Teaching Examples

More on educating journalists
January 19, 2007, 9:04 pm
Filed under: education, journalism, journalists, teaching

Sonya Huber-Humes reflects on her year spent teaching journalism at a U.S. university and advising the student newspaper:

Sitting at my desk surrounded by a sickening stack of doomsday predictions on media change and readership polls, I found myself fantasizing about a classroom where my reporters and I could all just shut up for a few minutes and turn our backs to the 24-hour news tapeworm that beckoned and hissed from beyond graduation. Was it possible, I wondered, to release my students from deadlines long enough to stare at uncertainty, to reflect deeply on what they don’t know and how those gaps in knowledge and perception might shape their production of news? Wouldn’t such reflection give them more tools with which to craft stories that answer — or even just pose — the questions worth asking? I fantasized about a course that veered away from computer-assisted reporting to focus on a single article, teasing out biases, experimenting with alternate approaches, re-interviewing sources to get to the varied hearts of the matter.

I confess to sharing her fantasy:

In my fantasy journalism class, I would ask students to sit silently for 10 minutes and notice what they are worrying about, what they are obsessed with, and how those worries and obsessions might contain better seeds of articles than any news release. I would describe interviews as not just a means for harvesting good quotes, or a series of mind games designed to strip sources’ defenses and trick them into divulging carefully guarded information. Rather, I would suggest that interviews could be encounters in which one human being might actually attempt to listen to another.

Maybe we should indulge our fantasies. Journalism student Andrew Nusca observes:

Journalists spend too much of their little time speculating on themselves, and there’s no place it can simmer more than in an academic setting. This has left us with programs across the nation that either won’t budge to change or are too scared to.

What have you got to lose? Journalism is in a cold war against itself. History’s not gonna help you now.

A few years ago, a scholar who studies how journalists do their work remarked to me that he found it interesting that journalism classes and schools seemed to be teaching students how to work in the newsrooms of the present — and not the newsrooms of the future.

Maybe too glibly, I replied that we are obliged to prepare students to get jobs today. The hiring editors (then) didn’t want the journalists of the future. They wanted journalists who had been conditioned to work — and to thrive — in their newsrooms exactly as they were.

That has changed. Most hiring editors today are scanning the applications hungrily, seeking journalists who are prepared to meet the future — and even to invent it. Thank heaven.

Now we in education need to rise to the challenge.

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