Advice for Making the Leap from Newsroom to Classroom

    by Meagan Doll
    January 14, 2015
    Photo by Jeremy Wilburn on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons License.
    Newsroom to Classroom Series logo

    Click the image for the full series. (Image courtesy of Flickr user Brett Jordan and used here under Creative Commons.)

    EdShift curator Katy Culver recently posted a question to the ONA Educators group on Facebook. As we were gearing up for this series, she asked, what was their best advice for people teaching for the first time? Here are some of their replies, a roadmap for getting it right in teaching.

    Amy Simons
    Assistant Professor of Convergence Journalism
    Missouri School of Journalism


    I’ll never forget the first time I told a student to call the mayor for more information on something. They looked at me shocked, not realizing they had the power to call up an elected official and ask a question. I looked at them shocked by their naiveté. Remind yourself again and again, they’re students doing this for the first (or second or third) time.

    Katherine Hepworth
    Assistant Professor of Visual Journalism
    The Reynolds School, University of Nevada Reno

    The things your students need to know most are the things you think are too basic to need to be taught: time management, how to make a professional phone call, what not to post on social media, professional courtesy, how to work in teams, etc.


    Welch Suggs
    Associate Professor
    Grady College, University of Georgia

    Your town is your laboratory. Get your students out talking to people in the real world, learning how to relate to professionals. Teach them courtesy (in the South, we have an advantage), but teach them to get good stories. And don’t assume their writing skills are worth shooting.

    Mike Reilley
    Cronkite News Digital Production Bureau, Arizona State University

    See if you can translate a project/problem/experience from your professional career into a class assignment or project. Use your experience without telling war stories. Teach them to use mobile and wearable tech as a reporting tool. Apps like Videolicious, JamSnap and Storyline are easy to teach, and students can use them for quick-hit projects or preview of an upcoming broadcast. It also forces them to use tools in the field as opposed to texting and emailing. For wearables, get them thinking of point-of-view stories with video and photos. Great for Glass and GoPros. I think it’s important for new profs to push it a bit and try new things. Experiment, be the mad scientist. You can write your own job description.

    I’ve been teaching for nearly 11 years after working at the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post. I’ve found that sitting the student down next to me and editing the story in front of them — just as we often do with interns and young reporters — is the best teaching tool. That’s how I was taught in the classroom and newsroom. It works. Edit to professional standards.

    Photo by Bill Erickson on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons License.

    Photo by Bill Erickson on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons License.

    Raju Narisetti
    Senior Vice President of Strategy
    News Corp

    Teach them that church and state doesn’t mean not understanding the business of journalism or not wanting to work with the business side to make sure we can continue to do journalism we want to do as journalists.

    Deb Wenger
    Director of Undergraduate Journalism
    University of Mississippi

    Set expectations high, but understand that you were once clueless, too. When you’re an instructor fresh from the newsroom, it’s easy to treat students like they are new hires, but it’s not quite the same dynamic. A little more TLC and a little less tough love may be in order.

    Leigh Landini Wright
    Assistant Professor
    Murray State

    Guide students to think outside their comfort zone of contacts and sources as preparation for finding good (and diverse) sources in the professional world. Too often they go to the same group of people (fraternity/sorority/residential colleges, etc.) for class assignments. In the same thought, guide students on how to evaluate sources and determine which source is the best one for that particular story. Get them out into the community, but remember that they may not know the city government structure or feel comfortable going to City Hall to chat with the mayor or a commissioner as they try to glean story ideas. Finally, get them unhooked from their devices and into the community to observe and talk to real people.

    Also, grading — figure out what works for you and will give meaningful feedback but yet won’t eat up every spare moment of your time. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Finally, as a new professor, especially if you end up on a tenure track, remember to take some time for yourself because the balance between teaching, research and service can be more difficult than the newsroom if you let it. Find something that relaxes you whether it’s yoga, marathon running, cooking or knitting, and find a way to unplug from everything every so often. Your family will thank you.

    Steve Fox
    Senior Lecturer and Sports Journalism Director
    University of Massachusetts Amherst

    E-mailing and texting sources is not the same as talking to them in person. Seriously. Simple but stunning how many times this point has to be hammered home. Regarding teaching styles, grading policies, etc., the best advice I can give to those making the switch is to attend seminars at Poynter and absorb as much as you can from colleagues near and far. “Sharing” is highly advised. Learn the educational system but avoid the jargon. I still wince every time I hear “pedagogy.”

    Stephanie Stassel-Bluestein
    Assistant Professor of Journalism
    California State University, Northridge

    You’re a teacher, not a guest lecturer who simply shares your old war stories. It’s now your job to educate yourself about learning styles, classroom management, pedagogy and public speaking.

    Charlie Meyerson
    Adjunct Journalism Professor
    Roosevelt University, Chicago

    Have a clear but tough grading policy, and stick to it.

    Teach all students basic audio editing. It’s simpler than video, but the principles are fundamentally the same.

