Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Starting from Scratch

UGA's journalism department begins its new curriculum this spring semester, and with it I have to, from scratch, create a large-lecture class we call Information Gathering. Basically it's a class in fact finding, not unlike the one taught forever at UF but updated as our former broadcast and journalism students are now all in one major with common classes.

This mission of the class is to encourage in students, to steal a phrase, a "documents state of mind."

Enough of the curriculum change. About this class -- which was my idea, so I shouldn't bitch -- starting from an outline and a rough idea in my head is tougher than I thought. Not the week-to-week topics. That's easy. I'm in the office today pulling together stuff at the daily level, creating slides and links and the like for some of the first few weeks. That's more difficult, in part because there is so much stuff out there. So very much.

For example, I'm frontloading the class with ethics and law. I firmly believe that should come first, not last, to journalism students. Making them take mass comm law at the end of their course of study treats it as an afterthought. I focus on the tension between law and ethics (what we legally can do versus what we ethically should do). In the first couple of weeks, for example, they'll get intimate with the Georgia open records/meetings law and they'll hook up with two or three major codes of ethics. Most of the law stuff is access. They'll take a mass comm law class in their second semester, so I'll go easy on libel, etc.

Here are some of my topics:

  • Ethical decision making
  • Four methods of gathering news: observation, interview, documents and data
  • Accessing public meetings, records, and events (a lot on this)
  • Verification and fact checking
  • Search techniques for online and search engines
  • Primary vs. secondary sources
  • Analyzing reports, such as budgets and audits
  • Interpreting police incident and arrest reports
  • Making sense of courts
  • Live news events
  • Social media
  • Understanding math and statistics in a news setting
  • Accessing and analyzing data for stories
  • Strengths and weaknesses of eyewitness accounts
  • Local government
  • Non-profits
  • and so on, and so on, and so on. I have about 120 students in the class, so real-world exercises will be a challenge, though I have some ideas on that.

And this is an abbreviated version of my list. Sheesh.

It'd also help that UGA had the air running in my building this week, but we're closed. Fricking hot in here.

No comments: