Academics / blogging / College Media / Student voices

Three things I challenge j-profs to do along with their students

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Brian Manzullo, late of the Central Michigan University Central Michigan Life student newspaper, has written a thought-provoking blog post with the enticing title: Three things I dare journalism students to do before they graduate. Hey, it’s a dare, right? So I’m going to piggy-back on Brian’s post and propose that j-profs engage in these activities as well. This post is specifically *not* geared toward administrative staff or students involved in campus media on the student services side of the spectrum, although the thoughts could be adapted to serve those readers as well.

1. Propose major curriculum adjustments to your journalism school – and get support:

Some of my own thoughts: I’m sick of seeing online media as an option, or a track, in the journalism degree. Online media should be a requirement. Media law should still be a class, but it also should be taught to various degrees in other classes. Social media should be taught, but as a universal topic (because who knows what we’ll be using 3-4 years down the road). Experience at a student newspaper or internship should count as credit.

I’m happy to say that Eastern Illinois University‘s journalism department overhauled part of its curriculum two years ago to require all journalism students have a basic class in multimedia reporting. I agree with Brian’s sentiments there. In fact, I’d say any journalism school that isn’t requiring a course in multimedia reporting at this stage of the game is doing a disservice to its students.

If your journalism department doesn’t require a course in multimedia reporting (at least hyperlinking, blogging, audio and video-based reporting), you need to be pushing for that requirement.

Unfortunately, academic bureaucracy moves slowly, so it may take a couple of years for the course and curriculum to be approved. But every delay puts you that much more behind the curve.

Brian’s second point hints at integration of skills into other classes. This is more problematic, as there are several hurdles that must be overcome. First, many classes are already packed with material. When I taught beginning newswriting, we never finished covering all the topics that were covered in the textbook. Adding multimedia/social media skills to that mix will be a challenge. Also, professors may not feel comfortable with the software/terminology or what constitutes “good” work in these areas.

At Eastern, we have a campus technology center that provides tutorial classes for students across campus on some basic computer programs. If you’re tasked with trying to integrate “new” media into your class, you might check and see if your campus provides similar opportunities. This fall, I’m requiring my multimedia students to attend a tutorial class on basic Final Cut Express skills, for instance.

For a basic writing class, instructors could – at the very minimum – require students to submit a certain number of hyperlinks to related content with all of their stories.

Other ways to integrate new media into another class can be as elementary as creating a class wiki, or requiring students to write blog posts, or following certain politicians or celebrities on Twitter and study the ways these individuals use the platform.

2. Form a news startup online and compete with the student newspaper:

This is a bit more tricky for some professors who also serve as advisers to student newspapers (like several of our faculty at Eastern). When do you stop encouraging students to innovate and explore new avenues of coverage and start cannibalizing your other media outlets?

Joe Gisondi, a colleague at Eastern, had an interesting twist on this last year in his sports reporting class. Rather than compete with the Daily Eastern News by having his students do stories about Eastern athletics, he set up a site specifically for the local high school. The students got to experience online sports coverage in a way that didn’t directly compete with the campus sports writing staff.

Obviously, on a larger campus, with more j-students, an online site that competes with the campus media outlets might be much less of a conundrum. Either way, engaging students to think like entrepreneurs is a good thing. And crossing the professor/student divide to collaborate on such a project can have myriad intellectual benefits for all parties involved.

3. Form a network of students that meets regularly to discuss readings and projects:

It’s simple: Get a group of awesome young journalists together (and maybe a professor or two, if you’re so inclined) and think of a good time during the week where everyone can spend one to two hours in a room together.

I would amend Brian’s proposal a bit and suggest that you form a network of forward-thinking journalists (professors and students) to meet regularly and discuss readings and projects.

I have benefited tremendously from my interactions with the CoPress gang, for instance (at one point they were meeting weekly on Sundays). And at times, I’d like to hope that I’ve challenged their thinking enough that they considered some things that you might not see from a student’s perspective.

This could be a problem if students use the time to complain about professor so-and-so’s lecture style, or a class project deadline.

But if the focus is really on improving the educational environment, and growing through the inclusion of different, challenging ideas, then I think both professors and students could benefit from a group like Brian suggests. Brian also has some great suggestions for different activities that could be included in such a group.

We’re all in this together

At times, I get disheartened when I see blog posts like the one I’m responding to, because I get a sense that students think journalism professors are all about hindering the progress that could be made if only the students could shake things up. There is – undoubtedly – some of that. But I’ve experienced the opposite effect at times as well – students who are too set in their print/tv/radio ways to really embrace the myriad ways the Internet can improve journalism.

It’s not an either/or proposition. I know many journalism professors who are earnestly working to better j-education, just as are many students. And I tend to think we’d get farther if we could work at this together to break through whatever barriers exist in the minds of other j-profs, j-students, or j-pros.

Are there other things j-students and j-profs might be doing beyond those listed above? Please feel free to comment.

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