What Professors and Editors Can Learn from Visiting One Another

I don’t want to hasten the end of summer, but it won’t be long until students are back in the classroom and assigned to write essays about what they did on their summer vacation.

How great would it be if college professors took on the same assignment and wrote about visiting newsrooms? In turn, newsroom leaders could then get into those professor’s classrooms and write a little something — for publication — about what is going on in journalism classrooms these days.

I have the luxury of leading a double life. During more than 30 years as a full-time newsroom editor, I was also a one-night-a-week adjunct instructor. Now that my main gig is being a college instructor, I am also a freelancer and frequent visitor to newsrooms. I love seeing both worlds.

In more than 25 years at the Detroit Free Press, we had very few college professors visit. I can recall only two who stayed for the better part of the summer. One came from Central Michigan University on an ASNE fellowship and one came on his own, without funding, from nearby Madonna. That was great for them — and for us.

When they went back to the classroom, they knew firsthand what was really going on in newsrooms and could better prepare their students for what was ahead.

On campus, we are getting fewer newsroom managers, even to interview students for internships. No budget. No time. So, how are they to learn what is being taught in journalism schools today? How are they to influence what goes on in the training grounds and help with research about the industry?
 
Things are changing pretty damn quickly in newsrooms and classrooms.

Some of my collegiate colleagues would be surprised to see little TV studios set up in print newsrooms and all the video editing that goes on in what we used to call the photo department. They should see how quickly a big newsroom moves — in just seconds, really — to post breaking news on the Web. The newsrooms are smaller and everyone is walking a little faster. Social media is huge. Rewrite has a whole new meaning. Libraries are disappearing.

And I would like some of my newsroom pals to come see what we are doing on campus. The students I work with are smart. They’ve learned how to create and post infographics and how to pick up a camera, shoot a video and edit it. They sniff out breaking news pretty fast because they are always alert and they know where the latest buzz is. And professors are doing a lot, too. Newsroom managers might be surprised to see how engaged some of the professors are and how they are adapting to digital channels.

It has always seemed to me that newsrooms and classrooms would benefit from a little more mutual respect. But with things changing more rapidly than ever — and with even faster changes coming — the imperative is growing greater. Ignorance has never been fashionable for professors or professionals. Carve out a day or a week, pick up the phone and go see how things really are over there.

Then send me your essay so we can see what you did on your summer vacation.

Coming Tuesday: Find out about how to restart salary negotiations.

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.

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