Posts Tagged ‘ students ’

Journalism Students: We Like Paper! We Love Free.

What astounds me year after year with each new crop of journalism majors is how much they prefer ink on paper to electronic media. What kinds of jobs do they want? Newspaper reporter or magazine writer, many say. And most, all else being equal, say they would choose to read a book over a Kindle and a newspaper over a website. But all else isn’t equal, of course. They like paper, but they love free.

This spring in Journalism 24/7, the course I teach each semester that explores the changing news industry, The New York Times’ long-ballyhooed, carefully considered tiered paywall was a frequent topic of discussion. Overwhelmingly, the students dismissed the move as immaterial. There are a million ways to get around paywalls online, they said, proceeding to enlighten me with the methods they had used themselves.

As a final assignment, I asked the class to consider one of three questions: Two to three years from now, where will we get our news? Where will the money come from to support quality journalism? And how will the job of the journalist evolve?

Their answers showed clearly whether they had grasped the conundrum at the root of their own cognitive dissonance. Stephen Grotticelli, a quietly attentive student with a concise and expressive writing style, said that digital natives

will realize that an “app” should actually be an application, not just [a] bit of nomenclature. They will take full advantage of modern technology to offer rich, compelling multimedia, interactive and social experiences their print rivals will not be able to recreate offline. The content will be advertisement supported or, at most, available for a very modest fee from an app store.

But another student, whose name I won’t mention, argued that newspapers will survive because “people want to have the actual newspaper to keep when there’s a big news event, like Osama bin Laden getting killed.” Others, equally oblivious, said quality journalism will endure because people need to know what’s going on. Thanks, kids. That and $2.25 will get you on the subway.

Live-Tweeting the Class Lecture: A #selvin247 Exercise

I tried Staci Baird’s live-tweeting exercise in yesterday’s Journalism 24/7 class, using the Twitter hashtag #selvin247. I gave a lecture on net neutrality and students tweeted their notes, using their phones or laptops to enter their 140-character comments on Twitter; the “hashtag” allows Twitter users to search by topic. I projected their tweets on the board, updating every 10 minutes or so. Some of the #selvin247 timeline is still up on Twitter as I write, though it’s fading fast.

Results: Students took stabs at conveying the facts of the lecture; many missed the mark. Too much effort expended on wit. A former student posting prank tweets. Students tweeting to their friends on personal topics during class.

As an exercise in comparing tweets with traditional, handwritten note-taking, I’d call the live-tweets a failure. Baird’s instructions, however, included an admonition to give students “some examples of what good live-tweeting looks like.” I didn’t do that. I’ll save a few examples and try once more next semester.

A few wrinkles emerged, besides those prank tweets from a student who took the class last year (“Can I go to the bathroom?  #selvin247 #educationalvalue #justkiddingidonthavetogo #gogojournostudents”). Tweeters circled the points I made, occasionally landing on the bullseye, but anyone trying to follow the lecture from afar would have been confused. Jokes distracted tweeters and their followers: “If the ISP is the gatekeeper, who is the keymaster?  #selvin247 #ghostbusters  #thereisnodanathereisonlyzuhl.” A follow-up check on students’ timelines found some unpleasant surprises, like this one from earlier in the class: “Ugh this class is killing me! Idk how [a classmate] and i are going to surviveeee.” Or this, far uglier, from last summer: “The only thing more despicable than the muslims building a mosque near ground zero is @sarahpalinusa trying to gain from it politically.” This one was pointed out to me by someone who was deeply offended by it.

Twitter being a public medium, I could rightfully identify those posters, but as both are students, I will refrain from embarrassing them – or, in the case of the tweet about “the muslims,” maybe costing the student an interview or a job. The point is that everything on a public Twitter feed – everything on the  Internet — is available to everyone, now and forever. Students: Keep your online identity professional! Think before you tweet: Do I want some future potential employer, or some future source, or a professor, reading these words?

The idea for the class-tweeting exercise came at the end of a Knight Digital Media Center blog post on teaching mobile journalism, which some enthusiasts call the most important journalistic tool to emerge in recent years. More sober observers point out the limitations of live-blogging (of which live tweeting is a subset), the most critical being the lack of context or analysis. In my view, live blogging is one more tool in the journalist’s expanding toolbox, useful during breaking news events but far less so during speeches or talks. Few lectures are of such white-hot importance that every thought needs to fly through the twittersphere the moment after it is uttered. Some people seem to thrive on that hothouse sense of immediacy, but I find its breathlessness forced. I’d rather wait an hour or two, or a day, and read a considered report on a lecture, context included.

Great moments in teaching: leveraging student participation

With just a month’s notice, I’d been assigned to a brand-new course, JRN 301: Journalism 24/7, in the second semester of the very existence of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. The course topic: the changing news industry. My idea for that day’s class: Discuss net neutrality.

Sometimes – less now than in years past, thankfully – but sometimes, like all teachers, I think, I fail to allot sufficient time to class preparation and suddenly it’s class time and I’m forced to wing it. This was one of those days. The term “net neutrality” had been showing up frequently in my online reading (read: cramming) as I struggled to get a handle on the turbulence of the news industry in the late 2000s.

I got to class and began talking, using the skimpy notes I’d thrown together. It wasn’t more than two minutes into my “lecture” that I realized I was hopelessly lost. Could not talk about net neutrality. Had no backup. An hour left of class! What to do? Continue reading

An ideal journalism curriculum for undergraduates?

The consensus on preparing tomorrow’s journalists is this: They have to be able to do everything: write well, handle digital still and video cameras proficiently, edit photos in Photoshop, edit video with FinalCutPro, produce podcasts, produce slide shows, blog, promote themselves and their employers on social media. Have I left anything out?

