Academics

Idea: Reporting without writing

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about news judgement and curiosity, because I sometimes find those traits lacking in students (and professionals, for that matter). And I sometimes feel that the Journalism 101 model is broken. We spend so much time getting students to write a good lede that we neglect the basics of *reporting* the story.

So I’m going to throw this idea out there just to hear what you have to think about it. The idea is for a course that is solely about reporting, not writing. Please respond in the comments.

The key thought behind this is to teach students how to identify the value of news and how to get the right information from the right sources before even beginning to talk about ledes, inverted pyramids, or story structures.

Step 1: Begin with a discussion of news judgment: what is news? What elements of a potential story make it newsworthy? This is basic to any beginning newswriting class.

However, this is where the process might seem a bit different.

Step 2: Have students select a newsworthy topic, perhaps a topic that is currently in the news – say, Libya. Ask them why this topic is important? What are the questions surrounding the topic? Why are those questions important?

Step 3: Next, have students select another topic, perhaps a topic that is in the news on campus, or in the local area. Ask again, why is the topic important? What are the important questions related to that topic? Now, ask: where would you go to look for answers to those questions? Make a list of potential sources (people, documents, databases, etc.) For each “source,” ask: “Why is that a good source? Is there more than one source available for each question? Which source seems more “authoritative,” or should the question be asked of them all?

Step 4: Select another topic that is related to the campus: Repeat the process of Step 3, and then add another step to the process: Have students go ask those sources those questions. At this point, you can discuss notetaking, recording audio, etc. Interviewing techniques, things to observe during an interview, etc. Off-the-record, anonymous sources, etc.

Step 5: Now that students have interviewed sources and gathered source documents, go through the answers/documents. Ask: which part of this information is most important? Why? Which parts are incomplete? Are there further sources needed on some information? Are there facts that are stated that might not be “facts.” Discussions of attempts to influence, frame news, etc. are applicable at this point. Organize the facts, statements, documents that are crucial. Rank them in some sort of order. Ask students how such information should be ranked? What are some ways to organize the information?

I haven’t waded into grading or assignment particulars, but the key thing is to keep the writing out of it, to deal with what is really the most basic thing for a journalist to learn: getting the information.

What am I missing here?

UPDATE: I should clarify that I think the writing component would be heavily emphasized in a second-semester required course.