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Learning from Professionals: A Journalism Bootcamp

Spring 2012

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Cecilia Baress ’08 (far left) and Ashley Teatum ’09 (top left), both University of Scranton communication graduates who are working for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, conduct a session on how to get your first job in journalism at a recent Northeastern Pennsylvania Journalism Boot Camp.

As college educators struggle to help students integrate their learning into realworld practice in terms of both career preparation and civic engagement, The University of Scranton has found a way to meet this challenge by teaming up with two community partners. Now in its fifth year, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Journalism Boot Camp – a collaborative effort with The Times-Tribune and Marywood University – helps students understand and apply curricular learning through interdisciplinary sessions serving both professional and liberal arts goals. The boot camp allows students to spend a Saturday with professionals from The Times-Tribune, Scranton’s hometown newspaper, to learn about the various facets of the news business. However, participants have found that the program does far more than simply offer vocational training.

Journalism is a professional field that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries and the boot camp offers insights and tools that benefit attendees with a broad spectrum of career goals. Through the inclusion of topics such as writing, research, ethics, photography, design, and law, the boot camp mirrors many of the courses commonly required in a general education curriculum. Furthermore, as the boot camp uses the lens of journalism to educate the whole person, it benefits students by emphasizing skills that support civic, as well as professional, development.

The boot camp began as a collaborative effort between Kim Pavlick, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication, The University of Scranton, and Larry Beaupre, managing editor of The Times-Tribune. The project was the brainchild of Beaupre, who at heart is a true educator. He was interested in developing a program that would help his employees share their skills with upcoming journalists.

“I wanted a closer working relationship with The University of Scranton as a way to keep myself and the staff current with academic journalism,” says Beaupre. “We also had just started an internship program with The University of Scranton, and this was a way to identify and develop future talent both for the program and as possible future hires.”

Looking to make the seminar more interdisciplinary, Pavlick and Beaupre invited Laurie McMillan, Ph.D., an English professor at nearby Marywood University, to join the project in 2009.

The first year of the program, 2008, saw 75 University of Scranton students learn how a newspaper works from its conception in the newsroom to the product that is delivered daily to subscribers, and the boot camp has had similarly strong student participation in each successive year. Although the nine-hour day can be exhausting, the initial feedback from students was extremely positive. A student survey revealed most of the students believed they received a significant classroom education on how to do the job of a journalist, but they craved the wisdom and knowledge only professionals in the field can provide.

Although we know this generation is technologically connected, there seems to be a disconnection between its ability to communicate through technology and its interpersonal communication skills. However, during the boot camp, students learn the importance of human interaction through Lifestyles Editor Faith Golay’s seminar on newsroom culture. Golay tells the students about the interpersonal dynamics of the staff, including behavior patterns, respect, mutual rights and mood. Although her presentation is light (and often includes toys as prizes), she stresses the importance of good human interaction in order to make a quality product, helping students learn valuable lessons through stories and discussions.

In addition, students not only learn about, but also practice interpersonal communication as they interact with the staff from The Times-Tribune. The journalists who participate in the boot camp volunteer to do so, and they are interested in talking with students. That makes it easier for students to probe for details about a journalist’s lifestyle without feeling insecure, and the questions tend to focus on matters that a faculty person might not be able to answer. Some of the questions are practical such as, “How much money can I make?,” but others are more investigatory, such as, “How can I get a job in the industry?” In addition, the professional journalists attend one another’s sessions, and they often pose queries of their colleagues who are leading the session. The ease of communication and the friendly support among the reporters and editors provide an example for students as the journalists demonstrate strong interpersonal relations, probably without even realizing they are doing so.

The boot camp thus offers strong professional preparation for students interested in journalism careers. However, even students who do not plan to pursue journalism careers benefit professionally. The lessons learned at the boot camp address critical thinking, communication, interpersonal skills, and ethics in ways that sharpen the cognitive and affective abilities of all participants. Such skills are important to 21st century career needs, which tend to focus on 1) the ability to apply effective thinking, creativity, and communication to a variety of contexts and 2) a blend of professional expertise and community commitment. The boot camp’s interdisciplinary emphasis and liberal arts focus thus meets the needs of students because it is so widely adaptable.

Furthermore, these areas of study encourage good citizenship. Because journalists are at the forefront of communication in today’s 24/7 news cycle, having an interdisciplinary understanding of news delivery allows not only journalists, but also news consumers to take a more active role in the proliferation of news content. Additionally, attention to critical thinking and ethical behavior is essential preparation for students who will become responsible members of their communities. The boot camp thus benefits all types of students – not just future journalists – by focusing on higher order thinking and skills that are needed in both professional and civic realms.

Additional Benefits

Several additional benefits are derived from the Northeastern Pennsylvania Journalism Boot Camp. The program fosters better town-gown relations – not just between the newspaper staff and students, but between The Times-Tribune’s staff and the universities’ faculty as well. Pat McKenna, one of The Times editors, explained that the boot camp is key to helping the paper survive because it allows his staff to interact with a new generation of consumers and think about ways to better attract and accommodate this younger readership. In addition, because many journalism faculty members attend the professional sessions, they keep their skills fresh so that they are better prepared for the classroom. In addition, the boot camp laid the foundation for Kim Pavlick, Ph.D., and Laurie McMillan, Ph.D., to collaborate with The Times-Tribune staffers to develop a stronger three-credit internship program and to use the staffers as guest speakers in classrooms. In short, the boot camp supports not only student growth, but also the development of the journalism professionals and the university faculty involved with the program. By connecting college to community, the boot camp has developed an interdisciplinary focus that makes it extremely adaptable. Many students are eager to make sense of their classroom experiences in the engaging and vital real-world context of journalism. At the same time, the elements of critical thinking, communication, interpersonal skills, and ethics are useful to all students, and the benefits of good journalism within a community are immeasurable.

Authors

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Kim Pavlick, Ph.D.
Communication
kimberly.pavlick@scranton.edu
570-941-4147

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Laurie McMillan
English, Marywood University