Posts Tagged ‘ students ’

Reinventing J-School: We get the Gillin imprimatur

It’s nice when someone whose opinion you value tells you, “You’re doing the right things.”

Responding to the invitation I issued in one of my first posts on this blog, Paul Gillin, creator of the widely read Newspaper Death Watch blog, came to Stony Brook University last week to see for himself what we’re doing at our 4-year-old School of Journalism — how we’re reinventing j-school at a time of chaos (or challenge and opportunity, as my dean prefers to call it) — in the news industry. He liked what he saw.

“Journalism Educators Who Get It,” the title of his post about his time with us, was a nice change from “Misshaping Young Minds,” the post he wrote just before he arrived, or “J-Schools Get an F in Finance,” the post he wrote back in February that triggered my invitation to him.

He liked our News Literacy program. He liked our multiplatform worldview, our insistence that every student learn to write and edit text, to shoot digital photos, to shoot and edit video, to blog, to create interactive news elements. He liked the 18-credit interdisciplinary concentrations each of our journalism majors completes in addition to 47 credits in journalism. (A typical course is 3 credits.) Ditto our required senior project, in which students spend six weeks reporting a story and then tell it three ways: in text, in video or audio, and interactively. Ditto Journalism 24/7, the class I teach on the history, present and possible futures of the news business. Ditto that each student in the class reflects on what he or she is learning via twice-weekly blog post.

He had ideas for us, too, some that I liked a lot and others that I liked less. I liked his suggestion that we expand on the concept of our new Center for Communicating Science, which is about to have its first big event at Brookhaven National Lab, and provide a thread of courses teaching writing, blogging, audio and video skills to undergraduates from all disciplines. Scientists outside of the information-technology area lag in understanding how to use the power of the Internet, as my friend Denis Pelli, a psychology professor at New York University, showed poignantly when his timely panel on the subject drew a meager audience.

I liked his insight that Web sites will decline in importance as information consumption rolls inexorably onto mobile devices. This comment startled my colleague Wasim Ahmad, who cherishes good Web design and has made design central to his teaching philosophy. Food for thought: Original design won’t mean much when most people get to the Internet via the tiny screen of a smartphone.

I didn’t agree with Gillin’s print-is-dead pronouncements. Media history has shown that new platforms are built on the old while the old learn how to live with the new, processes definitively described in 1997 by Roger Fidler in his essential work, “Mediamorphosis: Understanding the New Media”: “Coevolution and coexistence, rather than sequential evolution and replacement, have been the norm.” People still hunger for print. The audience for print is shrinking but not vanishing. For j-schools, this means coevolution and coexistence in course offerings. Continue to teach writing and copy editing, layout and headline writing, but make room in the curriculum for all students to learn the other modes of communication, too.

That’s how you get to a 47-credit journalism major.

I’m still wrestling with the argument Gillin made, one made by many on the leading edge of journalistic entrepreneurialism, that the wall between editorial and business is not sacrosanct, that it is being eroded by journalists’ need for survival skills. Yes, journalists need to make money in an era of fewer staff jobs and click-driven metrics, but (to round up the relevant cliches and mix a metaphor or two), it’s a slippery slope, and you can’t serve two masters.  Of all that the faculty discussed with Gillin, this idea gave my colleagues the most trouble.

We are a forward-thinking group and we’re doing a lot that earns the praise of those who, like Paul Gillin, seem to see clearly where the news industry is going. But as a faculty, we have some old-school ideas about right and wrong.

My next post will report on Gillin’s visit to my classroom and how our students responded to his vision.

Job-hunting tools: Indeed.com and mediajobpod.org

I added a new category to the blog this week: Professionalism 101. Part of my job at Stony Brook U.’s j-school is coordinating internships and helping our seniors and graduates find jobs. And as the mission of this blog is to reflect on how j-schools are preparing the new generation of journalists for the evolving news industry, writing about job issues and the transition from student to professional feels like a natural fit.

When Joe Grimm met with our graduating seniors last week, he mentioned indeed.com, which he described as a “job board scraper.” Indeed.com has been around for years, apparently, and has been written about widely, yet it’s new to me. I’m an instant convert.

Just for fun, I tried searching for three starkly different job titles — newspaper reporter, hydrogeologist and sewing-machine operator — and got lengthy search results for each. Users can narrow the results by location, salary, company or title, among other choices; one can have e-mail alerts sent whenever a new job is posted in a selected category. The site has a blog examining overall trends in hiring, forums by job title, FAQs, search tips and a neat feature that Joe mentioned: job trends by industry. Today’s page on trends for a category called “media and newspaper jobs” says that job postings last month in this area were up 18 percent over February 2009. How’s that for some good news for a change? (Numeracy alert: Let’s remember that last February, such job postings were few and far between. Still, better up than down.) Among the top 10 job titles in this group: copy editor, with more than 11,000 such jobs posted at an average salary of $48,000.

