It’s been a couple of years since I last taught my magazine and feature writing course at Laurier Brantford, so I took some time over the holidays to update my reading list to incorporate some of the great new pieces I’ve discovered since then. Many of them are available for free online, so I thought I’d share them in case anyone else is looking for some new material.
Bauer, Gabrielle. (2002). “Gender Bender.” Saturday Night.
Curtis, Andrea. (2005). “Small Mercies.” Toronto Life. Available online.
David, Dan. (1997). “All My Relations.” This Magazine.
Dunphy, Catherine. (1993). “Immoral Support.” Chatelaine.
Jones, Chris. (2012). “Animals.” Esquire. Available online.
McClelland, Mac. (2012). “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave.” Mother Jones. Available online.
McLaughlin, Paul. (1995). “ET: The Extraterrestrial Therapist.” Saturday Night.
McPhee, John. (2009). “Checkpoints.” The New Yorker.
Mead, Rebecca. (2011). “Better, Faster, Stronger.” The New Yorker. Available online.
Pollan, Michael. (2002). “Power Steer.” The New York Times Magazine. Available online.
Orlean, Susan. (2002). “The American Man, Age Ten.” The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. New York: Random House.
Paterniti, Michael. (1997). “Driving Mr. Albert.” Harper’s Magazine.
Randolph, Mike. (2006). “In Search of the Giant Eel.” In Little, J. (Ed.), Way Out There: The Best of explore. Vancouver: Greystone Books.
Sacks, Danielle. (2010). “Alex Bogusky Tells All: He left the world’s hottest ad agency to find his soul.” Fast Company. Available online.
Saslow, Eli. (2012). “Life of a Salesman: Selling success, when optimism is downsized.” The Washington Post. Available online.
Update (01/07/13): I neglected to mention that these are the stories my students will read in addition to the ones included in Ivor Shapiro’s excellent textbook The Bigger Picture: Elements of Feature Writing.
In my first-year introduction to reporting and writing course, I set a weekly news quiz to encourage students to follow the news on a regular basis. Reading or watching the news every day is the best way to understand how a news cycle works and what is generally considered newsworthy.
Some weeks, it’s harder to come up with good questions than others, and by the end of the semester, I think we’re all a bit sick of the quizzes. But this week, I created what I think is my favourite news quiz question ever — or at least so far, given that I’m likely to be setting these quizzes until I’m old and gray (well, more gray).
Laurier Brantford is hiring an instructor to teach our first-year radio journalism course next semester. The application deadline is Friday, November 16, and you can find all of the details here. (It’s sometimes tricky to link directly to a specific job posting on the site, so you may have to click on a link for Laurier Brantford jobs to see the posting.)
After spending a few minutes trying to figure out how to explain my reaction to Paula Poindexter’s research about the news consumption habits of the millennial generation in 140 characters or less (beyond my original reaction: “Yikes”), I decided to give up and blog about it instead.
First, some background. Jim Romenesko posted a news release earlier today about Poindexter’s new book, in which she reveals that “Millennials describe news as garbage, lies, one-sided, propaganda, repetitive and boring”; “Most millennials do not depend on news to help with their daily lives” and “The majority of millennials do not feel being informed is important.” Dispiriting news, to be sure, for those of us who work in or teach journalism. But surprising? Not really. As Poindexter says in the release, most millennials don’t feel like they’re represented in much of the news they see (they’re right: they aren’t) and they don’t feel it affects their daily lives a lot, which is also probably true to some degree.
But is this new? I don’t think so. Based on my own experiences as a journalist and a university journalism professor, I don’t think most young people pay much attention to the news apart from entertainment and sports. In this respect, I don’t think today’s millennials are any different from any other generation when they were in their late teens or early twenties. I don’t think it’s until we go away to college or university and start living on our own that news becomes interesting and relevant to most of us.
That was my experience, at least. As a teenager, I worked for my local weekly newspaper, so I had to be current on local politics and goings on around town, but I don’t think I knew much about national or provincial politics, much less the economy or international news. I wasn’t a very worldly 18 year old. And why would I be? I wasn’t old enough to vote, I didn’t have to work to support myself or anyone else and I was more concerned with my own life than anything happening on the other side of the country let alone the far side of the globe. It wasn’t until I went away to school and was forced to start reading, watching and listening to the news on a regular basis that I started to become more interested. But even then, a lot of what I read didn’t make much sense to me immediately; it took time and regular reading to get the bigger picture, and by the time I did, it had started to seem interesting and, yes, even relevant. I think that’s just part of growing up and having your view of the world expanded beyond your own day-to-day life.
I try to remember this every September when I teach my introduction to journalism course, as I’ll start doing again on Thursday. It would be great if all of these 17- and 18-year-old students showed up being voracious newshounds, on top of the latest geopolitical developments across the country and around the world and ready to report on them. But if they aren’t, that’s OK, too. We have to make room in journalism schools for students who haven’t quite been bitten by the news bug yet but who, with a little prodding and a little time, will get it. As I tell my students, I truly don’t mind if you’re coming into journalism school as someone who doesn’t read, watch or listen to the news on a daily basis — as long as you realize that now that you’re here, you have to start. What I do expect is that you’re someone who is curious about learning more about your community, your country and the world and interested in finding out more about what makes it all tick. I don’t expect you to be an expert on any of this — just someone who’s willing to do a bit of work to find out more. Sure, a lot of the news you read may not make much sense at first, but as long as you stick with it, it will start make sense, by which point it will probably start to seem interesting, too.
