Teaching journalism in the field – lessons from New York

Teaching journalism in the field – lessons from New York

Monash students enjoy a quiet moment with teacher, Colleen Murrell.

The New York Field School is a life changing study tour opportunity for Monash Masters students (Master of Journalism, Master of Communication and Media Studies). The two week intensive tour of New York, a global city at the forefront of digital media practice and innovation, allows students to ask questions directly to top industry professionals, gaining important insights into the craft of journalism in a constantly evolving digital world. We asked Monash digital journalism teacher and tour co-leader, Julie Tullberg, what happened on the recent 2017 trip, and what the highlights were for her.

Why New York for a Journalism field trip – what's going on in NY right now in media/journalism? 

New York is a vibrant hub of journalism, in which many American journalists aspire to work with ‘the best of the best'. The digital age has transformed newsrooms, so that digital products are catered for before their paper products. The ‘digital first' mindset has changed the demand for particular types of journalists – and tech-savvy, innovative journalists and designers are highly valued.

What news/media organisations do you visit with students, why are they chosen? 

We visit many of the world's leading news organisations, including the New York Times, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, the New York Post, CNN, BBC, Bloomberg – and the list goes on. We also visit notable journalism academics at Columbia University and CUNY. The sites are chosen because of their significant contribution to the landscape of world media. Their penetration of the American market is another factor.

What are some of the highlights of this trip? 

All newsroom leaders were incredibly generous, despite major stories developing, such as the Californian bushfires. The highlight was the access we got to the legacy news organisations, such as the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS and CNN. We also enjoyed seeing the innovative offices, such as Bloomberg, Quartz and BuzzFeed, and checking out the set of BuzzFeed Tasty was an eye-opener, fascinating and inspiring! The weather is very cold in New York, but we had clear skies most days and on the day after the newsroom tours, it snowed so the students could enjoy spectacular views in Central Park.

How much time do students get to ask questions, and who do they meet?

The students meet many leading journalists and editors who talk about their daily routines and how they operate in the Big Apple.  Most sessions involve the Q and A  format, plus a newsroom tour, allowing students to ask questions that directly relate to their individual research projects. Students on this tour were highly engaged, stimulated and thought deeply about their research topics and how they applied to the American newsroom. Students then adopt a case-study approach to their chosen topic, presented as a critical research paper, which is one of four assessment tasks across the New York Field School unit.

Any surprises? 

The surprise was how well the hosts prepared our visits! They were hospitable, friendly and generous – all had such a positive outlook on the profession and their approach to education. The tour was smooth sailing because we had our logistics coordinator, Adam Inglis, on the ground in New York and seven months of constant planning helped ensure the visits were meaningful and productive for the students.

What's the atmosphere like on the trip and what's a typical day like? 

Visiting each newsroom was like the sensation of unwrapping a present, but with more excitement and anticipation!  The students were inspired all the time and excited to share. Here's a plan of a typical day:

  1. Visit the Wall Street Journal:  tour the newsroom, speak to a number of young reporters, both involved in digital and print publications; then speak with a team of editors and executives – those leading the WSJ and News Corporation. (All planned in advance so we could gain a broad perspective of how the WSJ operates and the how the reporters function day to day.)
  2. Break for lunch
  3. Visit the New York Post, discussing a number of issues with the digital production and content team.
  4. Walk to CBS News, have a quick coffee break, and tour the newsroom, followed by in-depth presentations of the news vice-president, a CBS presenter, a social media editor and a legal, standards and integrity advisor.
  5. Take a subway back to our accommodation, followed by dinner.

How does the groundwork that students do in Australia prepare them to make the most of this trip, and what sort of work will students produce during and after the trip? 

Students are briefed extensively on the requirements of the tour before departure – logistically and scholastically. We conduct pre-departure seminars, which involve research skills, assessment expectations and the time management of study approaches. It's essentially a journalism studies unit, with significant field work to prepare students for their case studies. Relevant knowledge and academic skills related to the unit's requirements are taught before departure.

What do you enjoy about teaching journalism in the field like this? 

Field work academic units are logistically challenging but enormously rewarding, particularly as it prepares students well for industry positions. Dr Colleen Murrell and I both teach the pre-departure seminars and then accompany students on the tour. We also work with Adam Inglis, a Masters graduate who lives in New York and offers valuable local knowledge on the ground.

Where do you think the future of journalism is going and how do you think this trip helps students understand that?

The future of journalism is in the hands of the younger generation. The computer age will improve over time and inevitably, this will improve the capacity for 3D storytelling on mobile and fixed devices – often referred to as the “second screen”. There will be storytelling fads along the way, which will come and go.

But what will remain constant is that stories that will stimulate the human senses, for example, what we see (moving and still images, film and visually stimulating storytelling content), what we hear (radio, podcasts, music, etc), and what we feel (emotions through effective storytelling). If journalists work out how to build a business model, based on effectively connecting with the human senses, they are well on their way to becoming leaders in their field.

What would you say to students considering the field school (and not sure it’s for them)?

If a student wants to be a journalist, and wants to make a significant contribution to the profession in the near future, I would encourage aspiring storytellers to apply for this unit.

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