Do today's J-school students have curiosity?

October 12, 2017 01:30

By Lydia Timmins, RTDNA Contributor

Getting the next generation of journalists ready for their first jobs is at times a daunting task. It’s really hard to cram a career/lifetime of knowledge into one short semester. Teaching the skills, teaching the ethics, teaching the platforms, teaching them how to spell and punctuate--all while making the deadline.
This fall, I’m teaching an experimental class on mobile news reporting. As I put the finishing touches on the syllabus, I was conscious of how students can take what they learn into their jobs. How the concepts--and yes the theories--will make them better journalists. The mechanics are important, but so is the heart. What story will be important to the audience? What story will help the audience better understand the world around them? And how can the students write and shoot the story so that people will watch it? Each of those topics is a class in and of itself!
But the main question, the first question is: What is a story? That seems to be one of the hardest skills to teach. In speaking with other professors across the country, we all seem to find that one of the biggest challenges. I think the students all recognize spot and breaking news as news, but how about a slow news day? Young people seem to be more isolated. They look around their circle of friends, but not outside. They walk to class with earbuds in, not hearing conversations or other things happening around them. They only read news that comes on their social media feed, or through that circle of friends. It’s almost like so many lack curiosity! In past years, story pitch sessions seemed to come up with the same ideas, time after time. Igniting the spark of new story ideas is one of the hardest things to teach. And really, how does one TEACH someone how to be curious?
What I loved most about local news was the chance to tell stories of the community, of people I didn’t know. It was exciting to walk out of the newsroom to find a unique person with an interesting story. Or to take a well-known story and look at it from another angle. My challenge this (and every) semester is to teach curiosity, and to make that lesson exciting and appealing. And to make sure we are sending out journalists who have the skills and the drive to succeed in newsrooms of every kind.

Lydia R. Timmins is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Delaware.