For the last few years I have required students in both my graduate and undergraduate business and future of journalism classes to keep up on the news about journalism business.
The future of our business is so fluid and so much in flux that I simply can’t expect that the readings I assign at the beginning of the semester will keep students as current as they need to be on the volatility of our business.
After a lot of trial and error I have discovered that Need to Know has all the elements I need to teach the first 30-35 minutes of my class from contemporaneous events. It provides me with the latest news and perspectives. It provides deep and rich context and it makes connections students could seldom make.
And, probably most important, it is not legacy-media-centric. Recent editions have certainly discussed the Washington Post and the New York Times but Vice, Buzzfeed, Facebook and mobile usually dominate.
Students don’t read the national newspapers but they all consume news via mobile devices and Facebook and they have experimented with Vice and Buzzfeed. By pointing students to things they are familiar with I can make the macro points about changing journalism.
At the beginning of each class I ask students to tell me what they read. I want them to set our discussion agenda based on what interests them.
Now some professors might not like the way I manage this part of the class because I fly without a net. I ad lib my responses and feedback. If we’re teaching a class like this, our grasp of the subject should be strong enough to survive. And, I always have the most important three words in the English language at my disposal: “I don’t know.” Students really appreciate those words and value them a lot more than B.S.
By using contemporaneous material my class covers stuff I would never have thought of in planning the class ahead of time. Last week students were really engaged about whether Twitter and Facebook should control our news values. We had an energetic discussion that I am just not sure would have arisen without Need to Know.
I am convinced this newsletter adds urgency and realism to a class that is essential for our students’ understanding of the changed journalism world they are going to encounter.