What a Year to Start Teaching “Introduction to Journalism”

This will be my first year teaching “Introduction to Journalism,” and I must admit, I am intimidated and concerned. (Day 1 of the 30-Day Writing Challenge)

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Each morning, except Sunday, I sit in the livingroom with my first cup of coffee and read the “Reliable Sources” newsletter on my phone. This newsletter, written by Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy, is a review of journalists’ approach to the news. As media correspondents, Stelter and Darcy are committed to evaluating the validity of what has been published and broadcast, as well as reporting on television, movies, and technology companies. They also provide many links to, you guessed it, reliable sources to support their reporting.

I find the contents fascinating reading.

Since I find reviewing the media fascinating, I was thrilled when my department head asked me if it would be all right to give me the “Introduction to Journalism” course this year, as there was a scheduling conflict with the teacher who had been teaching the course.

Now, I wonder what I’m getting into.

Just as I have often shared with you about other teaching conundrums, here are my nascent ideas for how to approach this course.

Step One: Find Journalists to Talk With

If you are a journalist, I would LOVE to speak with your profession, the benefits and challenges, and your commitment to serving the public. I’m also thinking of putting out requests on social media.

If I cannot find an individual to turn to, there are many resources on the internet, including the American Press Institute, and the Society of Professional Journalists. It would be preferable to speak with working journalists, however.

Step Two: Support Reality and Truth

In a previous article, I asked fellow teachers to unite in support of reality and truth. Well, supporting reality and truth should be easy in a journalism class. After all, according to the American Press Institute, “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”

Using the notes gathered in step one, I can open the semester with a discussion of how a professional journalist operates in a highly-charged, fast-paced, and frustrating space.

The first several lessons after that, I think, should address two huge problems we face today: misinformation and disinformation. Help students separate facts from opinion, determine credibility of sources, evaluate the information presented, and make decisions about it.

Then, help the students learn how to write truthfully and objectively. Help them establish credibility by consistently telling the truth. Help them tell the truth without widening the divisions among us. That last one is challenging in our politically and culturally divided environment.

Step Three: Help Them Become Journalists

Every course we teach requires student “buy in” to be successful. To get “buy in,” we encourage students’ curiosity and confidence about the content and skills of the course. With time, they start to think of themselves as practitioners, not just students.

I see it as my job to help them consider the community of the course (literature analysts, researchers, creative writers, and now journalists) their community. They are apprentices, involved and not just observing.

Kenneth Bruffee wrote about the practice of enculturation — or welcoming students into the community of practice — in Collaborative Learning, a book published in 1993. In his explanation, he connected collaboration to enculturation. Once students start working together and identify the teacher as a resource for the authentic work they are doing, they become part of the community. Their commitment emerges through the act of doing together.

Step Four: Revive the School Paper

Our school newspaper was a big deal years ago. My plan is to revive the paper, first as an online site and then, if possible, in print. We will then hear student-journalist voices, along with the creative writers who are published in our literary magazine.

A Google Site is in development as I type this. I’m sure the design will evolve, but I think it’s a good start.

Step Five: Enjoy the Process

This will be new for all of us, and if we do it right, we will all come out of the course feeling empowered to search for and write about the truth. We should have fun while engaging in serious business.

If you have any suggestions for this rookie journalism teacher, please leave a comment. Thank you for reading this article.

Photo by Lagos Techie on Unsplash

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