From newsroom to classroom

May 22, 2014 01:30

By Lydia Timmins, RTDNA Contributor

As I talk to more and more former news colleagues—some retired, some forced out—I’m struck by how they perceive my new profession of teaching. Or maybe not so new. I’m wrapping up my fourth year of the transition from producer to professor.

A brief recap: After 22 years in local news, from market 134 to market 4, with a Master’s and Ph.D. under my belt (thank you GE for tuition reimbursement), I began a new career as a college professor at the University of Delaware in Fall 2010. I have written regularly as a way to talk through the massive changes in my routine and my life, and to offer insight to other news professionals who are thinking about moving to academia.

At the Broadcast Education Association convention in Las Vegas in April, I was on a panel called “From the Newsroom to the Classroom”. While our audience was primarily news professionals who had already decided to make that transition, I also spoke to others who were still in the contemplation stage.

Most people who ask me how I did it seem to have a great deal of longing in their voices. But what they (and maybe you) think I do turns out to be different than what I actually do. For anyone who isn’t a teacher, what's the very first thing that comes to mind? Summer off! Lay by the pool! Vacation! Pity the poor slobs slaving away in the trenches!

Well, it’s not QUITE like that.

Teaching doesn’t have the same deadlines as a newsroom. In fact, deadlines are few and far between. Yes, you have to get the grades turned in at end of each semester. And students expect you to respond to their emails in a somewhat timely fashion. But it’s nowhere near the pressure that a daily (hourly) (minutely?) deadline brings.

That doesn’t mean there is no pressure—it’s just a different kind of pressure. And that pressure can be just as overwhelming as breaking news. How’s that, you might ask?

First of all, teaching has legs. You don’t just give an assignment and it’s gone out into the ether. You have to have a teaching goal in mind with each assignment. You have to figure out what it is you want the students to learn, and how to structure the assignment to teach them. What is worth points? What is worth points taken off?

Still doesn’t sound like pressure? Let me tell you, I’ve sweated composition and grading way more (and it keeps me awake more) than any triple shooting or 10-car pileup.

Unlike breaking news, the assignments and grading aren’t quickly resolved. And even when you are done--then it’s time for the complaints. The pleading. The challenges. Pressure, but a different kind than the control room or the field. Which is easier? Some days, I think “give me a good fire I can just do and be done.” Then I think about the chances I have now to shape the next generation of journalists and I am content, but still challenged!

Lydia R. Timmins is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware.