Most journalism courses should cover a wide range of content, from terminology to skills to strategy.
This post continues my response to a colleague who asked for advice for her first gig teaching journalism as an adjunct faculty member. I had emailed Jenn Lord Paluzzi asking if I could use her name in answering the question and hadn’t heard back from her when I posted yesterday, so she was unidentified in yesterday’s post, which was about the different ways that you teach.
Jenn quickly claimed the question, though:
— Jenn Lord Paluzzi (@jpaluzziSun) January 14, 2014
Continuing the discussion, I can think of at least seven levels on which you need to teach the content of most courses:
Terminology: Students need to learn the language of the field, or the slice of the field you’re teaching. If your class covers video, they’ll need to know what B-roll and voiceovers are. If you’re teaching writing, you’ll probably need to teach them what leads (or ledes), nut grafs, inverted pyramids and tweets are. In the entrepreneurial journalism class that Ken Dodelin and I are teaching this semester at Georgetown University, the second class (which Ken taught Monday) is on key terms.
Knowledge: Every class requires students to learn some basic information. If you’re teaching media law, the students will need to know about New York Times vs. Sullivan and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. If you’re teaching a social media class, students will need to know the difference between personal Facebook accounts and fan pages.
Understanding: This overlaps with knowledge but goes deeper, from facts to concepts and application. In the first example above, knowledge would be familiarity with the facts of NYT v. Sullivan and understanding would be the ability to apply the concept of actual malice to potential libel situations.
Tools: Many journalism classes will require teaching students how to use tools: video cameras, smartphones, tablets, editing software, databases, social media platforms.
Skills: Building on the foundation of terminology, knowledge, understanding and tools, you need to teach students to actually practice journalism. They need to gather information, verify facts, analyze data, write, shoot, edit, tweet, design, code and otherwise do the work of journalism.
Ethics: You need to teach the ethical situations journalists face and the principles that guide good decision-making in those situations.
Strategy: You might not cover strategy in every course, but I think journalism students need to learn how to apply all of these things to running a newsroom or a news organization.
I’ll run through how I might cover Twitter in a basic reporting course on all these levels:
Students would learn about the 140-character limit, what you see (and don’t see) in your timeline, how automatic RTs differ from modified tweets or RTs with comments added. They would learn about several third-party apps that are useful to reporters.
Students would learn how livetweeting and engaging with the community helps you gain followers. I might give an assignment or in-class exercise examining how a news organization or a journalist used Twitter in covering a news story.
We’d use Twitter.com, of course, and advanced search. We’d learn how to check your @ mentions. We’d use some combination of mobile apps, TweetDeck, HootSuite, ScribbleLive, Geofeedia, Storify and other apps that help reporters use Twitter effectively in news coverage.
The students would need to put all this into practice, of course. They need to learn by doing. In a basic reporting course, I’d probably require livetweeting of a breaking news story and a planned event. I’d require a crowdsourcing exercise in one assignment (probably using Twitter and Facebook).
In one of those stories or another assignment, the students would need to gather some information from Twitter and embed tweets in a story. I’d teach how to make a point in 140 characters, how to post links and how to be conversational.
I’d teach the skills through a combination of demonstration, in-class exercises (with feedback) and assignments (more feedback). I’d have at least one assignment focused specifically on Twitter and it would figure into other assignments as one of various skills employed.
We’d certainly address how to verify information found on Twitter. We also would discuss how to assess and decide whether it’s appropriate to voice opinions on Twitter (and other social media) about stories you’re covering. I’d make sure the students understood why they should identify themselves as journalists in social media profiles.
We would discuss strategic issues such as why newsrooms should livetweet routine events and breaking news and why you shouldn’t worry about tipping the competition on Twitter. We might discuss why Daniel Victor cautions journalists against using hashtags and why I think you still should use them smartly.
@stevebuttry Yep, “smart” is the key. Ensure there’s a purpose and an audience. The mass hashtags tend to be used without thought.
— Daniel Victor (@bydanielvictor) March 27, 2013
We’d discuss some of the business trade-offs (articulated well by Dan Gillmor and others in a recent Twitter discussion), such as the risks of using the platform of Twitter, which could be or become a local competitor for advertising revenue.
.@stevebuttry of course, when you post first to Twitter, the biggest winner is … Twitter, a growing competitor on the biz side.
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) January 4, 2014
I might assign students to choose a news organization and analyze how it uses Twitter in its reporting. Or we might do that as an in-class exercise.
Learning these levels is cyclical
Of course, you can go through some or all of those levels of learning for each of several topics you’ll cover in any course.
The most important levels are the ones at the bottom of my list: strategy, ethics, skills. But the students can’t learn those without first mastering the basics of terminology, knowledge, understanding and tools.
And they don’t necessarily proceed in order. Learning with many journalism topics is cyclical. You may have been working quite a while on skills, ethics and strategy. But a new term comes out that puzzles you and you’re back to that step briefly. Or a new tool comes out and you have to learn how to use it, how it fits in (or changes) your strategy, what are the ethical implications?
What’s your advice?
Repeating my invitation for guest posts from other journalism professors (adjunct or full-time):
If you have written (or read) some advice for journalism profs, please share the links in the comments or by email. Or let me know if you’d be willing to write a blog post, either with general advice or on a specific topic. Or you can post to your own blog and send me a link. I’ll link to it here and make it part of this series.
Next up from me: How to use your experience in the classroom.