I subbed in for Wisconsin’s Sue Robinson Wednesday afternoon on a panel with a rather lofty title: “Helping Save Journalism via the Classroom: Student Collaborations
with Citizen Journalists and Industry Professionals.”

David D. Kurpius of Louisiana State made the point that we weren’t necessarily trying to “save” journalism with our partnerships, but rather viewed partnerships as a way to pursue innovation within journalism schools and media organizations.  I agree.

So, in case you missed it, here are the notes from my presentation:

I’m currently in my second semester in having my Investigative Journalism class collaborating with one of the local newspapers – the Springfield Republican, which is part of the Advance group.  I’ve also begun collaborating with ESPN as part of our new Sports Journalism concentration.

There are many reasons to pursue collaboration between academia and industry professionals.   Simply put, both sides gain from the experience.

If you’re considering such an enterprise, there are many issues to consider. It kind of breaks down to preparation/ maintaining relationships and the teaching.

TEACHING:

•    Editor role.  You’re very much in the role of an editor/mentor.  In a sense the class is pretty free-flowing.  You can plan some of the class out but you are often feeding off of what students are working on.  If a blog is in your agreement, plan on lots of editing time.

•    Deadline. Make sure to build in early deadlines on their stories so if angles fall apart they can regroup and pursue other story ideas – you are grading their work after all.
•    Newspaper role. Make sure you get time with newspaper editors.  Managing that relationship becomes key throughout the course of the semester.

But before you get to the teaching, there is a considerable amount of prep time.  I’ve come up with 5 key points to deal with before you get to the teaching.

First is a three-pronged body of support.
•    No. 1:  Home School Support.  Line up as much support as possible up the chain of command – before your class begins.  I’ve let everyone up through the Dean’s office know what the class is doing next semester and tried to make sure there is buy-in on the topic.
•    No. 2:  Written Support.  Also, the attorneys from the newspaper and the university are putting a formal agreement in place.  You want to make sure you cover all your bases are on liability issues/editing roles and publication details.
•    No. 3:  Support of the professional organization.  You need to find the logical person in the department to run point on any collaboration.   Once you’ve found that person, you have to find the right/logical contact within the professional organization.  Start slow, share ideas and grow the confidence.  The coverage topic will be the largest discussion.  Allow time for the discussion.   Don’t take the relationship or contacts for granted.  You need to meet and stay in contact with them – foster them before, during and after the collaboration.  These are busy people and you need to remind them how important this project is.

Other keys to success:

•    Notification.  Another key to success is to contact sources beforehand.  You are protecting yourself, the class and your students by trying to let sources know about your collaboration.  You’re not going to reach everyone, but you can make an effort.
•    Student Buy-In:  If you want the collaboration to succeed, you need students to buy into the concept.  A lot.  Best way to do that is to get a topic they relate to.   The idea of getting published and generating clips should also generate buy-in. Spending a semester analyzing tax plans is probably not the way to go☺  Affect of casino gambling in your state?  Much better.  Guest speakers who are major players in your topic helps create buy-in.
•    Formats.  Vary the formats.  If possible, have students blog, do video and audio slideshows.   This is where the real value comes in for your professional partner – having students more comfortable (yes, more comfortable) in multimedia storytelling producing across platforms for the publication will help grow the publication.  And, you are also helping to set the groundwork for jobs for your students.
•    Editing.  For the fall semester I will have students in my investigative class blogging as well as producing a package of stories.  There will be two layers of editing – one layer with me, one with an editor – no students will be able to publish live to the site.   All blog entries will be done in draft form and will not be published until two editors have looked at the entry.  This is a decent amount of commitment from the academic side (depending on how often students blog) but I believe it creates credibility and trust with those on the professional side.  Remember, you are building something for the long haul.

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