By Lydia Timmins, RTDNA Contributor
One of the joys of my academic life (besides the fact that no one ever holds class at 2am on a Saturday) is the chance to bring my professional friends into the classroom. My students pay more attention when there’s a “real” journalist in the classroom. They get used to me, have heard many of my stories, so it’s helpful to bring in new people with different experiences.
For the professionals who come into the classroom, they get a face-to-face look at their audience and perhaps their future colleagues. I love to sit back and watch my students as they listen to, and ask questions of, the guests. It’s fascinating to find out what’s most important to them--based on the questions they ask. Some oft repeated questions include: Did you know forever that you wanted to be a journalist? Was college really worth it? What grades did you get? How did you get that first job?
Several of my former students have jobs in journalism, and I’ve been able to invite some back to speak. The current students feel encouraged (there are jobs out there!) while the grads suddenly feel very old (I wasn’t like that 3 years ago, was I?) Even in a first or second job, a speaker who is close to the student experience can bring a lot of value to a class.
My favorite guest speakers are the ones who challenge the students. Walk them through a typical day, a typical story. Who is the first person you call? One current newsie shared his experience at Columbine. The students were rapt as he described the call from his boss, flying to Littleton and trying to get information and facts. He challenged my students to tell him what he should have done… then he told them what he did. It was a great exercise, even as some of them complained that they needed more time to think of questions, I think they started to understand the real-time pressure of news.
For those of you who have the chance to speak to a college or high school class, I urge you to do it. Challenge the students to think like a journalist. Whether you are new to the business, or have a wealth of experience under your belt--explaining what you do can in some ways remind you why you chose this line of work. What you tell them about the job will soon be reality. It’s about preparing the reporters and producers for the world that will greet them.
Lydia R. Timmins is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware.