Meet the teacher: Don Bott, “Ready, Set, Go” writing and editing

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Don Bott, returning for his third year at Newsroom by the Bay, changes lives through journalism. In fact, last year Northwestern University named Bott one of five distinguished high school teachers who had a “transformative impact” on the lives of graduating NU seniors they once taught.

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In Bott’s case, that was Lisette Rodriguez, who graduated in 2015 and now works as a digital news associate at the ABC News politics desk in New York, where she’s assisting with coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign.

At NU, Rodriguez majored in broadcast journalism with a minor in Spanish and worked as news director and producer of Northwestern’s only Spanish-language media outlet, Noticiero Northwestern.

“Mr. Bott saw greater potential in this first-generation, low-income, Mexican-American girl,” Rodriguez told NU’s selection committee.

“And I’m not the only one he saw potential in. He has seen and continues to see promise in every single one of his students over his nearly 30 years of teaching.”

With his solid command of journalism basics, Bott, who teaches at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton, California, anchors our morning class in writing and editing for the web. He also leads the “Ready, Set, Go!” workshop for students on Sunday morning before our program kickoff.

Besides teaching, Bott’s other great passion is baseball.

“In my free time I love watching, talking about and even reading articles about baseball,” Bott wrote us. “Strangely, I often find ways to incorporate them into my teaching.

Carlos_Gómez_on_August_25,_2015“Today I read an article about Carlos Gomez, a centerfielder from the Houston Astros who, like his team, is having a bad year. In trying to put some of the blame for the team’s bad season on Gomez, whose first language is not English, the columnist chose to include verbatim quotes that were terribly unflattering to Gomez, for example, “the fans be angry.”

“Suddenly it’s not about baseball anymore. It’s about people. It’s about choices,” Bott wrote. “It’s about what role we want to play when we pick up that pen or hold that camera. Yes, we must be objective, but that doesn’t mean we lose our humanity. We don’t have to be cruel or vindictive.”

Bott believes that the mission of the Stagg Line (and staggonline website), which he has advised for 24 years, is that “we need to ‘look outside of ourselves, look beyond our circle.’ Good journalism requires that we aspire to do as Atticus Finch taught us: to consider life from the perspective of others before presuming to tell a story truthfully.”

Not surprisingly, this year Bott’s students explored topics most high school journalism staffs wouldn’t attempt.

“What is it like to live (and try to eat) when earning just minimum wage? We took that question on with both stories and a compelling video,” Bott recalled. “What is it like to be homeless? One of our most sensitive reporters went out to engage with people facing that ultimate struggle. Her page 1 story is powerful.

“What is it like to be Muslim (or perceived to be) when it’s time to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy or when news of a new terrorist act gets out? We wrote a news story for print near the 9/11 anniversary and an online opinion piece after the Paris attacks. In both cases we wanted readers to think. To look beyond themselves. To consider the world outside of their circle.”

Plenty of people have compared baseball to life. Fewer have tried to connect it to journalism. But maybe we should.

“The baseball game I watched today ended with a strange twist,” Bott wrote. “The final play had to be adjudicated by umpires watching it on replay. The call had to be right, even if a correction had to take place.

“Journalism is, in that sense, like baseball. We have to get the story right.”

—Arriving early at NBTB? Consider signing up for Don’s “Ready, Set, Go!” workshop on journalism basics on Sunday, June 26 from 9 a.m. to noon. You’ll learn journalism lingo (what’s a “lede” and why don’t we spell it correctly?), the best way to get information (news flash: face-to-face is often better than online) and tips for finding and using legally permitted photos. Email us at newsroombythebay@gmail.com to sign up. The cost for the workshop is $75. 

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