Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I’ve spent much of the past week connecting the literature I’ve been reading with the experiences I’ve been having in the classroom.
Let’s start with the experiences:
We’re at midterm in spring semester at Simpson College now, always a time to take stock and let students know how they’re doing in class. In a senior seminar in multimedia journalism, one-third of the class is failing and more are at or near the minimum level necessary for passage. It’s going to be nerve-wracking for many of these students in the weeks to come.
The students will likely have their own explanations for why they’re in the positions they find themselves. Mine is that many of the students aren’t living up to my expectation that graduating seniors in the seminar be running on all cylinders and ready to take off in their careers. As capstone students, they should be able to write and report journalistically; handle video, photo and audio in ways that will tell audiences stories; and understand the importance of website promotion and metrics.
To be sure, many of my seniors are doing quite well on these measures. (Would love to see more like Chris Spurlock, the Missouri wunderkind who’s become the rage of the Internet world based on his personal website and resume, but our top performers are doing quite well.)
But many are not. Many aren’t even close.
I’ve raised this issue in other forums and have proposed a couple of reasons for it:
- The poor state of high school journalism education means that fewer students come to university with a sense of journalism as a calling or more with a sense of the much broader field of “communication” as a bet-hedger in a tough market in which a job — any job — after college will do.
- The well-documented directionless drift of a growing number of undergraduates, particularly male students, who pile on massive amounts of debt without any clear sense of where they’re headed. Or, for that matter, any urgency to figure it out. As author Kay Hymowitz argues in a recent Wall Street Journal excerpt from her forthcoming book, “Manning Up”: “Most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”
What’s driven this home this past week is my reading of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” — the controversial new book by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa that argues that vast numbers of undergraduate students are learning virtually nothing in terms of critical thinking and writing in their first two years of college. And, Arum and Roksa further argue, they’re not learning much more in the final two years of their studies.
In any environment, that would be disturbing news. In the present context, when students are graduating massively in debt and with little chance of succeeding professionally if they don’t find drive and direction and purpose — and a resume — as soon as possible in their college careers, it’s downright depressing.
Arum and Roksa’s work has gotten plenty of publicity and debate in higher-education circles since its publication in January. To be clear, it’s not that students aren’t learning anything during their four years of higher education. It’s just that they’re not picking up the critical skills and habits of mind that once distinguished colleges and universities from trade schools, community colleges and on-the-job training.
Among the habits of mind journalism students have to have to succeed are those of drive, ambition and enterprise. They have to want to recognize stories, go after them and tell them with passion and commitment. Too many lack an entrepreneurial heart or an understanding that professionals are professionals 24/7, not just 9 to 5.
It’s not the kids’ fault. Arum and Roksa argue. At least not in the main.
To the extent that students are to blame, it’s that most young people entering higher education see it more as a time of social development rather than intellectual and academic growth. But why do they see it that way? Because no one else in the culture has shown them precisely how a higher education will get them realistically from Point A to Point B.
The great issue, Arum and Roksa write, is that “no actors in the system are primarily interested in undergraduate student academic growth, although many are interested in student retention and persistence.” That includes public school systems that often poorly prepare students for university demands; parents; faculty, students, staff and administrators; and policymakers. In a bottom-line, results-oriented world, what everyone seems to want is the credential rather than the learning.
And that may be what a good number of my seniors are going through — they see the credential dangling just a couple of months in front of them. But they’re not necessarily wondering about just how much drive to perform will get them there.
I put the question out on Twitter and Facebook earlier today, asking why students don’t push themselves the way they should to give themselves the best possible chance to get a start in their careers. Here are some of the answers from Twitter:
And here’s what the posters on Facebook had to say:
I’m not a Gannett Inc. employee: Never have been, never will be.
But I have lots of friends, colleagues and former students who work for (or worked for) America’s Biggest Newspaper Company. And while times are tough in the newspaper industry — and there’s no one who gets into or stays in the newspaper business not knowing that — the new headline at Gannett Blog is out-and-out galling.
Jim Hopkins, the former USA Today reporter and editor who’s trying to make a go of covering his former employer online, reports that the Gannett executive compensation committee is basing bonus decisions partly on how much the company cuts its expenses by furloughing its employees.
