MACON, Ga. – It’s Wednesday, Feb. 4, and I’ve been on the job as managing editor of The Macon Telegraph for two days.
Our longtime business reporter is chasing a story about how the Tour de Georgia (don’t laugh; yes, the Tour de Georgia will be Lance Armstrong’s warm-up before the Tour de France) may start in Macon this April. It’s a huge story for us, a 75,000-daily in the shadow of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and I’m really pushing the reporter to get on the telephone and call everyone she knows and get the story – before Atlanta kicks our butt.
The reporter goes back to her desk. Two hours later, she’s hovering near my office, her chin buried in the palm of her hand. She’s about to cry.
“My uncle died,’’ she said.
“That’s terrible. How old was he?”
“I see. You want me to remember that he lived a long and good life.”
“He did. You also want to know what’s happening with the Tour de Georgia story.”
I’m back in the newsroom. In 1994, I walked away from a great job as an a editor at The Miami Herald – returning for a cameo stint with The Herald in 1998 and doing part-time duty last year with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. But, realistically, the last time I had a long relationship with a newsroom was nearly 10 years ago. In between, I spent my time teaching journalism at the University of Miami and Florida International University, the last four years as department chair at FIU.
A number of my longtime journalism friends are happy to have me back, full time, in the business. I’m glad, too. But I also know many journalists fantasize about teaching at a university. Almost every week, an old buddy from my newspaper life would send me a resume or an e-mail prospecting for a job. Some of them I hired. Most I didn’t.
So let me pass along three pieces of advice about what journalists can do now, while they are in the newsroom, to make sure they get hired to teach in the classroom.
• Get an advanced degree from a good college. Don’t believe the hype about how colleges should hire master journalists to teach in J-schools no matter what degree they have or do not have. It’s just unrealistic. The regional associations that accredit universities make their standards crystal-clear. Here is the basic idea: The person who teaches a college student must, at minimum, possess a degree higher than the one the students are seeking. That means if you want to teach undergraduates, you need a master’s degree. That means if you want to teach graduate students, you should have a doctorate. One of my fellow faculty members once asked our provost, the chief academic officer at FIU, if Ted Koppel would be able to get tenure, a lifelong university job generally granted to Ph.D.s, at FIU. “Tenure?” the provost replied. “I don’t think so.”
• Get some experience teaching, preferably in a college classroom. Don’t wait for your local department chair to call you up and ask you to teach a class. Volunteer. Send the department chair a resume. Schedule a meeting. Volunteer to teach a class as a tryout. Ask the chair to sit in and evaluate your performance. When you decided to become a professional journalist, didn’t you try it out by working for your college or community newspaper? The same principle applies when it comes to getting a university teaching job.
• Get out of the office and do volunteer work with professional associations, such as SPJ. Most journalism programs operate just like any other unit in the university. That means prospective faculty members must prove they can do the following: Teach, conduct research and perform public or professional service. Let’s look at these three areas in detail. You prove you can teach in two ways: An administrator observes you in the classroom and/or you teach a class, and students provide feedback. You prove you can do research by writing a doctoral or master’s thesis or getting published in professional or trade journals (such as the one you are reading – Quill). You prove you can do public or professional service by giving your valuable time to a cause (serving as your local SPJ chapter ethics chair, for example) or a committee (serving on SPJ’s diversity committee, for example).
So if you get a graduate degree, some part-time teaching experience and volunteer your time in service of journalism, you’re a good bet to be hired by a university. Good luck.
Oh, before I forget: That business reporter did get the scoop on the Tour de Georgia. We beat the Atlanta paper by two days. She took Friday off to be with her family.
Mike McQueen was chair of the journalism department at Florida International University before becoming managing editor of The Macon Telegraph.