Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My New Journalism Curriculum

I've taught journalism at Grady for 21 years (longer than most of my students have been alive) and the curriculum looks more or less the same as the day I walked into our lovely cinder-block building.  Yes, we've tacked on some neat new courses (multimedia journalism, sports journalism), but at times this looks more like we've stapled a spoiler to a Chevy Vega.

When I arrived in 1991, we taught basic reporting (341).  It's now new-and-improved because we added another digit (3410).  Doesn't that change everything?

I'm being a bit unfair.  Visual and new media have been integrated into a lot of our classes, and we've changed from different majors into a single major (Journalism) with four sequences (magazine, public affairs, pub management, and visual).  In other words, our sequences look exactly like our former majors except that we changed the name of one from newspapers to public affairs.  Doesn't that change everything?

Again, a bit about public affairs.  We did make improvements in the curriculum.  Students in this sequence have a dedicated 3410 lab, which flows into their own Public Affairs Reporting class, which flows into a specialized class (Investigative, Advanced PubAffairs, or Data Journalism).   It's a tougher sequence than the old newspaper major, and we've been rewarded by dropping numbers.  Only four or five incoming students have public affairs as their first choice.  About as many have it as their fourth choice.  Lemme say that again -- four or so students coming into the public affairs sequence listed it as their fourth choice of major in Grady, meaning they probably didn't reach the grade point requirements of Public Relations, Advertising, Magazines, and ended up in class.  They'll be either an opportunity at conversion or a pain in the ass to teach. 

Back to my new journalism curriculum.  I'd streamline things, reduce the core, allow faculty to experiment with specialized classes.  Of course a lot of this may change if my department merges with the broadcast news folks, but let's set that aside for the moment.

My Core (everyone takes)

Introduction to Journalism (giant lecture, how journalism fits in society, etc.)
Introduction to Newswriting (basics of ledes, etc.)
Law and Ethics (required alongside newswriting or right after)
Emerging Media

That's it, and you could to all of 'em in you first semester.  I'd get rid of the traditional mass comm law and merge it with ethics because I honestly believe the practice of journalism is a tension between the two (what we legally can do versus what we ethically choose to do) and it's best understood in that way.  Yes, that'll piss some people off who are comfortable with the way things are done, but I hate the idea of students learning law in their last semester.  The Emerging Media class is a 1-hour, maybe 2-hour class that teaches skills and concepts of multimedia, to be completed in their first semester so they can take them to later classes.

After this, it's a buffet and not unlike special topics grad classes, faculty engage in a Darwinian struggle to attract students to classes.  Yes, students often don't make the best choices, and we can finesse this in some ways, but it's time to free the faculty and the students from these tight curricula.

What would I teach?  Hell, I'll teach 3410 because that's what I've done for 21 years.  Such is life as hero support.  But when I get a chance, I'd focus completely on data journalism, doing mapping and stories using all the neat spreadsheet and analysis tools out there.  Can I attract students? I dunno.  If you're a student it's hard to pass up a sportwriting class, or a class where you write stories about art and movies and music, or essays about yourself. 

1 comment:

Mark E. Johnson said...

Well, with this model, I'll fill my seats with a course titled, "Selfies for Facebook and Instagram."