One of those executives, Bob Dickey, head of the Gannett U.S. newspaper division who yesterday claimed that he “quite frankly” had hoped to avoid furloughs, nonetheless was paid $410,000 for 2009 partly as a resulting of cutting employee expenses.
And, Hopkins writes, Dickey and other top executives will likely earn millions in bonuses later in the year as a result of the new round of furloughs.
Wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to see a corporate executive in journalism or any industry turn down a bonus for cutting workers or their pay? Gannett makes clear that its executives will also take the furloughs, but their bonuses will repay those furloughs many times over. No such love will be granted to reporters, copy editors or other journalists.
Understandably, the comments section of Hopkins’ post is flooded with anger:
Any executive who takes a penny of a bonus in exchange for shredding jobs and adding on furloughs for the rest of the rank/file is morally bankrupt, plain and simple.
The fact that these people are rewarded for inflicting hardship on their employees is all the proof you need of what a horrible company this is to work for.
Employees will complain about employers as long as both exist. But Gannett is doing its best to show that it really is a horrible company to work for. I feel badly for all Gannett workers, including those mid-level publishers and editors who are tasked with implementing these inhumane policies.
When I trained as a journalist, I learned the SPJ Code of Ethics command that journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Now that I teach future journalists, I keep that focus.
Board rooms clearly don’t live by that standard. There seem to be only two: The market. And greed.
We have 29 Simpson students signed up to take part in our May Term 2011 study course on Social Welfare in Holland and Belgium. Over the holiday break, we’ve been working on a number of elements of the course and find that the itinerary is slowing taking shape.
As the program now stands, we’ll be departing Des Moines for Amsterdam on May 2, arriving in Holland on the early afternoon of May 3. After transfer to our lodging, we’ll likely take in a canal cruise and an early dinner before calling it a night.
The next day will be taken up with a walking tour of the city center of Amsterdam and likely a guided tour of the city’s world famous Van Gogh Museum. Students will get a chance to start spreading out around the city after that.
While in the Netherlands, students will be visiting Utrecht and Maastricht as a group, and they’ll get chances to see plenty of the country on their own.
We’ll move on to Brussels on Monday, May 9, and get oriented to that city during the first afternoon there. We’ll also be daytripping to Bruges during the visit.
Carolyn Washburn’s departure as editor of the Des Moines Register, announced Monday, got local and national industry headlines, but what’s unremarked on is how her understandable decision to leave Iowa for her hometown Cincinnati Enquirer is the latest evidence that the Register has transitioned from a career-destination newspaper to a stepping stone.
The evidence comes from the Register’s own pages this morning, where an infographic on A4 shows that the four Register editors who served before the Gannett buyout in 1985 served a combined 80 years at the top of the paper. Starting with Jim Gannon, who was editor when Gannett bought the Register, the biggest newspaper in Iowa has had six editors over the course of 26 years.
And the pace of the revolving door is quickening: Rick Green, who will take over the paper on Jan. 17 after having served at the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Calif., since 2008, will be the third editor of the Register in the past 10 years.
In one sense, that’s not a surprising story: The days of newsroom giants running a major paper for decades are long gone. It’s also no doubt a reflection of the transition of newspapers from indispensable community resource and power broker to just another information source fighting it out on the web. And the fact is that journalists are like all professionals — they’re much more mobile than they used to be.
But to Iowans, those who’ve read the Register since our youth, it’s another sign that the paper’s not what it once was. During the 80 years of the run of the first four Register editors (Harvey Ingham, William Welsey Waymack, Kenneth MacDonald and Michael Gartner), the paper won 13 Pulitzer Prizes. Since then, the paper’s won three — and the 19-year gap between last year’s Pulitzer won by Mary Chind and the Register’s previous Pulitzer in 1991 was the longest in Register history.
Geneva Overholser, one of the Register’s Gannett-era editors, told me during a visit she made to Simpson a few years ago that she’s saddened to see the paper make the transition from national institution to just another local paper struggling to meet budget goals and keep a graying readership.
Indeed, a newspaper that once found its way to the president’s desk in the Oval Office each morning and won six Pulitzers for national reporting between the mid-1950s to mid-1980s, is now focusing heavily on Juice and Metromix, featuring photos of under-40s having good times at local bars.
The result: The Des Moines Register’s become just another newspaper that will have a more difficult time in years to come in showing why it’s needed in Des Moines. And the editor’s chair will likely see a lot more people sitting in it in the years to come.