Are we teaching students what they need to know?

April 6, 2016 01:30

By Simon Perez, RTDNA Contributor
 
At Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, the broadcast and digital journalism department follows the teaching hospital model. The faculty fully believes students are best served by doing, not watching. So, students develop their own off-campus story ideas and then write, shoot and edit their stories themselves. After all, that’s what they’ll have to do in their jobs as multi-media journalists (MMJs) after graduation.
 
While we professors may believe that’s the best way to prepare students for their careers as local TV news reporters, it’s good to get feedback from the proverbial horses’ mouths. For the second year in a row, I’ve surveyed recent graduates, first asking them to predict what their work as broadcast journalists would be like, and, again, after several weeks on the job, about whether those expectations were indeed accurate.
 
Here’s what I found after reaching out to three students who graduated in the Spring of 2015 and are now working in local television newsrooms.

Accurate predictions:

  • All three thought, before graduating, that the Newhouse rigor of requiring students to do the basics of local television news gathering themselves would indeed prepare them for what they would find on the job. And they were right. After they’d been on the job, all three students felt comfortable writing, shooting and editing their stories.

  • While still at Newhouse, the students assumed when they transitioned to working as professional journalists the job would get both easier and harder. Again, they were right. Graduates found people more likely to agree to an interview with a professional rather than a student. However, they also correctly assumed a professional environment meant a more demanding schedule (more to do under quicker deadlines) than a classroom environment; and the professional newsroom also demanded of them more accountability. As one student put it: “If I get something wrong, that’s on ME.”

  • What the Newhouse professors told the students they’d be getting into turned out to be spot on. After working a few months, graduates did find being a professional TV journalist means long hours, low pay and lots of deadline pressure. “Newhouse kills the game (that’s a good thing),” one student said.
On-the-job surprises

  • While at school, the students predicted the most difficult part of the job was going to be making deadline and learning how to cover an unfamiliar market. It turns out that, while deadlines do play a large role in their new jobs, graduates found other aspects even more difficult: coming up with story ideas that go beyond the press release and lugging camera equipment. One student recommended: “Get a gym membership and start lifting weights.”

  • Before graduating, the students declared the most important lessons they learned at Newhouse were how to work under deadline pressure and how to ask tough questions. Turns out Newhouse taught them other skills they found more valuable: including natural sound and real people in their stories made their work stand out in their respective newsrooms. Also, our emphasis on all the work that happens before the live shot was more prophetic than they’d thought. “Being ON TV is the smallest part of your day,” according to one student.
For the second year in a row, the survey has affirmed the benefits of the teaching hospital model for our aspiring local television news reporters. The basics – writing, shooting, editing – served our students well as they begin their careers.
 
But there are areas for improvement. For example, we can do a better job helping students understand, if they develop a nose for news, they can apply it to any market; it doesn’t matter where they land. As one student learned: “I’m finding the best way to get stories is through volunteering and really getting to know people in the community beyond work hours.”
 
Also, we might emphasize time-saving tips such as jotting down key sound bites as the interview is happening so as to more quickly find them during editing. One student now on the job said: “I haven’t been able to turn out a story quickly and feel like it was my best work.”

Do you hire recent college grads in your newsroom? What do they say helped them prepare for the job in school? Let us know in the comments below.


Simon Perez is Assistant Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University.