Is what I learned in J-school helpful?

September 24, 2014 01:30

By Simon Perez, RTDNA Contributor
 
Many broadcast journalism schools stress the practical side of TV reporting in their curricula. In the Broadcast and Digital Journalism Department at Syracuse University, we agree. The idea is students learn more by doing, rather than by reading about or watching how to put a TV story together.
 
How well is this strategy preparing students for jobs?
 
To find out, I conducted a survey of three of our May 2014 graduates. One survey looked at their expectations before they headed out into the workforce; the second solicited their opinions after they’d been on the job for a few weeks. The idea was to gauge their expectations before graduation and whether those expectations were accurate once they’d landed jobs.
 
Some highlights:
 
  • The hands-on training we do at Syracuse gave the students confidence they’d at least have the technical stuff down heading into their jobs. And that proved correct, as the new reporters said editing and operating the camera were the on-the-job demands they felt most prepared to meet.
  • Understandably, the students felt least prepared regarding some of the skills they hadn’t fully developed in school: covering breaking news and going live. Those fears were misplaced. Instead, once they got on the job, the new MMJs felt most unprepared for the workload – long hours, irregular schedules and shooting, writing and editing several stories a day.
  • On graduation day, the students wished they had spent more time polishing their writing skills in school, and that was confirmed after several weeks on the job. Moreover, one new TV reporter pointed out writing for the web, not only for broadcast, is a skill students should push to develop in school, perhaps by writing for a newspaper while in college.
  • All three students expected transitioning from being a student reporter to a professional reporter would facilitate establishing sources and setting up interviews – and all three found this to be the case. They also appreciated having more resources provided by their employers (car, phone, computer) as well as a professional technical crew to work with during the newscasts.
 
So it would appear schools that focus on practical training are serving their students well; technical skills such as non-linear editing and camera operation are helpful in getting off to a good start in the first TV reporting job. Areas for curricular improvement include painting a clearer picture for students on how demanding the professional workplace environment is and pushing even harder on writing skills, including writing for the web.

Students surveyed:
 
  • Julianne Peixoto - Reporter, WBNG Binghamton, NY
  • Hannah McDonald - Reporter, WPTZ Burlington, VT
  • Kevin Clark - Reporter, WCTV Tallahassee, FL
 
Pre-Job Post-Job
   
1. For which part of the MMJ job do you feel most prepared? Why?
 
Julianne: editing video
Hannah: operating equipment
Kevin: operating camera



 

1. For which part of the MMJ job were you most prepared? Why?
 
Julianne: editing video
Hannah: how the day goes from morning meeting to newscast, and operating the camera
Kevin: pitching story ideas
 

2. For which part of the MMJ job do you feel least prepared? Why?
 
Julianne: shorter deadline compared to school
Hannah: covering standard government meetings or breaking news stories
Kevin: going live



 

2. For which part of the MMJ job were you least prepared? Why?
 
Julianne: having only a few hours to complete a story – the turnaround time
Hannah: the workload and how nightside has to provide material for the morning show
Kevin: the workload lots of hours, not a lot of pay

 

3. What do you expect to be the most difficult part of the MMJ job? Why?
 
Julianne: coming up with story ideas
Hannah: the exhausting schedule
Kevin: writing


 

3. What is the most difficult part of the MMJ job? Why?
 
Julianne: coming up with a fresh angle on a story that’s been covered for years
Hannah: carrying and setting up equipment
Kevin: covering an unfamiliar area
 

4. What do you believe will be the three biggest differences between working as a student MMJ as opposed to working as a professional MMJ?
 
Julianne:
            More likely to talk to a professional than a student
            More live shots
            Complete packages faster
Hannah:
            More likely to talk to a professional than a student
            Competition among stations and reporters
            Not much feedback
Kevin:
            More likely to talk to a professional than a student
            Benefit of having a car and other station resources
            Benefit of not having other classes to deal with
 






 

4. What are the three biggest differences between working as a student MMJ as opposed to working as a professional MMJ?


Julianne:
            Students do one story per day, professionals do several
            People want to talk to professionals, not students
            A professional technical crew means a smooth newscast, not so in school
Hannah:
            The hours
            Building strong relationships with sources
            Working with producers and management to come up with story ideas
Kevin:
            Get more respect as a professional than as a student
            More creative freedom, more likely to get story approved as a professional than as a student
            More resources: station provides car, phone, laptop, engineering crew to fix them


 

5. What do you wish you had spent more time on in school? Why?
 
Julianne: writing
Hannah: interviewing
Kevin: writing




 

5. What do you wish you had spent more time on in school? Why?
 
Julianne: writing for print/online publications, it provides a solid foundation for writing
Hannah: no answer
Kevin: writing, classes on how local government interacts with the media

 

6. What is the most valuable thing you learned in school? Why?
 
Julianne: how to operate the camera
Hannah: how to observe and learn from other reporters
Kevin: how important the demo reel is




 

6. What is the most valuable thing you learned in school? Why?
 
Julianne: broadcast writing style to include nat sound and pick good SOTs
Hannah: succinct writing
Kevin: how you look and sound on your demo reel is the key to career advancement


 

 
Conclusions
 
1. The hands-on training we do at Newhouse gave the students confidence they’d at least have the technical stuff down heading into their jobs. And that proved correct, as the new reporters said editing and operating the camera were what they felt more prepared for.
 
2. Understandably, heading into the jobs, the students felt least prepared regarding the skills they hadn’t developed in school: covering breaking news and going live. However after they got on the job, the biggest thing they felt unprepared for was the workload – long hours, shooting, writing and editing several stories a day.
 
3. The recent graduates predicted the most difficult part of the MMJ job would be – no consensus
 
4. All three students expected transitioning from being a student reporter to a professional reporter would facilitate establishing sources and setting up interviews – and all three found this to be the case. They also appreciated having more resources available from the station (car, phone, computer) and a professional technical crew to work with during the newscasts.
 
5. The students wished they had spent more time polishing their writing skills in school, and that was confirmed after several weeks on the job. Interestingly, one pointed out writing for the web, not only for broadcast, is a skill new reporters need.
 
6. Before taking their jobs, the students thought technical skills such as camera operation and putting together a demo reel were key lessons learned in school. After being on the job, they changed their minds and chose succinct, broadcast writing skills as the lessons they most appreciated.
 
7. The students said professors described the MMJ job as one of long hours, irregular hours and exhausting, physical work. After being on the job for a month, the new professionals said the descriptions had been accurate.
 
Simon Perez is Assistant Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University