Journalism Education: Training the Trainers

July 9th, 2008; 4:03 pm by Ryan Thornburg

Earlier today I wrote about the duties of online journalists. One of the underlying purposes of my survey is to find out how journalism schools can better prepare students for the near future, and there were two popular duties that stood out as “soft skills” that are not emphasized in classrooms — teaching and training other people in the newsroom, and “project management.”

Thirty-nine journalists said they spent some of their time training others in the newsroom. That was the most popular duty among the 24 I asked about. Now, they aren’t spending a ton of time on training — only about 8 percent of their time — but the issue of mid-career training is a hot one among journalists these days. The case for more training and staff development is made best in the book News, Improved by Michele McLellan and Tim Porter.

One of the other most popular duties was “project management,” done at least once during the last three months by 32 journalists in the survey — although it too only took up about 8 percent of their time. This, however, is a duty that’s near and dear to my heart because that’s how I spent probably 50 percent of my time as a working online journalist.

Of course there are classes in pedagogy and in media management, but most journalism students never come near either one of those courses. And these aren’t the kinds of skills that are easy to condense in to a lesson and to measure in some gradable way. But they are duties with which we can gives students some experience in every one of our classes.

This semester, I’m going to try to infuse teaching and project management skills in to my classes in two ways:

  1. Have students teach each other. Especially in my online journalism class where I’m giving students a shallow introduction to a wide variety of computer programs. I’m going to assign each program to a group of students and have them be the experts on it. Each student will be required to teach the rest of the class. Their incentive for teaching well? They will also be the on-call tech support for their classmates who have difficulty. My responsibility: being a resource that helps them learn how to teach.
  2. More group project work. I’ll need to do enough small projects so each student has the experience playing the “management” role at least once.

From what I know, most of my colleagues are trying to do both of these things to at least some degree in each of their classes as well. It’s something to which we’ll have to pay attention and something that probably should more often be on the menu at conferences like ONA.

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