This piece was co-authored by Michael Marcotte and Kate Nash Cunningham.
As UNM students returned to classes this spring, many brought the new confidence and ideas they earned last fall by launching the New Mexico News Port, a collaboration spawned by the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education.
As described in an earlier post, the two of us designed a live news experiment that seated itself in the journalism school curriculum, involved various external partners, and took aim at statewide election coverage as its initial content focus. It was a radical and ambitious undertaking for a small department divided by communication and journalism studies.
We have lived to tell of it. By the end of the term, some 50 students from six classes had contributed more than 100 stories, produced more than 25 videos, carried out a Twitter Town Hall, and sustained an active social media engagement effort.
So what new knowledge did students acquire? And what did we journalism professors learn? We’ve been sorting that out, and some of the answers surprised us.
The first five insights are from Mike Marcotte, the project’s coordinator, while the second five are from project editor Kate Nash Cunningham.
1. The sudden implementation of a “teaching hospital model” can temporarily overwhelm students.
Our “learn by doing” philosophy exposed a rather sharp contrast to the “learn by watching, discussing and practicing” approach more typical in journalism classrooms.
This sudden shift in the curriculum shocked some students. Suddenly, the the deadlines were harsher and the bar was higher for the rigor of their work. To deliver publishable content, they had to summon a good deal of will, time and effort. Had the News Port existed previously, students would have seen it coming up ahead in their curriculum trajectory and that would have provided them some advance notice. As it was, in debuting something this fast, they had to sink or swim.
Take away: Was this a one-time shock only? Was it amplified by the nature of election coverage? I think the answer is yes to both.
2. Why was I exhausted by December? Because the “teaching hospital model” requires more editorial leadership and editing capacity than a typical academic course.
Kate and I realized how daunting it can be when some 16 assignments go out at a time. You see, it wasn’t that 16 stories came back for edits, it was more like 48 — three edits per story! Our goal wasn’t to grade stories as a matter of feedback, but to lift them up to the point of being fully publishable, with multiple sources, verified facts, strong quotes, and crisp photos or other multimedia elements. Some stories required fourth and fifth edits. We tried staggering the deadlines, which helped to relieve the bottleneck but only barely. Kate joined Mike in picking up edits, which helped a lot. (Initially, Kate did final edits … but to speed things up, I began to take on initial edits too.)
Take away: Train good student editors to help edit. (Peer edits by themselves don’t do much good.) Also, look for editing assistance from the professional partners. Sadly, as a last resort, we relented on the notion that all stories must clear the publishing bar, and we allowed less motivated students to opt out of publishing by settling for a lower grade and skipping extensive rewrites.
3. No pain, no gain.
It’s true, the more you demand, the more you will get. For the students, that means the greater the struggle, the greater the triumph. At the start of the semester, there was widespread student conc
(Read on friends... there are seven more takeaways at the MediaShift page. Thanks to News Port editor Kate Nash for taking the lead on getting this piece out there. Elsewhere on the bog you'll see what we're doing with the News Port this semester [hint: Curious NM] and what we know now about next fall [hint: $50K!!].)