Another site I’m crazy about is mediajobpod.org, which the Society of Professional Journalists mentioned in a recent e-newsletter; one of my colleagues passed it on to me. This site is the brainchild of two journalism profs at Kent State University, Karl Idsvoog and Dave Smeltzer, a former TV journalist and corporate videographer, respectively. Nice job, guys! They bill the site as “Job Search Advice for Multimedia Journalists and Production Majors.” It consists of beautifully produced video clips of top staffers, and executives who make hiring decisions, discussing topics such as internships, cover letters, writing and multimedia for specific job titles. The journalism job titles currently listed are TV reporter, TV producer, videographer/editor and Web reporter. Among the people who appear on the site are NBC’s Tim Peek, executive producer, new media; CNN anchor/reporter Carol Costello; and the elegant Rita Andolsen, news director at WKYC in Cleveland.

What’s so great about this site is the chance to hear and see professionals giving the advice that matters most to students, the nitty-gritty details about resumes and cover letters and interviews. Hearing from professors is one thing; for students, sometimes, it’s a lot like listening to parents, in one ear and out the other. Or so I fear. But hearing from professionals, and watching them speak, often in newsroom settings, is like diving into the Atlantic off Long Island. It wakes you up. The concern they express for helping students get the job-hunt right, and their passion for finding great young people to bring on board, makes for an inspiring experience.

Getting seniors ready for work

After reading my previous post on deadlines, one of the students in my senior seminar expressed disappointment that I hadn’t mentioned her name among those who have been posting regularly to our class blog. She was the first student to post, she noted, and has posted every week. She added that she had put her disappointment aside to concentrate on catching up on her missed work — and on getting her name off our weekly “Work Owed” chart.

That got me thinking about the importance of learning to live without much praise.

I remembered when I was a young reporter on the business desk at New York Newsday — so young, it seems to me now! I was 29 or 30 at the time of the incident I’m recalling; certainly I was old enough to know better, and I knew that at the time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’d been at the paper for about a year, maybe a little more. I was meeting with my assignment editor, Steve Zipay. I don’t recall what made me say this, but I clearly remember complaining to him, “No one ever tells me I’m doing a good job.”

He fixed me with a mildly exasperated yet kindly look. “Barbara,” he said, “at this level, no one’s going to tell you you’re doing a good job.”

It’s assumed that you’re going to do a good job, he went on. Occasionally, someone may remark on it, and if you do something really terrific, you may get some brief recognition. But day to day appreciation? No. People are going to tell you what they need. Everyone is busy, and everyone is thinking about the next thing that has to get done, the next deadline.

It was a lesson that stuck with me, obviously.

Most of my students are already working, but not at jobs that mean much to them. When they get a job that serves their passion and reflects their training, they may be hoping for more recognition than they expect now, from the assistant manager at the store, say. Keep that hope in check, I want to tell them. The reason for working at something you’re passionate about is that the work is its own reward.

Recognition comes in other ways. Extra responsibility. A tougher assignment. Eventually, perhaps, an award or a promotion. But day to day, the motivated worker finds satisfaction in the work. In teaching these seniors, I’d better be as demanding, and as frugal with praise, as the overworked editors at their first jobs will be.

Shining a light on missed deadlines

One of the biggest complaints among my colleagues — and, I imagine, among journalism professors everywhere — is the student who misses deadlines.

Why else the dire threats in every journalism syllabus I’ve ever seen: a grade lost for every day the assignment is late. No credit for work more than a week late. No work accepted late, at all.

I’ve written those threats into syllabuses myself. Yet I find myself nodding in resignation when a student begs to print out her story during a break or to e-mail it to me after class.

What to do? I could develop a steelier spine and follow through on the threats — and I have lowered grades for late work. Yes, I could do that consistently, in theory.

But I’ve stumbled upon a couple of techniques recently that have proved effective, and they’re more pleasant than the glowering tough-guy approach. Both harness the Internet.

Like many colleges and universities, Stony Brook uses an online educational tool called Blackboard. Each course has its own Blackboard site, with pages for assignments, email, announcements, course documents, gradebook, discussion boards, blogs and many more.

I like to use the Announcement function, which also allows me to send the announcement as an e-mail to all students in the course.

The night before a deadline, I post an announcement reiterating the details of the deadline: time, place, format. I specify that the work is due in hard copy, typed, triple-spaced and stapled, at the start of class. For good measure, I e-mail the announcement to all the students.

This tactic worked well during my winter-session course. Everyone managed to make the deadlines, despite commutes of up to 90 minutes for a class that began at 9:30 a.m., pre-dawn by student standards.

This semester, I tried something else when half of the 12 students in the senior-project seminar I co-teach with Marcy McGinnis had missed two interim project deadlines three weeks into the course. I threw together a spreadsheet listing all the students. The next column listed missed assignments — blank for those who were caught up. Then a column with the due date, and a column — blank — for the date submitted.

I posted the spreadsheet on Blackboard and e-mailed it to the class yesterday. Then I sat back and watched the late assignments roll in. All but two students are now caught up.

A picture, or in this case a chart, is worth a thousand nags. Seeing their names on the bad-boy list means public embarrassment, however slight. Just stating the facts, folks; it’s up to you to do something about the situation.

These students are working on semester-long projects. If  they fall behind this early in the semester, they are doomed. I plan to make this chart a weekly feature of the course.

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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