have been at times a little disappointed when discovering many of the teenagers are more concerned about the amount of money they might be able to earn with the profession they choose than the fact that they should choose carefully because it is most likely going to be a life-long commitment. This also most likely goes hand in hand with the consumer society which is so prominent nowadays. A lot of TV series also help with creating a life that teenagers want and will stop at nothing to get there. I would mostly recommend them to look inside themselves, find things that make them happy and they're good at them and follow that. They're more likely going to be happy doing something they love (and getting rich with it) than doing something they hate.

What do you believe are the "must have's" in terms of knowledge for today's teen? Are typical educational programs adapting for today's teens? Is there a role for informal learning? Where could they improve or change?
Of course schools, scholar systems and teachers are always the ones to be 'blamed' for good/bad education. While that is largely true, it is also up to the individual. The school systems often offer individual work on the topic you can choose by yourself. If you have to hand in a paper for geography, for instance, choose a country you're interested in and expand your knowledge. Also one of the best things you can do is to keep your ears open. There are so many things we don't know, so many interesting facts we can learn by only listening and observing and giving something we're not interested in, a chance, that if we let everything go by, we could end up being uninformed or even ignorant. There is always a good reason to look something up online, to open an encyclopaedia, to read about something that you're not familiar with in the paper,... If Albert Einstein strikes you up as an interesting man, look up his biography, you might learn he had a secret child and a brilliant wife who, many suggest, might be the big brain behind his theories. Quenching your thirst for knowledge and satisfying your curiosity are the best paths.

What do most teens tend to say about the future? Are they optimistic?
In some cases they don't realize that life is a serious game. But then again neither did we, when we were teenagers. Mostly you have to learn as you go along and truly take lessons to heart and learn them. Try not to repeat the same mistakes. I think everyone can be optimistic and with a reason since we all have opportunities and abilities to be everything we want. But we must realize nothing will be given to us freely, we must fight and work for it.

How do you see teens using information gained from the web and social networking? How can informal learning be integrated?
I will stress the same thing I did earlier. Whenever they're 'googling' something they're interested in instead of plain looking at silly videos or forwards they get on their email, it is informal learning. Internet is a great learning power tool and the fact that we can google a word when we don't know what it is and find ten meanings, is amazing. I can see teenagers spend a lot of time online every day. One of the magazines I work for, has an internet site that is swamped with visits. I think it's important to realize the fact that through learning comes educating and vice versa. That can be done in terms of informing and educating children and youngsters about interesting facts but also dangers of drunk driving, smoking or unsafe sex and help them solving troubles in school, for instance.

What is your philosophy of writing and reporting?
If by philosophy you mean my way of work, it is not as simple as sitting down and writing. Even with interviews there has to be a right moment in order to feel inspired. Interviews themselves are not mainly typing down what the person has said but you also have to filter, you must form and shape the words and the whole conversation which is many times not just question/answer all the time but a real conversation. The most important thing, though, to me is the truth. Being honest, not fabricating and putting across what the person was trying to say. That is why I despise tabloids that twist people's words and turn them into ambiguous statements.

Is the role of the journalist changing? How?
I started writing for a magazine when I was fifteen. I realize I was lucky to have found something I wanted to do when I was so young and stick to it and make a career out of it. And again, the role is changing. There are many more faux magazines and papers, as I call them, out there. I mean the tabloids, of course. They unfortunately affect too many people's minds and opinions. But thankfully there are still rays of hope since there are still great journalists to look up to, to respect and call real journalists, reporters and writers.

What should journalists study in order to be effective?
Mostly it is important to be informed. To follow the spinning of the globe and daily events. It is inexcusable to be uninformed. If a journalist specialises in culture, they should know about it, they should follow it more than the rest of the branches of human lives. But in all fairness, everything is connected, so be informed.

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