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  Field Notes From
ZipUSA: 68010



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On Assignment
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From Author

Jennifer Steinberg



On Assignment

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From Photographer

Landon Nordeman



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top) and Landon Nordeman.
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
ZipUSA: 68010

Field Notes From Author
Jennifer Steinberg
Best Worst Quirkiest

Once a week Father Val Peter, executive director of Boys Town, invites a different household of teens to his home for dinner. The photographer and I were told we could stop by Father Peter's house, meet the kids, and observe for a few minutes. After a brief tour and a few introductions, the kids sat down to eat, and we got the vibe that it was time for us to go. But first Father Peter pulled me aside and told me how pleased he was at the way I was handling the assignment and interacting with the kids. "You just get it," he said, meaning I understood what he and others were trying to do at Boys Town and was careful not to interfere as I got my story. "I don't say that to many journalists," he added. He then shuffled chairs around at the head of the crowded table and invited me to stay for the meal as his special guest. The photographer and Boys Town press officer were escorted into the kitchen where they had to eat standing up, the door just barely ajar. It was fun to be teacher's pet again.



I must say I didn't really have a bad experience at Boys Town, which in a way became my worst experience. Not that I wanted to see unruly kids getting into fights or having tantrums, but I had hoped to get a very real experience—to see both the good and the bad sides of the place and the people. While there were moments in which kids showed real emotion in my presence, most of the time they were on their best behavior, perhaps thinking that was what I wanted to see. Sometimes I felt their responses to my questions weren't entirely from the heart but instead were textbook answers coming from the teaching and counseling they'd received. With only bits and pieces of a week to get to know them, I knew they saw me as I was—a transient on their turf, tossing out intimate questions but not able to stick around long enough to get all the answers.



I had to have an escort whenever I spent time with the Boys Town kids. I'd be sitting on the couch interviewing one of the girls who lives with parent-teachers Scott and Trisha Carl, for example, and the Boys Town press officer would be sitting across the room chatting with another family member or reading a magazine. He joined me for the Jones family Thanksgiving grocery-shopping trip and later for Thanksgiving dinner at the Carls. I went to hear a student-run assembly, and guess who showed up? Same guy. A nice and helpful guy just doing his job, of course, but it was still disconcerting to be shadowed. It was a rule I had to live with—put in place to protect the kids from overzealous journalists wanting to ask questions about inappropriate topics such as an abusive past, drug problems, medications, etc. My escort eventually gave me some leeway when he saw that I wasn't breaking any rules, which was much appreciated. But it was a tough way to start out reporting a story.





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