Practical experience is essential to any quality journalism education. If a school’s curriculum does not extend beyond the classroom walls, students will likely be ill-prepared for the workforce.
At the University of Miami’s School of Communication, I’ve been pleased to see classes expand further into the practical arena, allowing students to become better versed in the professions they plan to pursue.
What follows are a few examples that I’ve learned about or participated in during my three years at Miami.
Editor’s note: The author of this story is a University of Miami student and is currently a summer intern at The Miami Herald.
Every other week in the spring, Karyn Meshbane visited Chris Delboni’s news reporting class to discuss ideas and assign stories for the student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane. Meshbane, last year’s news editor, also worked with two other introductory reporting classes that semester.
Last year was the first time a formal relationship had been established between the paper and classes, and the arrangement benefited everyone involved.
First, The Hurricane received more content for print and online, as well as multimedia stories, from Delboni’s class. Second, the students obtained practical experience, placed a solid foot in the door with the paper and saw some of their work published.
The Hurricane is affiliated with the School of Communication but is editorially independent, so Meshbane was able to decide which stories she wanted to use, as well as how they would be edited.
Whenever she visited any class, Meshbane conveyed why it is important to write for the school paper.
“You never know what it’s really like until you have the experience,” she said. “There are so many things that come up.”
Meshbane said students in a class may have two weeks to turn in a story, but the twice-weekly newspaper is much more demanding. Thus, they have a more realistic sense of working in journalism.
“It goes beyond the teaching; it becomes a practical experience,” said Delboni, who said Meshbane’s involvement made last semester’s reporting class the most successful course she’s taught since joining the university in spring 2007. “They really took a lot out of it. When they saw their bylines, it simply transformed how they approached the class.”
Meshbane also spoke in the spring to an introductory newswriting class, providing insight regarding how those students could write for The Hurricane. She said many of the students still needed more practice before writing full stories, though they sometimes wrote briefs and sidebars that were published.
Bringing in the pros
In addition to hiring former Miami Herald city editor Bob Radziewicz as its newspaper adviser and director of print and online news operations, the university hired full-time journalists as adjunct professors this past school year.
Heidi Carr taught journalism classes in fall and spring before going to work as a night city editor at The Herald. Ronnie Greene, who was promoted from investigative reporter to assistant city editor at The Herald during the school year, taught an undergraduate course in the fall and two graduate courses in the spring.
For upperclassmen and graduate students, Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman teaches a sports reporting class that emphasizes practical experience. For example, when I took the class in spring 2007, I covered the Sony Ericsson tennis tournament, a Miami Heat basketball game and a Miami Hurricane football practice.
“I think there’s a lot of value in bringing someone who’s in the industry to come in and talk about current problems and solutions because we have to deal with it every day,” Radziewicz said. “[It] is a real benefit to the school.”
The classroom is the newsroom
Miami students also obtain practical experience through project-oriented classes that conduct themselves as if they were newsrooms.
In the spring, the online journalism and Web production classes worked together to create arts and entertainment packages for The Hurricane’s Web site. As a student in the online journalism class and editor-in-chief of the paper, I wore two hats.
In a manner much like a news meeting, we selected topics we wished to cover, such as music or restaurants. As we worked on our written stories and new media elements — either an audio slideshow or video — we collaborated with partners in the Web class to design pages for the projects.
Another example is the university’s interactive storytelling class: an experimental convergence course that includes print and visual journalism students. The class focuses on creating a multimedia and written project by semester’s end. Each student played a role as we selected the topic, decided who would work on what and produced all the content for a multimedia site.
The professors, Kim Grinfeder and Samuel Terilli, acted as executive producers while we researched and wrote stories, produced videos, created Flash graphics and built the site (www.fishatbay.org).
As with other schools, local and national recruiters visit the school in search of intern and job candidates. What is unique about the University of Miami is that the tri-county area includes three major metropolitan dailies, dozens of smaller papers, a handful of network television affiliates, a number of magazines and plenty of Web sites.
Recruiters come to the School of Communication knowing that students will have the requisite experience and skills.
For instance, The Miami Herald Neighbors academic internship selected several Miami students to work for one year as community news reporters in the main office or a local bureau. Students also intern for The Herald’s Web show, “What the 5?” Visual journalism students have similar opportunities, such as design interns who work at The Herald or photographers who shoot freelance for Neighbors, the twice-weekly community news section.
Be our guest
Another helpful component in preparing students involves hosting interactive programs with professional journalists.
Not only do they offer additional insight, but students enjoy hearing different people speak in class, especially journalists close to their age.
For example, Herald staff writer Evan Benn, a 2004 Northwestern graduate, spoke to several news reporting classes about using the Internet for background research.
In addition to a brief online research assignment, Benn asked the students to find certain information about him using government sites as well as social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. He also cautioned them against always taking such sites at face value.
Many other local journalists have also spoken to classes throughout the years.
“I think it’s good to bring in someone else to talk to the class,” Radziewicz said. Students “ought to hear a little different perspective, but I’m confident our message is mostly the same because we all come from the same background.”
Greg Linch, a senior studying journalism and political science, is the president of the University of Miami’s student SPJ chapter. Read his journalism blog at www.greglinch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.