What is the most important thing to learn?

genieDanny Sanchez needs your help. The author of the Journalistopia blog will be addressing freshmen journalism students at the University of Florida this Friday and asks the question:

What are the top three things a freshman journalism student should do or know to be a competitive job candidate three years from now?

I haven’t commented on his blog yet because I am having a problem narrowing it down to just three. I’m like the guy who frees the genie from the lamp and is granted three wishes. At least one of them is going to be to ask for three additional wishes.

Help him out if you can.

I decided to turn the question around and ask my newspaper students what are the three most important things they feel they have learned in my program. Hey, I’m working on department-level learning outcomes and it seemed like a good idea. Some of my students are taking their first-ever journalism class and some have been around for three or four years –yeah, we’re a two-year institution, but that’s another story. Moses did not come down off the mountain with “Thou shalt finish community college in two years” carved in stone.

To alleviate the fears of the newer students, I broke them into groups of four and asked for consensus on the most important three, but encouraged them to write extra ideas in the margins if they wanted. I also asked them to list some things they don’t feel they’ve learned well enough that they wish we could focus on more. Here are some of their answers:

Most important things they have learned

  • How to present that which you are writing in an effective way.
  • How to interview and question people and know what kinds of questions to ask.
  • How to think objectively about the subject matter.
  • Know hat you can and cannot do. What are your rights?
  • Being true to your story (your job is to inform the people, to tell them the news!)
  • Be well-rounded (complete a variety of tasks around the newsroom)
  • You have to be informed, passionate and cynical. (they all misspelled cynical)
  • Presentation matters; it is important to be well-rounded in all types of formats.
  • You can’t be afraid to ask another question.
  • Ask the right question; get beneath the cliched answers. (obviously one of my sports writers)
  • AP style, writing and copyediting
  • Communication is key
  • Media law
  • How to use a Mac computer and how to meet deadlines.
  • AP style and pyramid writing
  • Media ethics
  • To check facts for accuracy.
  • Hands-on experience is the best way to learn, one learns from mistakes.

Things we need to focus on
Perhaps just as interesting was what the students want more training with. Note that some overlap with what some say they’ve learned.

  • Copyediting
  • Headline writing (repeated a number of times)
  • Bylines
  • Offer friendly advice (am I too harsh?)
  • Multi-media skills
  • More power over my own story.
  • How to use the computer for the online edition; how to use it to fullest extent.
  • HTML
  • What are the right questions?
  • How to write a sprorts story (especially terminology and jargon)
  • How to edit videos and create podcasts
  • Politics of the business
    AP Style
  • Getting jobs after Cerritos
  • Learn more computer applications
  • InDesign concepts

One response to “What is the most important thing to learn?

  1. Tom Chambers

    Interesting exercise. Back when I was hiring and firing people, I looked for a number of things, but I did narrow it down to a few MOST IMPORTANT.

    You can teach someone AP Style. You can teach someone design. You can teach them how to interview.

    But there are things a boss in a busy newsroom doesn’t have the time to teach, and I think I picked them up in my community college journalism program:

    No. 1 —- That fire in the belly. This isn’t just another job. You have to want it. The pay sucks, the deadlines are insane and there’s always someone breathing down your neck. If you don’t have that energy and enthusiasm for the job, you’ll never make it. Not sure how you teach this in school, but is contagious, and we can help students who don’t have it change their majors to English.

    No. 2 —- Curiousity, and lots of it. Be inquisitive. Ask a question more than once just to make sure you get the answer. And then ask it again. And then follow up on it. Don’t take ‘no comment’ for an answer; and don’t let sources roll you. Learn more than your sources —- and don’t let them get off easy.

    No. 3 —- Thick skin. The ability, and willingness, to fall on your face and get back up again; stronger than before. The ability to not take criticism personally, from your readers, your peers and your editors. Learn from it, dust yourself off and keep going. This you teach by making students do it —- we learn through practice; and it takes a lot practice.

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