Friday, June 9, 2017

Investigative Reporting -- Thinking Out Loud

In the Fall semester I am scheduled to teach Investigative Reporting and I'm wrestling with exactly how to do it. It's not that the topic frightens me. Hell, I have a first place award somewhere for investigative reporting, and I've taught data journalism and advanced classes for years. My struggle is in how exactly to structure the class.

Some background. This class comes a bit earlier in the curriculum for students than it should. Blame our new curriculum or how we put it together, so investigative is probably a lousy term for what the students are prepared to do. By this point enterprise reporting is probably a better fit, but this is the title and these are the students.

Often we teach these kinds of classes with a team approach. I hate teams. I also hate spunk, but that's a different problem. You'd set up teams based on beats or topics and send students on their way to generate story ideas on, say, crime or health or whatever. The problem with teams is, of course, the weak links or the overbearing links in each team that either do no work or all the work. It's hell to come up with a grade for an individual student. Yeah, you can do peer evaluations, but it's a pain in the ass. Still, having 20 or so individual investigative topics and stories is unmanageable as well and spreads the instructor awfully thin, trying to keep it flowing and make sense.

So this is my thinking out loud. Whining, really, as I figure out what to do. Here's an idea I'm considering -- focusing the entire class on Downtown Athens. Why downtown? As those who know Athens and UGA well, downtown has changed dramatically. We have high-rise student luxury apartment buildings going up everywhere. Never should luxury be in the same sentence as student apartments, but there ya go. Anyway, we can cover everything with a focus on downtown, from crime to business to entertainment to all the usual stuff. We can do data journalism and who owns downtown, how that's changed, how much booze is sold downtown, and so on. I like giving a bit of focus to a class rather than sending them out to "investigate" stuff. Of course I'll set them up with information ahead of time, describing (i.e., lecturing) how you do such stories and having them read investigative journalism. I'll make them get a student membership to IRE. I may or may not make them buy a textbook like this one, which is terrific but a bit dated.

I dunno. Still thinking it through.

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