As such, I’m not too discouraged by Poindexter’s research, and I’m looking forward to reading more about her methods of how to engage young people in the news earlier.
Fourth-year Ryerson University journalism student Angelina Irinici has a great post up at J-Source about five things she wishes someone had told her before starting j-school. It’s a great post with excellent advice for any new journalism student.
Here’s an excerpt:
Journalists should always have a good idea of what’s going on. A lot of the time as soon as I mention that I’m studying journalism I’m asked for my opinion: What do I think of Jean Charest’s campaign for the Quebec election? Did I hear about the latest on Hurricane Isaac?
Although it’s impossible to know everything about everything it’s good to have a general understanding of the country and world’s big news stories and the people involved. Not only is it somewhat embarrassing when someone asks and you haven’t a clue who Canada’s flag bearer at the Olympics was, but it also makes writing stories a lot harder. The more general knowledge you have the easier research will be; instead of reading up on the whole Jerry Sandunsky scandal, you can simply verify information in your story. It also helps you link ideas and previous news in your stories. Writing about the cuts to Postmedia? It would help you to know that the company sold its Toronto office for $24 million to help repay debts. Those seemingly small details add context and extra information to your story.
Accessing news is easier than it’s ever been. Even if it’s reading headlines on Twitter on your way to school or picking up a free daily in the subway, you’re still more in the know than you were before. The same professor whose question I incorrectly answered also told me that journalists are the best at cocktail parties because we know a little bit about everything — enough to chat for a minute or two, then run off to the washroom when the conversation gets deeper.
You can read all of Irinici’s timely advice here.
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard runs a handful of useful websites for journalists and journalism students. My favourite is Nieman Storyboard, which publishes two ongoing series: Notable Narratives, which features detailed interviews with journalists about the back story to a given piece of their work, and Why’s This So Good?.
There are currently 45 entries in the Why’s This So Good? series, each of which takes an an article and explains not only what makes it tick on a technical level but what makes it an exceptional work of journalism. One of the great things about the series is that it only writes about stories that are available for free online, so it’s easy to access both the original piece of writing as well as the analysis of it.
I contributed a piece to the series earlier this year about Andrea Curtis’ 2005 story, “Small Mercies,” from Toronto Life, which you can find here. As I note in the write-up, it’s a look at what makes the story a “a textbook example of how to pace a story for maximum reader engagement that is sure to keep you glued to the page until the very last word” and how to skilfully weave two different narrative threads into one compelling story.
If you haven’t checked out Nieman Storyboard, you should. It’s a great, free resource for journalism instructors and students.
For those of us who work in higher education, the end of the winter teaching semester marks the beginning of conference season, when we have a chance to share our research with our colleagues and catch up on what they’ve been working on since we last met. Since I was on research leave this winter (which means I was released from teaching to focus on research), I took the opportunity to dig into some new research projects and was accepted to present on them at three different conferences. It made for a busy couple of months, but it was a great experience.
In March, I presented at the Press Freedom in Canada: A Status Report on the 30th Anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms conference at my alma mater, Ryerson University. It was a unique gathering in that it was a mix of journalists and journalism researchers as well as practising media lawyers and legal scholars, which made for some intriguing presentations and lively discussions. I presented a discourse analysis of how articles in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star frame the Harper government’s attitudes about press freedoms and transparency, which was well-received. Just last week I finished writing up a chapter about my research for a book the conference organizers hope to publish.
In May, I returned to Ryerson for the Literary Journalism: The Power and Promise of Story, the Seventh International Conference for Literary Journalism Studies. Literary journalism is something I’ve taught for years, so it was a great opportunity to meet with other profs from around the world who do the same thing. In North America, we tend to think of literary journalism as something that evolved in the 1960s in the US and is epitomized by the sort of writing you find in The New Yorker, so it was fascinating to hear a more international perspective both in terms of the history of literary journalism in different parts of the world and what contemporary literary journalism looks like in places as different as Norway and the Middle East. I presented a paper I’m writing about the similarities between literary journalism and the increasingly popular so-called “alternative” forms of ethnography, including autoethnography and public ethnography, and argued for greater cooperation across our disciplines.
Then, last week, I travelled to the University of Waterloo for the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences to present at the Canadian Communication Association. The CCA has had a journalism interest group with its own track of sessions and meetings for a few years now, so it’s the best chance I have all year of meeting other journalism profs from across the country. It’s always nice to see my far-flung colleagues and meet new ones and share ideas about our teaching practices. At this conference, I presented some research I’m doing with our first-year journalism students; essentially, I’m trying to understand them better and figure out what they think the role of journalism is and why they want to study it. The results are still fairly preliminary, but they’re quite interesting, so I’m looking forward to digging into them a bit deeper in the next few months.
After a busy couple of months, I’m happy to be back on campus again. But that won’t last long, because I’ll be attending the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Chicago in August, where I’m a finalist in the Great Ideas for (Journalism) Teachers program. Wish me luck!