    Make sure every student has a Google Voice number, a Twitter account and a Facebook account; understands how to create Google News Alerts; and knows only one space follows a period. Learn from students (especially those more savvy in the ways of digital/social media). But don’t cut them slack in the fundamentals of writing — including grammar, spelling and fact-checking.

    Bill Grueskin
    Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

    It’s tempting to edit students the way you edit reporters. That is a huge mistake. You’re there to educate them, not fix their stories by deadline for publication. I think editors tend to approach stories as ‘things to be fixed and verified’ — usually on deadline. Editors usually have little time to teach broader lessons. But professors do students no favor by simply fixing their copy time and again. Far better to help students understand how to write crystalline, concise, powerful prose — on their own.

    Amy Eisman
    Director of Media Entrepreneurship & Interactive Journalism
    American University

    Teach what you know, learn what you don’t and if it is really out of your wheelhouse, bring in an expert. Also: limit war stories. Different era. Also make learning experiential and guide-on-the-side and not sage-on-the-stage. Let them make mistakes now so they learn; you don’t want them to make mistakes in the so-called real world.

    Break actions into little steps. Interviews for example — down to the subject line of an email.

    Most important: laugh.

    Photo by Jeremy Wilburn on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons License.

    Photo by Jeremy Wilburn on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons License.

    Aaron Chimbel
    Associate Professor of Practice
    Texas Christian University

    What you don’t want to do is simply fix the story, like an editor would. An experienced reporter probably knows why the changes are being made. I get uncomfortable when the professor has his/her hands on the keyboard. The students need to be the ones to make the changes, especially with the mindset that many students have that they are perfectly happy to have someone fix it for them. Go through it, discuss areas for improvement and why and strategies to do so, then send them back out to do it. Put it on them. Play to your strengths. Of course, the nature of the class dictates how the class is taught (small skills class vs. large lecture). But, if you’re not comfortable lecturing, focus on discussion or examples. And certainly draw on the students’ experience and guests. Also, experiment. Try it once and see what happens. Then, evolve your classes. If your syllabus is exactly the same semester to semester, you’re probably doing your students a disservice.

    Kiratiana Freelon
    Graduate Student
    CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

    Having been in graduate school for the past year and a half, I can give some perspective from a student: 1) Know how to give in-depth constructive feedback that will elevate an assignment. Interestingly, not many journalists know how to do this. Maybe people who have served as editors can do this but not every journalist who walks into a classroom was an editor. I didn’t have too many teachers who sat down with me and edited a piece right next to me. 2) Only invite journalists to the classroom to give a talk if they can really dispense some sort of knowledge/advice that can’t be found on the Internet. 3) Include today’s news in the syllabus. Why not spend 20 minutes of a class discussing the best and worst of news on the trending topic of the day? When I say best and worst, I mean which people are getting the story, how are they delivering it. I think this allows students to develop an eye for good and bad journalism. 4) On the topic of war stories, I actually think it depends on the field of journalism you are going into. I found war stories to be invaluable in my international journalism classes. But war stories are only valuable if they include a particular lesson related to journalism.

    Lisa Waananen Jones
    Clinical Assistant Professor
    Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University

    I just finished my first semester of teaching undergraduates. The hardest part for me about transitioning from newsroom to classroom was becoming the sole authority figure. I like that newsrooms are collaborative places with a lot more gray area than we typically stop to think about since a thousand decisions need to be made every day. At the beginning I brought too much of this into the classroom, because I didn’t want to impose my personal preferences as rules or declare that students should “never” do certain things in their stories. (Other than vertical video.) I’m excited about the diversification of professional journalism and didn’t want to pretend like traditional newswriting is the best or only way to do things. But I found that students need me to set clear standards – even if they’re ones I’ve broken in my own writing – so they can question and challenge those rules for themselves later on.

    Steve Klein
    Professor Emeritus Journalism
    George Mason University

    It’s important to be honest with yourself. I started teaching at Michigan State in 1987 when I was sports editor of the Lansing State Journal. I taught a course three quarters a year (before MSU switched to the semester system) for nine years while also working on my master’s, which proved necessary later on at George Mason University. I emailed, called and stopped by GMU for three years before they finally gave me a course in 1999. I was an adjunct for four years before starting full time (actually, nine-month term) in 2003. I remained at Mason for a decade, coordinating the journalism concentration in Communication Department and teaching as many as four courses a semester and nine in an academic year. That’s what it took for me to make the transition from being a working journalist to academia. The moral of the story, or at least my story, is that I wasn’t a big-media editor (like a Bill Grueskin, who I greatly respect) that journalism programs were clamoring to add to their department. I was a solid community journalist who, I believe, had something to offer as a career mentor. But academia insisted that I earn my bona fides first. Without my master’s, I would not have been permitted to create curriculum, create programs and run a concentration. Most of us may be well qualified to teach journalism, but the transition is rarely automatic. Is that fair? I don’t think it is, but that’s what it took for me to transition and enjoy a second career that overlapped my first for nearly a decade and has lasted 25 very satisfying years. If your path is simpler, or easier, or shorter, then good for you. But for me, the path demanded persistence, patience and learning how things worked in a different environment and business. And you can quote me on that. Would I do it all over again? You bet I would.

