Journalism Educators Serve Students by Sticking to the Basics

American Journalism Review, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Journalism Educators Serve Students by Sticking to the Basics


Just before heading back into classrooms for the fall, journalism educators met in August to talk about the challenges of turning today's undergraduates into tomorrow's reporters, editors, producers and Webmasters.

The educators found they shared some of the same worries. The pressures of academia -- keeping up with technology, balancing teaching with administrative duties -- sometimes seem enormous. But several journalists reassured them that they should keep on teaching the basics.

"I get resumes from the Internet-savvy kids right out of school," CNN Interactive's Managing Editor Chuck Westbrook said at one session of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) convention. "They know Photoshop and HTML. But I hire [people with print journalism] experience. I can teach you the basic HTML skills you need in a month, [but I can't teach] the journalism skills."

To encourage excellence in teaching core journalism courses, each year The Freedom Forum salutes three Journalism Teachers of the Year at the AEJMC convention. This year the honorees acknowledged the difficulties of their jobs but also celebrated the opportunity to work as teachers.

"All I can say is that I walk into a wonderful setting where most of my students are so enthusiastic they'll run into a burning building for me," Bruce Itule of Arizona State University said. "And all I do is make them report and re-report and write and rewrite until they get it right."

West Virginia University's Christine Martin said that when she began teaching, other professors warned her that the hardest part was getting students to pay attention. But she found that "one sure way to get students to pay attention is to pay attention to them.... I kept my mouth shut -- and the students uncovered the clockwork of their own thinking."

Dianne Lynch of St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., urged her counterparts to remember that teaching is about the students, not the other trappings of university life. "It's hard to set [the pressures of publishing] aside when we have another student standing at the door," she said.

Other educators -- alumni of The Freedom Forum's Ph.D. program for journalists at the University of North Carolina -- held a reunion at AEJMC, and some said that they found the interests of academia and the professional world aren't so different.

"The interests of journalists and journalism educators are more common than either tends to recognize,' said W.

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