Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Teaching Hospital vs. Theme Park Journalism

A popular approach to teaching journalism, one promoted by the Knight Foundation's Eric Newton, among others, is the teaching hospital method. Like medical school students, so goes the idea, students learn by doing. Not just doing it in a classroom, mind you, but doing it in real life. It's hard to argue with that.

Of course lots of j-schools do just this, through their student news operations or, like at UGA, through those independent of the university, in our case The Red & Black. I bring this up because here at Grady we're in the midst of an accelerated curriculum discussion prompted in part by a TV station downstairs that's running deep in the red. OnlineAthens has a good story today on the station (you can read the actual report here), which is likely to be sold and somehow we're going to create a new curriculum that will make use of that suddenly available space. As part of this, journalism will likely combine with broadcast news as a department, and curriculum.

Okay, fine. I have you up to speed as best I can on what's happening at Grady. Lemme push it a bit more.

I'm on two committees looking at this and someone came up with an interesting alternative to a teaching hospital approach, one I think deserves discussion. A teaching hospital can drive the curriculum, the tail wagging the dog, plus it's hard to staff 24/7, especially between semesters. Instead of a regional newsroom covering the basics, and training kids to work in a declining industry, we're looking at more entrepreneurial and innovative uses. The one I'm discussing here is the idea of a theme-based newsroom. A journalism theme park, if you will. So this year, we're going to focus on a single theme, say obesity or hunger or whatever. That becomes the "theme" of journalism students, of broadcast/TV students, of online stuff, of advertising students, of PR kids. It would reach across the curriculum, across the college, and reach across the University and involve students from, say, social work. Plus it would not require 24/7 staffing, not require students cover sewer board meetings (they'll do that in basic reporting classes). We'd use this as a capstone experience, or an upper-level set of courses. I dunno.

So, your thoughts?

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