No summer break for us teachers

Summer is usually a time for teachers to kick back, take up a hobby, and spend leisurely time tweaking lesson plans while getting a much-needed break from the stress of the classroom and the stifling world of academia.

But not for us.

We are the six participants in the 2015 Back in the Newsroom Fellowship. We all met in Washington, D.C. today to open a jam-packed, two-day orientation to prepare us for the busy weeks ahead.  Starting Monday we will plunge into newsrooms around the country, from The Wall Street Journal to BuzzFeed, to begin a two-month assignment where we will be something between an intern and a visiting scholar.

One of the first things we learned is that we will have to give up our cushy teaching schedules that include Fridays off to enter the real working world. We will be expected to put in a 40-hour week or more just like other hard-working  journalists. Collective groan.

Elisa Tinsley, Deputy Vice President of Programs for the fellowship sponsor, The International Center for Journalists, said one of the main goals of the program is for us to immerse ourselves in cutting edge newsrooms to experience what they are doing and then to take those lessons back to our classrooms.

This experience can be valuable even if some of us have only been out of a newsroom for a few years as so much has changed in recent years, and so quickly. While we were encouraged throughout the day to roll up our sleeves and go to work as journalists during the fellowship, Tinsley cautioned against us being used as “hired help.”

“You need to be able to step back and see how this is helping you, your students and your teaching,” she said.

Guest speakers during the day included such veteran journalists as John Hatch, senior editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Amy Eisman, former USA Today editor and now director of Interactive Journalism at American University, and Larry Roberts, a senior editor at ProPublica. Eisman inspired us with examples of group projects her students have done with local media organizations, and she also suggested we assign students to cover a story using Twitter. I added these to my to-do list for fall semester.

Hatch suggested giving students assignments involving content that excites them as a way for them to engage more in emerging technology.

“A general technical proficiency is important in the newsroom culture,” he said. Prospective newsroom hires don’t have to be experts in technology, he said,  but at least be conversant in its capabilities for story-telling.

We were also visited by two of last year’s inaugural fellows, Yolanda McCutchen and DaVida Plummer, who offered sage tips on how to best take advantage of this opportunity.

“Be proactive,” Plummer said. “You are not doing a research project. You have to act like a news person.” She also advised moving around our respective newsrooms to observe many different work flows. “You want to see the entire process from quite a few different angles.”

Past and Future Back in the Newsroom Fellows meeting for the first time.

One of the main goals of this orientation was for the current fellows to meet and initiate a bond before we head off to our respective newsrooms. Although we will be in different cities, we will all stay in touch through a group Facebook page. But as we discussed, Facebook is no longer cutting edge, so perhaps this is a poor choice for social media if we are hoping to be at the forefront of what’s next in the digital landscape.
I outlined my main goals for my fellowship at the Los Angeles Times as exploring the ways the Times implements a digital first philosophy, and to speak with workers at many different jobs to learn about career pathways for journalists today.

Now it’s off to dinner. Tomorrow, tours of USA Today, NPR and The Washington Post.

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