Provost: ‘Real journalism goes on in journalism classes’

As journalist in residence and a graduate student in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University in Milwaukee, I seek chances to match coursework with reporting and academic pursuits. This week’s assignment in my Humanistic Theories and Methods of Media Studies grad class required me to conduct a semi-structured interview – in which a list of questions must be asked and answered in order – before follow-up quizzing may occur.

An hour before class last week, Poynter.org agreed that I should write about journalism educators dealing with students missing classes to cover March Madness. My reporting led me to an ideal person for the course assignment: Marquette Provost John J. Pauly, Ph.D.

Pauly is a distinguished academic who served as the Diederich College’s dean for two years prior to becoming provost in 2008. Before coming to Marquette, he had been a professor at Saint Louis University for 13 years, including nine as chairman of its communication department. He was a reporter, copy editor and then editor of the student-engineering magazine, “The Technograph,” as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, and later edited “American Journalism,” the quarterly journal of the American Journalism Historians Association.

Here is an edited version of my interview with Pauly for the combined assignments.

Herbert Lowe: What does it mean for Marquette’s men’s basketball team to reach the Sweet 16?

John J. Pauly: I think the young people on the teams work very hard; this is a kind of recognition of the good work that they do. It’s, for me, not nearly as big as a lot of other things that happen day to day in academic life that we take great pride in. I’m every bit as excited about the fact that our women’s soccer goalie is the Big East female scholar athlete of the year. For me, that demonstrates what we hope comes out of a student athlete’s career, that measure of success and value of a Marquette education.

What is the value for student journalists to cover major postseason tournaments?

John J. Pauly: I think it’s exciting for the students to go to the tournaments when we can afford to send them. They just get a larger sense of what Division I college athletics looks like in its relationship to the media. But, again, there are lots of other stories that have more weight and significance that would I be enthusiastic about their covering.

What is the university’s policy regarding absences when athletes, team managers, cheerleaders, pep band members, and yes, student media, miss classes?

John J. Pauly: The policy is the same as it is for other kinds of co-curricular work. Athletics is one kind and it’s got particularly heavy demands during a season, and the nature of the demands change and is different depending on which sport. We try to give the students a lot of ways to make that manageable. We talk to the students about the relationship that they have to build with their professors to make this plausible. It’s tough at tournament time, but this happens relatively rarely and we just adjust.

What advice do you have for journalism educators who are dealing with journalism students who are missing journalism classes to do real journalism?

John J. Pauly: Real journalism goes on in journalism classes. We hold students … responsible to the same standards as professional work, and we do some kinds of analysis and interpretation and give some kinds of feedback that it’s harder to find time for sometimes in newsrooms.

This is, in part simply, a contractual agreement: when a student says they are going to enroll in a course, and these are the requirements of the course, it’s just a matter of them keeping their word. There are lots of stories that students will get a chance to do that will better demonstrate their journalistic skills than just covering the tournament.

Why stress to journalism students that they need significant experience and then admonish them when they miss class to do it – especially if it’s on the biggest stages?

John J. Pauly: I’m not sure I accept all of the premises in the question. Again, I think that the sports stories that they’re liable to do when covering the tournament will not be among the best stories necessarily that they produce as student journalists. The stage is big, but that doesn’t make the story automatically big.

What of the notion that it’s more beneficial for a student sports writer to cover his or school’s team in the NCAA tournament than listening, for example, to an academic speak for 75 minutes about the value of polling in political campaigns?

John J. Pauly: I think talking to an expert about political polling will have way more value in a student’s career in deepening their interpretative skills than covering a spot sports story.

How can a student best balance classwork and campus media responsibilities?

John J. Pauly: It’s important to talk about that balance explicitly, both with the editor that they work with and with the professor. When students start, everything that they publish feels so precious and special – and so it’s understandable that if they have a chance to cover something, and they know it’s going to be published, then it’s intensely important to them at that moment.

We want students to consider journalism a lifelong profession. So it’s important for them to invest in their own analytical and interpretative skills while in school, to prepare them to do longer and more serious stories throughout their career.

Would you like to make a closing point?

John J. Pauly: As much fun as sports stories are, and exciting as it is for any of us when our team does well, the big stories that need journalists’ closest attention are in other places. And so I think as journalism educators we want to help students keep that in perspective.

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  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    Future employers will NEVER look at classroom work. A story from the NCAA Sweet 16 will jump out of a student’s portfolio. Editors are readers first, and they want stories that large audiences will read. When my students debate this issue, I tell them the good stories always come first, and if there is a conflict between a class and a big story, drop the class. The class can always be taken again; you rarely get second chances at covering big stories.