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Category Archives: Education
”There is no reason to believe any longer that only irrelevant ‘play’ can be enjoyed, while the serious business of life must be borne as a burdensome cross. Once we realize that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable.” –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(via Daniel Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us)
A few months ago, I mentioned a couple of media-related projects in the pipeline. At least one of them is now underway: the Western Massachusetts Community Press.
WMACP is a non-profit organization newly formed to support journalism education and local news initiatives in the Pioneer Valley. This project has been over three years in the making, beginning in 2006 with a program of UMass Professor Nick McBride’s that sent journalism students into Springfield to cover underreported community issues.
It’s exciting to see how much things will evolve in the coming months. Check out the visual representation below of the organization’s mission and reach.
I’d like to expand here on a thought that bubbled up during the session, in the middle of a discussion about the inclusion of entrepreneurial journalism in j-school curricula. I had suggested that j-schools should apply the basic theory behind link journalism — do what you know best, and link to the rest — to structuring their own programs. In other words, focus on teaching the craft of journalism and its fundamental theories, techniques and tools within the major, and “link out” to peripheral knowledge bases (business/advertising, information technology, programming and design) by sending students to other schools within the university system.
So what does that look like in action? Let’s take the UMass Amherst Journalism program as an example: currently, students enrolled in the major must complete an official minor, concentration or second major in order to fulfill the requirements for graduation. Now suppose the journalism department established interdisciplinary programs with the other schools and, in collaboration with faculty in those schools, created specialized tracks for j-students. This opens up a wealth of possibilities:
- A student who wants to get into the business side of news would take a planned series of courses in the school of management concurrent to classes in journalism, then apply that knowledge to a hands-on master class in entrepreneurial journalism.
- A student interested in environmental beat reporting after college would take a class on environmental policy in the department of natural resources during the same semester as a newswriting class, and practice writing stories for that beat.
- A team of students could take a programming class in the comp sci department together and develop apps for journalism as part of an independent study.
And so on. The advantage of an interdisciplinary approach is that students get exposed to a much wider range of knowledge, while journalism faculty can focus on teaching to their strengths.
Betty Medsger’s essay, Getting Journalism Education Out of the Way, was brought to my attention and contains a similar line of thought:
Journalism faculty should become gate openers to the entire university, rather than guardians of journalism studies. As such they would work far more closely with colleagues in other disciplines. They would develop the relationships needed to recruit excellent students from other disciplines, not to a major or minor in journalism but to an intensive senior year introduction to journalism. The curriculum would be truly interdisciplinary. Assignments in journalism courses would make use of what students have studied in their major areas of inquiry and also tap the expertise of faculty in other disciplines.
This is a proposal I recently made to the UMass Amherst journalism department. The idea is to hold a week-long boot camp teaching the basics of multimedia journalism at the end of every summer, geared toward incoming freshmen but open to all j-students.
Why have a boot camp?
Immersion-style learning is the best way to pick up new tools. A boot camp will teach students the fundamentals of storytelling and establish a baseline for proficiency in multimedia. I can see a natural progression as the program funnels new students into campus media outlets, where they continue to gain practical experience while learning about media history, criticism and ethics in classes as freshmen and sophomores.
By the time students become upperclassmen, they can take master classes in specific subjects — broadcast, radio, photojournalism, advanced multimedia, etc. — spending less time learning how to use the tools and more time actually using them to practice the craft of journalism, producing mature, complex works.
Nuts and bolts:
- Students must apply for entry into the program by mid-summer.
- The boot camp runs for 5 days right before the start of fall semester.
- Students pay for on-campus housing and meals, but can gain advanced placement in certain classes and receive 1 credit counting toward their journalism major requirements upon successful completion of the program.
Who will run it?
Whoever on faculty wants to. Summer programs are a great way for students to get to know professors outside of a classroom setting and to feel a part of a welcoming community within the department. Due to the accelerated nature of the curriculum, a different professor can come in each day to teach their area of expertise, whether it’s ethics, news writing, photography, etc.
I’m personally willing to volunteer my time as a program coordinator for the boot camp, living in the dorms with the students, handling communications and teaching several of the workshops. I have two years’ experience as a Resident Assistant in freshmen halls at UMass, and also served two years on the administrative staff of the UMass marching band (which runs band camps in the summer, so I know a lot about the logistics of these things).
Incoming freshmen can get familiar with the local area and make friends with fellow student journalists before classes start, giving them an extra boost in confidence at the beginning of their college careers. The summer program can be a bonding experience that strengthens our community of students and faculty by making the journalism department a place students can call a second home.
Finally, boot camp participants will get a head-start on technical skills, setting them up to become peer mentors in the classroom as they help other students surmount the learning curve.