Posts Tagged ‘ reporting ’

University media relations: help or hindrance for j-schools?

College and university journalism schools offer their students a built-in community to cover: the institution that houses their program. A campus offers practice in covering politics, budgets, race, education, crime, social trends – in short, many aspects of life in the wider world.

The institution’s media-relations personnel can play a key role in helping – or hindering – journalism educators who use the campus as a teaching tool. They can help students find scholarly and administrative sources for their stories, whether for class assignments or for the student media, or they can use their power to block access and prevent students from gaining needed reporting and interviewing experience.

The argument can be made that students must learn to deal with recalcitrant media-relations personnel, whom they will surely encounter as professionals. But questions arise: When does learning this lesson cease to be useful? What is the responsibility of a university administration to aid in the pedagogical efforts of the journalism program it sustains? Where the relationship has been problematic, have the parties resolved tensions and established useful working relationship? If so, how? What makes a good working relationship possible?

At Stony Brook, the opening of our School of Journalism in 2006 coincided with the departure of the university’s longtime spokesman, a former Newsday sportswriter. His replacement was the Continue reading

Slipping numeracy into reporting class

I’ve started putting into action one of the most important things I learned at the AEJMC meetings in Denver last month. I’m not waiting for that special day, that somewhere-over-the-rainbow day, when every student in our program takes a class devoted to quantitative literacy. I’m focusing now on ways to incorporate quantitative thinking into lessons and discussions that ostensibly have little to do with numbers.

On Tuesday, for example, I gave my introductory reporting class its first weekly current-events quiz and included a couple of questions about President Obama’s speech on Iraq. I asked:

In his Oval Office address last week, President Obama said the U.S. has spent more than _________________ on war in the past decade.
a. $10 billion
b. $75 billion
c. $1 trillion
d. $10 trillion

The answer is C, $1 trillion. But more important, this was an opportunity to discuss estimation and to talk about which numbers pass the sniff test.  What is a billion? A trillion? How can we make sense of these numbers not only to readers but also to ourselves?
The key, I told my students, is to keep some number comparisons in your mental back pocket so you can pull them out easily. For billions and trillions, I said, I’d use our university’s annual budget of nearly $2 billion. Is it likely  that seven years of fighting two wars cost the United States $10 billion, or only five times as much as it costs to run the campus for a year? Continue reading

Unleashed in the metropolis

What I love about teaching Reporting in NYC is unleashing Stony Brook students on the metropolis.

Stony Brook University, for all that is good about it, is a tough place to report. The campus is isolated from the community — deliberately, according to lore, but certainly effectively. A four-lane divided roadway, train tracks, woods and fields cut the campus off from Stony Brook and the surrounding hamlets, which, after 50 years of cohabitation, bear little student imprint. There’s no college-town ambiance.

Moreover, Long Island’s near-total dependence on the automobile keeps many students campus-bound. And the university is making a slow adjustment to the soaring number of student journalists who are trying to cover it. Access to university officials has often beendifficult, though all sides  hope to improve the flow of information. The School of Journalism and top administrators met last month to discuss the situation, and several useful ideas came out of the meeting. More on this another time.

But here in the city, freedom reigns. For the most part, students find story ideas easily. All they need to do is walk out the door. At the university, information is centralized; here, students can find multiple sources for answers to many of their questions. And with some perseverance, they’ve generally been able to get comments from politicians and government officials when necessary, perhaps because those sources are more accustomed to dealing with the press.

The experience is enormously liberating for the students. They feel more like “real reporters” than they have before. I’d like to teach this class year-round.

Gerald Grow, Grammar Guru

“In a manner of speaking, students cannot learn journalism; they can only learn to become journalists. That is, students cannot remain who they used to be and just add journalism to that self. They must experience a transformation of identity, skills, habits, and values, a transformation in the way they think and know and see the world — the transformation of becoming a producer of journalism and not just a consumer of it. It’s like that point in learning a foreign language when you begin to think in that language.” — Gerald Grow, professor of journalism (retired), Florida A&M University, in “When Journalism Majors Don’t Know Grammar (causes, considerations, and approaches),” from ASJMC Insights,  Spring 2006

This bears repeating: “[S]tudents cannot remain who they used to be and just add journalism to that self. They must experience a transformation of identity, skills, habits, and values, a transformation in the way they think and know and see the world … “

Some might argue Gerald’s point that students must become producers of journalism and not just consumers of it in a world in which everyone, especially current college students, publishes all the time to Facebook, Twitter and so on. But publishing is not journalism. Publishing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for becoming a journalist. It is the critical mindset; the thirst for understanding and describing events, people, trends; the voracious reading — these are the necessary and sufficient conditions.

Which brings me back to Reporting in NYC, Winter 2010. Course requirements, expressed in the syllabus and on the first day of class, include “Come to class prepared to discuss the news of the day.” I told the students to read all metro and regional coverage in The New York Times. I assigned each of the six students to bring either the New York Post or the New York Daily News to class each morning.

I assumed it was clear that this meant buying the paper at the start of the commute, reading it on bus, ferry, subway or train, and being fully abreast of the latest developments by the 9:30 start of class. I hoped that each would go to nytimes.com the night before class and learn the history and context of the day’s news from the lengthier stories there. (It’s horrifying how short the tabs’ non-scandal coverage of most local stories has become — a few grafs at the bottom of each page. But that’s a post for another day.)

So far, only one student has come to class prepared.

Understanding that this kind of work informs the journalistic mindset — that it must take place — is the part of the transformation Gerald described so acutely in his 2006 piece on teaching grammar. The connection with grammar comes, in part, with his observation that “it is possible that the problem of grammar might prompt journalism schools to refocus many types of instruction in order to deal with the underlying problems that originally led to the grammar problem. The goal in this case is not to teach grammar, but to teach students to figure things out for themselves — in preparation for a life of figuring things out for themselves.”

Figuring things out for themselves: Whether it’s syntax or the dysfunction in New York State government, the journalist figures things out for herself. Figuring it out requires preparation. Preparation requires reading. Reading requires curiosity. Curiosity — is there an app for that?

Reporting in NYC, Winter 2010: Day 3

Nothing is more gratifying to a journalism teacher than watching a student find an original story idea and get fired up with excitement during the reporting process. Today, the six students in our winter reporting intensive — 12 days in three weeks, finding and developing stories in Manhattan — began to show signs of real progress on their stories.

Gabby Pretto came back from the ice rink at Bryant Park aglow both from the cold air and from the pleasure of alighting on a willing and eager group of sources. The early-morning skating crowd, upon discovering her presence, had descended upon her, and she got interviews with seven of them.

Ryan Lavis came in with some good ideas for reporting on the recession-charged business of thrift shops.

Constantine Loizides had found a 9/11 rescuer who, having recovered from the injuries he sustained when the buildings fell, has made a new life as a Ground Zero tour guide and motivational speaker.

Jie Jenny Zou is exploring Curry Hill, that stretch of Lexington Avenue in the 20s populated by spice shops and South Asian restaurants. She’s examining whether Curry Hill is losing steam as a center for Indian and Pakistani culture, losing out to Jackson Heights and Edison, N.J. Now the trick is finding the demographic data she needs to support shopkeepers’ anecdotal evidence.

Luis Gronda has a lead on a candy store off Tompkins Square Park, a local institution threatened by rising rents, the recession and the aging of its longtime proprieter.

And Fendy Lamy spent the day interviewing the folks involved with an odd community garden in Chinatown, where nothing grows but artifacts contributed by local residents.

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