    Jay Rosen
    Director of Studio 20
    New York University

    My advice is a little different. For decades, the basic pact between the J-schools of America and the newsrooms of America was: “send us people we can plug into our production routine tomorrow.” Everyone thought this was great. The students got jobs, the faculty could teach what they knew from their experience in the newsroom, the industry could offload its training costs onto the university, deans and presidents got high enrollments and a valuable connection to a key power center: the media. But is that compact, “send us people we can plug into our production routine tomorrow…” good enough today? I don’t think it is. So my advice is to start your transition by thinking up a better one.

    Herbert Lowe
    Professional in Residence and Director of Journalism for Social Change
    Diederich College of Communication, Marquette University

    1. Students are the reason for our work — not interruptions.
    2. Two types of students — those who want the career and those who want the grade. (A great student recently told me these types are not mutually exclusive, but I stand by it.)
    3. Students look for one thing the first day of class: How high is the bar? They really don’t want classes to be easy As. They want to be challenged, stretched, taught and to do great work.
    4. As reporters and editors, we spend a great deal of our days and careers focusing on young people in trouble or causing trouble. In this new role, we are constantly reminded that there are many people doing absolutely wonderful jobs raising fabulous young people.
    5. Many students in your journalism classes have no desire for or intent of having a journalism career. They want to earn a living doing some kind of nonprofit advocacy. This is OK. We are teaching them to tell stories as journalists — using text, audio, images, video, data and social media — and many organizations will want to hire them.
    6. Journalism students need different and better resumes and cover letters than other college students. Check out bit.ly.com/studentcoverletter
    7. Faculty meetings are to be endured.
    8. I agree that it’s great and rewarding to attend workshops at Poynter and elsewhere.
    9. It is so important to teach students about new things such as video, coding, data visualization. However, the vast majority of summer internships in newsrooms go to the students with the best clips, that is, those with the best writing and reporting experiences.
    10. Being a journalism educator is the best and most rewarding job I have ever had.

    Peg Achterman
    Assistant Professor of Communication and Journalism
    Seattle Pacific University

    1. The first time I was an adjunct, the overwhelming amount of paper nearly did me in (papers in/out/back = crazy-making).
    2. Expanding on the above — some of these are awful, so don’t be afraid to run your course on WordPress (or another stand-alone). This way it all stays in your possession and not trapped on university servers. Google Docs works well for getting papers in. I use a bit of a hybrid — some WP and some Blackboard.
    3. Guest speakers are so memorable for students. They were memorable for me. Real people make an impression (even if YOU ARE a real journalist still — at this point you are the prof and don’t count). It can be simply Q&A, but they remember those. I post the guest’s bio and require questions before the appearance.
    4. The “sitting beside” applies to all software — resist the temptation to grab the mouse. Talk them through it, but make their fingers do the walking.
    5. We are still somewhat siloed in our thinking. Therefore be sure you are talking to professionals (and having them as guests) who don’t work in “your” field. I am a broadcast-type by training. I try very hard to get newspaper people to come to class. If you are a former print-type, be sure you call on your b-cast brethren (you did make those friends, right?).
    6. As above in many posts: teach storytelling and writing skills — the technology changes but these are core.
    7. Whenever a student says, “I want to do THIS story,” require an explanation as to why it is news. Generalizations like “it’s interesting” are not enough. I know many who find this the most challenging thing to teach — “news judgement,” one might say.
    8. Again as noted above, relish this. I loved working in news and had a wonderful career, but I truly love working with students. They will rock your world.

    Curt Chandler
    Senior Lecturer/Multimedia
    Pennsylvania State

    It seems sort of basic, but don’t underestimate how little students may know about how journalism is produced. They may not know the difference between covering breaking news and producing a long form story. In fact, they may not know what long form journalism is. What they DO know is they like good stories. They want to know how to be good storytellers. That’s not a bad starting point.

    I begin every class with a brief look at good journalism — text, audio, video, data viz — and we talk about how and why it connects with audiences.

    I also encourage/demand/beg for students to be curious. Such a basic and crucial skill.

    I encourage them to work hard and have fun doing stories.

    I always give honest critiques. I specify when I’m giving a professor critique (“Let’s think of a way to do this better”) and an editor critique (“If you can’t figure out how to write a lead or find a way to make your video steady, you’re not a contender for any job with me”). Students appreciate being challenged but don’t want to be steamrolled or belittled.

    Even when I’m tired, my office door is open.

    Cathy Yungmann
    Associate Professor
    Cabrini College

    To get the attention of your students, remember that their frame of reference is: why does this matter to me? Help them believe that they can change the world.

    Meagan Doll is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying journalism. She is an intern for the EducationShift section at PBS MediaShift.

    Tagged: advice Newsroom to Classroom professionals transition

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