Z ach Dalzell is 13 and covering his first presidential campaign. You might think that his observations on the political process would be wide-eyed and credulous. You would be wrong.
Here’s what he had to say about his exchange with Rick Perry, pictured with Zach here, following an event in Charleston, SC—Zach’s hometown—in January: “He came off as a lot smarter than he seemed during most of the campaign.” Zach asked Perry how his military service would affect him as president. “He didn’t just use it as a platform for his talking points,” Zach says, “the way Rick Santorum did.” And Newt Gingrich? “He thought I wanted his autograph.”
Somewhere, David Broder is smiling.
Zach and his twin sister, Faith, are part of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps, a project launched by the venerable educational publishing and technology company during the 2000 presidential campaign as a way to bring that election into the classroom. Today, some 60 Kid Reporters, as they’re called, are hired each fall for one-year assignments, covering everything from super PACs to the Super Bowl. And when the political conventions start later this summer, Kid Reporters will be there, in search of scoops.
“I’m trying to mold them into really good journalists,” says Dante Ciampaglia, the project’s editor, “with good reporting and interviewing skills, as well as an understanding of the precarious positions journalists can find themselves in.”
Ciampaglia needn’t worry about Zach, whose read of his adult colleagues in the press is as clear-eyed as his take on the pols. In January, Zach covered a GOP debate in South Carolina. In the pressroom afterward, he got a lesson in the nature of the journalistic pack. “People were going crazy trying to get their questions answered,” he says. “It was great to see how hard they work, but it was kind of like a doghouse in there.”