Tom Jolly

My colleague Jon Pessah, who teaches sports journalism at Stony Brook and blogs about sports and other topics at True/Slant, invited me to sit in on his class yesterday to hear New York Times Sports Editor Tom Jolly speak.

Jolly’s comments after his talk endorsed the approach we’re taking here at the SBU SOJ: Fundamentals first, then technology.

He spoke at length on how the Web and the existence of have changed the way the sports desk works. To Pessah’s question “Is the game story dead?” he replied that he’ll post a 300-word game story on the Website immediately after a game. But for the next day’s paper, reporters have time for to interview and to craft a story that explains why a game turned out the way it did or what the events of the game reflect or portend. Those old-fashioned play-by-play stories have no place in print: Sports fanatics have already seen the highlights reel on TV or on the Web, and casual sports fans are more interested in the broader context than in the details.

He uses Twitter promote stories on the Times site and to follow what other sports desks are doing and what sports-journalism critics are saying. And he finds Twitter the best source of breaking news. When the National Hockey League lifted the suspension of a prominent player (the name escapes me), Jolly had read the NHL’s tweet before his hockey reporter heard the news.

But after class, when I asked him what these changes in practice mean for journalism schools — what we should be doing to prepare our students for the new news ecology — he barely hesitated. Training students to be excellent reporters comes first, he said firmly. Multimedia skills are great, but they are the icing on the cake.

Some j-schools are trying the tech-first approach. Their entering students attend technology boot camps to learn multimedia before they study research, interviewing or verification. As a faculty, we’re pretty much unanimous that this does students a disservice. I know my dear friend Michael Rosenblum will shake his head, but we still believe in training reporters. We also prepare them for the new realities in the news business, and we continue to beef up that aspect of their education. But we remain dedicated to creating reporters — or at the least, to imparting reporters’ ethics and ways of viewing the world — first and foremost.

  1. It’s not totally either/or, right? A headlong tech-first plunge would certainly be a mistake. But no-tech is probably a mistake as well. Too much grinding at fundamentals alone could discourage some otherwise promising and talented beginners. I know for me, messing with tech at the same time I am also doing fundamentals-type stuff is motivating. A century ago when I was a freshman film/video student, I would not have been too happy if there was no tech at all in the early going. But I was very happy to learn the fundamentals of aesthetics, theory, narrative, etc. at the same time.

  2. Is the game story truly dead? Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel may be the newspaper’s best-read writer and covers the Green Bay Packers in a mindboggling degree of detail. And readers eat it up, mostly.

    Check the URL link to my name here.

  3. Hoo Boy
    Yes, it’s 1452 and we’re teaching a whole new generation of post-Gutenberg writers. Of course, we’re not going to get hung up on writing – or reading for that matter. We first want to spend time preparing them to ‘think’ like writers. Later we’ll deal with how to make letters and such. But we don’t want to create an army of technicians. We want to create an army of great ‘thinkers’. Learn to think first, then teach them to write when they know what to think about. Maybe when they’re 30 or so, they can start the boring grind of learning to make letters.
    First you must be technically literate because without that, there is nothing to think about, or talk about.
    Then, let’s see if you have something to say.

    • What is being taught in most of the classes I attend at Stony Brook is way more than technology. I am learning how to find and report important and relevant news, the theory behind a good story.

      Technology comes and goes. Beta, Digibeta, MiniDV, LaserDisc, VCR, 8mm, P2, Film etc… The list goes on.

      Emphasizing technology can be remarkably short-sighted.

      Teach the theory, then the technology.

      Why? Ask any good, serious filmmaker if cameras matter and they will tell you no. A great story is a great story. Get the story and technology will become irrelevant.

      Teach me technology first? Do I really need a class on how to use a tripod or a camera with auto controls? Anyone can RTFM. (Although someone may insist they know how to teach proper tripod etiquette)

      By the time most of these kids get out of school the technology will be radically different from when they started.

      If I want to write, teach me grammar and sentence structure, not how to use Microsoft Word.

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  1. March 8th, 2010

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