Reporting Lessons from Kermit the Frog

Sesame Street is a staple in American basic education. We learned words, colors, shapes, sharing, acceptance and friendship through Elmo, Big Bird, Grover and their furry friends.

Looking back at the episodes of the ’70s and ’80s, however, I’m picking up on a lot more, especially as a journalist. Sesame Street News with its crack reporter Kermit the Frog brought us all the new developments on classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and although as a kid I wasn’t aware of the journalistic values being taught, I certainly notice them now.

Kermit the Reporter’s headshot

Kermit starts out with a bang; his first story for Sesame Street News is a lot more exciting than mine for the Missourian (on the sewer system). His first field job was to cover the race between the Tortoise and the Hare:

He made the classic mistake every budding reporter makes, and that is to interfere too much in the event rather than sit back and observe. Of course, this wins him the race and ruins the story.

Another initiation Kermit goes through that we all had to experience at the Missourian was the “accident story,” this time having to find out what happened with Humpty Dumpty:

Again, it’s not one of Kermit’s best moments. He does an adequate job getting the answers from one of the king’s men at the scene without interfering with progress, but in talking to the victim, he makes it all a mess. That’s something you learn pretty quickly: talk to victims gently, or they just might crack (bah-dum-shh).

Next, we watch him report on Rapunzel, getting to the scene just as Prince Charming arrives:

On this one, he checks his equipment first (always a good idea because you never know when your recorder might decide to take the day off as soon as you sit down for an interview). He also deals with his first reluctant source, Prince Charming, and learns to stop anticipating what’s going to happen. Part of being a reporter is to take in the event as it happens instead of walking into it with a preset idea of what will happen. It’s a good idea to prepare (see Kermit’s use of context in the Hickory Dickory Dock coverage), but don’t let expectation get in the way of drinking in as much detail and plot development as possible. Chances are it never will go the way you plan; I mean, how many of us expected Rapunzel to be wearing a wig?

His coverage of “Hickory Dickory Dock” taught me to add context, much like Kermit gives us in the beginning. He also teaches reporters not to exclude sources entirely, like the duck, but to be aware of which ones are worth our precious time.

Finally, I want to show one of my favorites, when Kermit speaks to “typical youth” to find out about how kids are making up games:

I think I just appreciate his selection of Elmo as a “typical youth,” because the reporting game is exactly like that. We have an idea of who we need to talk to for a story, and it’s the great “Where’s Waldo” search for someone — anyone — who fits the demographic. In his case, it’s Elmo, who turns out to be a less-reliable source.

If you dig a bit deeper, you can also see a metaphor for why we shouldn’t let citizen journalism take over professional journalism. Elmo isn’t mature or knowledgeable enough to do Kermit’s job. Not that I wouldn’t love to see Elmo eventually report on a presidential debate or natural disaster. Honestly, I think it would be a welcome change of pace.

Kermit has since hung up the press badge, but it hasn’t sat dormant for long. Just this year, Miss Piggy has gotten her trotters wet on the Red Carpet at the 2012 BAFTAs, interviewing everyone from Daniel Radcliffe, Jon Hamm and Gary Oldman to Octavia Spencer, Michael Fassbender and Jonah Hill:

Oldman called her “the most sincere person” he had met in the line of reporters, which is probably accurate because of her blatant self-promotion and uninhibited comments (like the calling Tom Hiddleson’s tux a rental). She’s the ideal candidate for Red Carpet reporting, but if she wants to get into the harder news scene, she may want to ask Kermy for some advice.

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