And underlying those skills, there’s more – the skills that journalists have always needed, the reporter’s fundamental mindset. Tomorrow’s journalists, like today’s, like yesterday’s, need to spot stories in the world around them, find out what’s been published or aired on those stories, figure out new angles and follow-ups, research people and topics, synthesize information swiftly, write quickly and gracefully, revise their own and others’ copy, analyze and use numbers, conduct all kinds of interviews, be prepared to wrestle with ethical dilemmas, possess a broad knowledge of history and current events, meet deadlines. Accuracy, brevity and clarity, the ABC’s of journalism – they sound simple, but much study and practice are needed to achieve them.

From an educator’s standpoint, a key question is this: How do we weave the fundamentals and the technology together in a curriculum that not only teaches students to compete in today’s media job market but also how to think and reflect and write? The follow-up questions come thick and fast. Do we start by teaching students how to shoot and edit video? Do we have them produce stories in multiple platforms from the beginning? Or do we start with a focus on the fundamentals, the writing, research, interviewing, revising and numeracy skills? Is it possible to do everything at once?

The answer to that last question is the only easy one: No.

Spread the material too thin, try to cram too much too fast into students’ brains, and you end up with students who can do nothing well. There may be a superficial technical glibness, but the content, the storytelling, suffers. The ability to tell important stories accurately, quickly and clearly comes first. The platforms come second. And writing is still the best way for students to demonstrate their mastery of putting a story together – whether writing for “print” or writing “broadcast” scripts or writing directly for the web. (Those are air quotes. Nearly all “print” and “broadcast” work ends up on the web at some point.)

My dream journalism curriculum looks like this.

Continue reading

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

Where do we go from here, fellow grammar nerds?

After reading my posts on David Mulroy’s book “The War Against Grammar,” my friend and colleague Ann Marie Horbey asked:

“So where do we go from here? Are we language mavens* resigned to shaking our head and waiting for the four horseman to arrive? Or can we try to change the system?”

Like Mulroy, I would love to see formal grammar instruction return to grammar school — ahem. But this seems an unlikely prospect given the resistance that has built up over the years.  Mulroy pegs the National Council of Teachers of English as the heart of this resistance although, as he notes, it has a subgroup called The Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar. The Assembly has been holding annual meetings since 1990 and has both a journal and a substantial website. I am joining the assembly and will familiarize myself with its positions and personnel; perhaps this is the best vehicle for advocacy.

One can certainly advocate for change at the local level by speaking to local school boards and officials.

Anyone else have ideas — or better yet, a successful strategy?

* “Language mavens” is a much nicer term than “grammar nerds,” I know, and yet I find the self-deprecation of the latter irresistible. When I refer to myself thus to my students, they respond with affection. I believe that they generally respect me and that the combination of respect and affection helps them see me as a role model. So I’ll stick with “grammar nerd”; I hope none of you language mavens out there are offended.

Hero worship: Musings on Mulroy’s “War Against Grammar”

My previous post outlined David Mulroy’s incisive brief for formal instruction in punctuation, grammar and syntax, “The War Against Grammar.” Here’s why Mulroy’s 2003 book made me so happy.

First, his fierceness. Mulroy gives the anti-grammarian contingent no quarter. His attack on the studies educators have used for decades to argue that formal grammar instruction hinders students’ ability to learn to write demolishes those arguments, arguments that seem on their face, to me, to anyone who knows grammar, to anyone born before 1960, say, idiotic. He shows that these studies did not set out to answer the question at hand or used mature rather than youthful subjects. He reveals the sophism, the deceptiveness (unwitting, we’ll say, giving the benefit of the doubt) behind the earnestness of the “language arts” crowd. When did literature, reading and writing become “language arts,” anyway? When people make specific things vague, I gnash my teeth.

Second, Mulroy’s book beautifully articulates ideas that I’ve had in my head for years, ideas I’ve talked about with colleagues and friends and written about a little but never backed up with the kind of research Mulroy undertook on this side project; he’s been a classics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee since 1973. For instance: the idea that grammar helps make us human. I formulated this idea in a reverie and later dismissed it as overblown. But in his third chapter, which surveys the decline of grammar instruction in the age of medieval scholasticism and its renewal with the rise of Renaissance humanism, he gets at exactly this point. “Grammar’s dual role, preserving or reviving the appreciation of literary classics and creating new eloquence, was never illustrated more dramatically,” he writes, referring to the “flowering of vernacular literature” from Dante and Petrarch to Shakespeare. Literature helps us understand ourselves and others as people more directly than philosophy. Understanding grammar is essential to understanding literature, a point Mulroy illustrates with examples including a Shakespearean sonnet (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” in which the main clause doesn’t appear until the ninth line of the poem) and the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence. When he asks his students to restate the point of that great American sentence (“When in the course of human events…” in case you were wondering), few can. For example: “‘People must have true facts to back up their thoughts on a god if they are different from the thoughts of the majority.'” Mulroy calls this “a higher kind of illiteracy,” one that, as the students can write and speak English adequately, “boils down to an ignorance of grammar.”

Third, he digs into grammar ignorance in a way that reveals just how barren of this knowledge many college students are today. Few really know what it means to conjugate a verb. Worse, few know what “verb” means. I’ve had a student tell me that the verb in a sentence is “that.” Mulroy writes that it was a watershed event in his career when he realized “that few of my students knew what I meant by ‘the verb to be.’ They thought I was referring to a word that was destined to become a verb.” Continue reading

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