From classroom to newsroom

August 26, 2014 01:30

By Simon Perez, RTDNA Contributor
Regular RTDNA readers know Lydia Timmins has written about her experience transitioning from the newsroom to the University of Delaware classroom. Here, I’d like to share my experience adding a step: from the newsroom to the classroom and back to the newsroom.
For 20 years, I reported in markets ranging from 124 to 5. In 2011, I “left the business” and began teaching at the Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, in the Broadcast and Digital Journalism department.
As did Lydia, I initially struggled adapting to some of the differences in the world of academia: managing a classroom, relating to the problems of teenagers, taking the loooooooong view on projects. But after three years, I’ve begun to settle into the slower, calmer pace and developed positive relationships with students.
This June, my former bosses at KPIX in San Francisco allowed me back for a two-week reporter reprise. Here’s what I learned:
It’s a basic ingredient of the average TV news day. Sure, most people know that, but I’m convinced people who’ve been in the industry for a while build up a resistance to the rigor of making deadlines. It’s kind of like getting in shape for a long-distance race; you do it enough, and you can’t help but improve your endurance. After three years away, I was out of stress shape. Honestly, during 20 years of reporting, I don’t recall the routine of making a daily deadline to have been such a heart-racing, adrenaline-pumping, nerve-wracking experience. Back then, it all seemed easier.
TV time
Part of that stress is derived from the public’s ignorance of the time constraints under which TV news operates. In academia, a conversation about a meeting might go like this:
Can we meet tomorrow?
No, I’m busy, how about next week.
Um, that doesn’t really work for me.
How about the first of next month?
Great, I’ll put it in my calendar.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with this. If the meeting doesn’t have to happen sooner, then later is fine. In TV, EVERYTHING has to happen sooner. Neither next month, nor next week nor tomorrow is acceptable. Even “later this afternoon” may be too late. Returning to the newsroom reminded me of the value of time management and how gratifying is it to hear the phrase, “Sure, come on over.”
Like riding a bike
I worked as an MMJ, so I shot and edited most of my own stories. Three years away left me a little nervous about recalling which buttons to push on the camera and computer, and in what order. However, I can assure those of you who have done it before, it really is like riding a bike. Once you’ve mastered non-linear editing principles and the basics of videography (wide-medium-tight-tight-tight, etc.), they’ll come back to you without much practice.
Newsroom = Teamwork
Working in a newsroom, even as an MMJ, is a much more team-oriented pursuit than teaching. In the classroom, instructors may rely upon each other for tips and advice, but essentially, you’re on your own. That’s part of the appeal of academic freedom – you run the show the way you want. In the newsroom, whether you want to or not, you’re dealing with the demands of others: the producer who wants a tease, the web team that wants a quote, the managing editor who wants a story update, the ENG team that needs a mic check for a live shot. These are all reasonable requests - it’s their jobs, after all! But the requirement that a reporter work with others, how essential that is to the job, is a contrast with academia I hadn’t appreciated.
The goal here is not to reach a conclusion about “which career is better?” Instead, it’s to point out the differences many experienced teachers and TV professionals may not know or may have forgotten.

Simon Perez is an assistant professor at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University


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