Intro to News Writing
- Society of Professional Journalists - National and Utah. 01/01/2003 - present. Position : Member.
- American Journalism Historians Association. 01/01/2003 - present. Position : Member.
During my first stint in graduate school many years ago, I read a pedagogy article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The author and citation have escaped me, but I recall the gist of one quote: “A good teacher is one who, to an unusual degree, just happens to be around when the light comes.” This simple observation contains many truths. The primary one is enlightenment and the joy of learning. Another is the subtlety of good teaching. The instructor is not the focus, but an unobtrusive guide for students and their process of learning.
My own pedagogy has continuously evolved. Since joining the faculty here, I have taught 26 courses representing 9 new preps. These have included 2 new courses that I designed, 2 shadow courses, and 2 seminars. I also have conducted 11 independent studies with undergrads and grad students.
I enjoy a mix of skills and concept courses. Despite the intensive nature of skills courses (4 hours per week of contact teaching for each, plus considerable written feedback), they provide opportunities to engage with ethical concepts such as respect, impartiality, and professional responsibility. Ethics is not an isolated unit but a continuing theme that emerges through reporting, writing, editing, and presenting information. This helps students anticipate and prepare for situations they will encounter as public communicators.
I begin every course by explaining to students that I take an informal dialogic approach. I tell them, “I teach, you learn; you teach, I learn.” On the first day of the semester, this communicates two key ideas:
1. It directly addresses the power differential and brings students to a position where they have some power, if not as much as I.
2. It requires students to acknowledge that along with power, they assume responsibilities. They must commit to do certain things to succeed. They must be active. They must contribute. They teach themselves and one another. I don’t lift them; they climb.
In skills courses, I implement the dialogic relationship in several ways. One is technological. The more converged we become, the more likely it is that some students will know certain software applications better than I do. Far from posing a problem, this opens a channel of communication and education from students back to me and outward to their peers. Another way that skills courses reflect a dialogic approach is by looking outward. I remind students that their projects should teach a general audience—their work is public communication. After I grade and return each assignment, we discuss how well the students achieved that goal. “What did you show your audience?” I ask. “What did they learn from you?”
If a dialogic orientation brings relevance and focus to skills courses, it establishes a foundation in concept courses. On that foundation, students engage with the material, me, and one another. Our Introduction to Mass Communication course is an example. This course originated from the 20th-Century notion of mass media as large, pervasive, and threatening. The primary outcome was critical thinking, i.e., developing tools to enable students to understand and deconstruct messages as media consumers. Today, that’s only half the equation. The other half is embracing the reality that our students are media producers. Social networking is an integral part of their lives, and through that lens I urge them to consider their responsibilities as public communicators. Thus, in Intro to Mass Comm we consider not just the impact that messages have but the professional and ethical judgments that go into producing those messages.
I assign the students to write a personal code of ethics that they anticipate using in their careers. This assignment comes wholly from the students, who draw on their personal, spiritual, cultural, and professional experiences to explicitly articulate how they engage and resolve ethical problems. In a capstone exercise, they apply their code of ethics to a hypothetical situation. I contribute broad philosophical concepts and guide students as they build on our dialogic foundation, but the ethical framework is theirs.
Finally, my dialogic pedagogy allows for flexibility. Sometimes the best classroom experiences are those in which teachers and students abandon—temporarily, at least—a careful lesson plan. Sometimes an idea emerges during class, and we explore and apply it to the topic. A few years ago, we were discussing the colonial press in a mass media history course. I presented an interpretation that colonial newspapers were “vertical” because they appealed to the deepest possible audience in one geographic place. A student raised his hand. “I would say that newspapers were actually horizontal,” he said, “because they totally catered to the elites”—to one limited stratum of society. Within minutes, other students volunteered a variety of views: That early newspapers were primarily driven by advertising; that they were, in fact, profoundly local and therefore vertical in that regard; that they evolved over time from one audience appeal to another.
The students’ comments and interactions with one another steered the discussion away from what I had viewed as a rather perfunctory setup to a presentation about magazines. But students were leading the way, exploring new territory and getting a firm grip on basic concepts that were fundamental to the rest of the course. Eventually I returned the discussion to magazines, noting along the way that the students had just illustrated two points I’d made earlier: That history, like contemporary life, is complicated and often contradictory, and that historical facts don’t change, but how we interpret them does. Our conversation renewed my commitment to stay alert to ways to challenge students—to encourage them to step away from their texts and even their instructors, to synthesize ideas, and to realize that they can be their own best teachers.
Media and Society
Media and Society emphasizes critical consumption of media messages and the implications of producing such messages. Students engage with technological, business, historical, legal, and ethical foundations of media communication to become more informed and better able to articulate their responsibilities in the mediated world.
Intro to News Writing
Intensive skills course: writing informative narratives for a public audience.
Introduction to Media Business & Ethics
This course (since renumbered and renamed Media and Society) addressed mediated communication as it enables - and affects - how people interact, pursue goals, and produce results. It emphasizes critical consumption of media messages and the implications of producing such messages. Students engage with technological, business, historical, legal, and ethical foundations of mediated communication to become more informed and responsible participants and citizens.
The Editing Process
Upper-division, intensive skills course: integrating grammar, language, text editing, headline writing, caption writing, and visual design across different media platforms.
Long-form, enterprise reporting and writing (for magazines and other outlets) on environmental issues.
Mass Communication Law
This course includes basic legal concepts, laws, and regulations governing media. Students learn how courts function and create legal precedents, as well as legal tests and how apply them to facts. Subject areas include the First Amendment and freedom of expression; libel and privacy torts; and copyright/IP, advertising law, and media regulation.
Basic introduction to practical/applied ethics. Engagement with ethical issues in the context of producing mediated messages.
Independent Study (graduate and undergraduate)
Recent directed readings have included mass communication theory, feminist communication theory, participatory media pedagogy, and applied ethical theory.
Seminar in Historical Research Methods
Methods seminar in historical communication research.
Seminar in Mass Communication Research
Seminar surveying various methods of mass-communication research.
- "Teaching Our Journal: Journalists, Joe McCarthy, and the Struggle for Truth, 1950-1955," American Journalism website.
US Senator Joseph McCarthy looms large in the history of twenty-first century America, including journalism history. McCarthy gained enormous media attention by manipulating journalists' professional standard of "objectivity." Specifically, he made reckless and unfounded statements about purported communists in government, and journalists reported those claims, often uncritically. This essay advises faculty on how to incorporate news coverage of McCarthy into their teaching classes ranging from journalism history, media and society, and media ethics.
- “Music, Politics and Protest: Using Music to Illustrate Themes, Time Periods and Media in Mass Communication History,” Annual Convention. Presentation published, 08/2003.