Co-authored with Kasey Windels
As professors in communications programs at two large public Universities (the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University and the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon), we are charged with training the next generation of professional communicators. We have found Journalist’s Resource an invaluable tool for our courses
Journalist’s Resource is a weekly compendium that provides access to summaries of relevant research in mass communication. Journalist’s Resource does not discriminate between “applied” and “academic” research and presents exemplars in both areas. This combination presents an accessible way for both undergraduates and graduates to be exposed to the breadth of information and knowledge being created today and to understand how to use that knowledge for their own professional work.
Journalist’s Resource provides sample syllabi on topics relevant to the fields of journalism and mass communication. The sample syllabus for “Digital media and society,” for instance, provided an outline of weekly topics, along with suggested readings and assignments. The information provided on the syllabus stimulated new ways of preparing our own syllabi and generated new ideas for class assignments. In a graduate class on Digital Media, for example, the focus was broadened from the changing media landscape brought about by digital media proliferation to include the impact of digital media on society. This helped students to see the issue more holistically; it helped them think not only about the use of technology and digital media, but also how it might affect society. The sample syllabus also provided links to excellent information on Big Data, a burgeoning area of research and practice that journalists and other communicators must understand on a much more nuanced level than ever before.
We rely on Journalist’s Resource to help us create classes that address current important issues at a deep level. As our students enter the professional world of mass communication either as researchers or practitioners, our hope is that students will approach problems more comprehensively based on the enhanced perspective offered by the sample syllabus.
Seeing the value of theory and practice
The combination of both academic and applied research allows students to identify bridges between theory and practice. Students studying framing theory, for example, examined a group of studies on air pollution and look at how different news sources framed both the problem and the solutions. Class discussion focused on why different frames existed and what was the media’s responsibility to different stakeholders. Students also examined a group of academic studies on gun violence to determine how different types of messages about gun control could be framed to different groups of people. The challenge of conflicting information becomes an important real-world discussion for our students.
Journalist’s Resource served as a model for students of a resource that makes scholarly research more digestible. Undergraduates see how to take challenging political and scientific concepts and present them in ways that audiences can easily understand. They also become aware of the range of resources available to journalists and other professional communicators to help them craft important and impactful stories. Many students feel satisfied if each day they read the New York Times, and we are grateful when they do. At the same time, the NYT only scratches the surface of available information, and students can get easily overwhelmed. Journalist’s Resource addresses the information glut challenge.
Graduate students are at an important time in the development of their writing skills. They are learning a new style of academic writing, a style that doesn’t appeal to the typical American reader. However, they also are embarking on research careers in mass communication, a field in which research matters to practice. The Journalist’s Resource offers of a model of writing that distills academic knowledge to inform journalists and help disseminate important studies. Our students use this as a model as they write their weekly blog post discussing the course readings. The blog is a place for them to tie together readings, question them, engage with them. The Journalist’s Resource article summaries serve as an exemplar of the writing style they should use – professional, yet accessible. Through this exercise, students will better be able to spread the word about their own research in the future.
Specializing in a vast digital media universe
Journalist’s Resource curates in-depth resources on topics of importance for professional communicators today. This curation is important, given the huge amount of information now available on a topic like digital media. For example, one email had a research roundup on “What’s new in digital and social media research,” summarizing 12 recent studies on the topic. This served as a resource during the development of the syllabus and for selection of readings for the course. The online posts and emails also provide us with additional sources and timely topics to consider in class discussions. For example, one post provided best rhetorical practices for spreading messages on Twitter, which detailed findings from two relevant research studies. Another post gathered data and charts from Pew, Reuters, and other sources that outlined trends in social media, mobile devices, and online news. These kinds of resources can be useful as a primer to class discussion.
With the accessible format, students can discover ideas that stimulate their interests both academically and professionally. Journalist’s Resource can kindle engagement from a nugget of information a student learned in a different class—the information on climate change reporting can connect with a concept from their Environmental Studies class; studies on raising the minimum wage can remind them of a discussion from their econ seminar. This helps students make clear connections among the various courses that brings more meaning to their academic work.
While Journalist’s Resource has been important for the courses we describe above, we have reflected on ways we would like to use it in future courses, as well. The tip sheets detailing how to read and write about a research study and understand basic statistical terms are useful for all future mass communication practitioners. The tip sheets could be assigned as readings or shared via the online course hub as a resource. The tips sheets also could be used as a course supplement for students without an extensive background in journalism, visual communication, or the interpretation of academic research. It could help those students get up to speed on those topics to better fulfill the course objectives.
The syllabi presented at the site provide ideas for interesting classes both at the undergraduate and graduate level that are particularly relevant today. As digital natives, our students are highly motivated and influenced by visual content, perhaps more than any other generation. The syllabus on visual ethics provides valuable ideas on discussing this topic in a variety of classes. As we move into another Presidential election, the syllabus (as well as the wealth of resources) on Political Communication will help stimulate and guide exceptional class discussions.
The proliferation of digital media has brought about an abundance of information available at the click of a button. However, it can be difficult both for faculty and students to stay up to date with quality resources on topics so important to today’s communicators. For faculty members, the Journalist’s Resource serves both as a starting point for developing a new class and as a resource for enriching learning and discussion.
Kasey Windels is an assistant professor in the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU.
Kim Sheehan is a professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.