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Tag Archives: j-school
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.
Here’s my response to the conversation started by #collegejourn on journalism education and Suzanne Yada’s follow-up question, “What can journalism schools do to help students prepare for the real world?”
While it’s important that journalism students learn the tenets of good storytelling and the tools that make it possible, I think one thing that’s been left out of the discussion so far is the lack of guidance when it comes to developing skills for reporting in real-life communities.
I think that’s something college professors can teach us right now, whether they “catch up” or not on all the new media widgets and gizmos. Friend and colleague S.P. Sullivan gave me a nice reality check when, in response to my musings about an e-mail writing workshop for j-students, he wrote back on Twitter:
@jackiehai Tip One: A phone call is always better. My experience @ The Collegian shows too many students journalists are afraid of the phone
This is just one of countless examples where students of our generation often find themselves totally lost. We were raised on the Internet. No one had to teach us how to use Facebook; show us how to use Twitter once and we get it instantly. In my opinion, educational time would be best spent learning how to get started on a beat, how to connect with and build relationships with sources, how to mine public records, how to find the pulse of a community and engage with it. These are where all the best story ideas come from, and this is what we should be training the next generation of reporters to do.
Are technical skills inherent in social skills? Absolutely. Gina Chen wrote a great post recently that demonstrates the merging of the two. But if students and professors are starting on the same playing field, then shouldn’t we all be learning this together?
Introduce students to the basics of the new tools and technologies they’ll be using, and let them learn how to master them on their own. That’s what Google and a support network of our peers are for. Spend class time focusing on what the tools are being used for, developing good news sense and producing quality journalism.
I’ll leave you with one more anecdotal example:
Since its opening, The Amherst Wire’s multimedia newsroom has become a common space where both students and faculty drop by. So far, students have learned how to install blogs to a server from scratch, dabbled in MySQL databases, and started working on a variety of online journalism projects. This Friday we’re holding a CSS workshop that everybody, faculty included, is welcome to attend for free.
Last week, one of our editors met with our faculty adviser to talk about a new political blog he’ll be heading up this semester. The editor had some ideas about where he wanted to take the blog, but lacked a clear focus. Twenty years of experience as a reporter and editor made it possible for this j-prof to give the student the advice he needed to choose a focus that’s relevant, timely and useful to his audience.
This is the kind of exchange I’d like to see more of. Over to you, #collegejourn.
Yesterday marked the opening of The Amherst Wire’s newsroom, UMass Amherst’s first independent, web-only news operation.
To recap on how we got here, The Amherst Wire was hatched in January 2008 by three students in Steve Fox’s multimedia journalism class. In the early days, we collaborated largely by E-mail and weekly editor’s meetings in the journalism department lounge. This semester, with a growing staff of volunteer reporters and the addition of four new editors to our team, we felt the need for a more functional space to call home. And so after consulting with the department’s adviser, we got permission to set up shop across the hall in Bartlett 107 every Friday afternoon.
We still have our editor’s meetings every Tuesday, but now anybody can come in on Fridays to workshop pieces and pick up new skills. The newsroom is equipped with computers from the journalism department’s Mobile Laptop Lab, wireless Internet, a whiteboard and projector for tutorials on the tools of multimedia reporting.
Our first day in the newsroom was spent getting the new editors up to speed on web server basics, AmherstWire.com’s directory structure, File Transfer Protocol, WordPress and phpMyAdmin. As a practical exercise, I walked everyone through downloading a fresh copy of WP 2.7, uploading it to a new directory on our server, and completing the installation process for a self-hosted WordPress blog.
Next week, the real work begins. Tuesday is our first all-staff meeting of the semester and we expect reporters to start coming in with their projects on Friday.
My hope is that The Amherst Wire’s multimedia newsroom becomes a place where people can go to learn things they normally wouldn’t find in traditional print newsrooms or journalism classes. Part of our revenue model will be to charge nominal fees for a number of the more involved workshops and open them up to local newspaper reporters and freelancers as well as students.
Here’s a sampling of the what we’ve got lined up in the coming months:
- Link journalism
- Ethics for online news
- Crowdsourcing and social networking
- Online comment moderation
- Blogging techniques
- Digital photojournalism
- Creating online photo galleries
- Audio slideshows
- Video for the web
- Motion graphic design
- Web design with HTML/CSS
- Multimedia feature page design
- Computer-assisted reporting
- Web mashups
What additional workshops would you like to see happen? What do you consider to be essential skills for online journalists?