Photos: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service
Course: Comm 273: Public Issues Reporting
Instructors: R.B. Brenner
Course Description: Lecture/lab
Audience: Journalism MA students, undergraduates
Schedule: Mondays and Wednesdays 10:00am-12:00pm
Teaching & Learning Strategies:
Public Issues Reporting uses the traditional classroom teaching style. The lecture-based course incorporates both theory and skills, and at the core is a very practical class. When the students arrive they take on a “news beat” - a story to explore during the course - in one of the two counties surrounding Stanford. As Brenner says, “By doing [news beats] they’re being real field reporters, but they’re also learning in class lessons they can apply to the practical. I knew we were going to be moving rather seamlessly at times from the educational to the practical and back again.”
Video by Robert Emery Smith
Out-of-class activities include both traditional reporting and digital multimedia. Students are responsible for taking skills taught in lecture into the real world. Their capstone project involves reporting on current issues on the Peninsula, and sharing their findings with the class.
Brenner is conscientious about using his classroom, the Wallenberg Learning Theater
, to its fullest potential and considering how it can aid the class. He aims to make sure that the physical setup - how tables and chairs are configured in the room - matches the activity for the day. “There might be times when the classroom looks like a newsroom because the reporters are working together in clusters,” he says. “Then the cluster might [use] the screen to communicate with the entire room.”
Brenner uses both individual and group exercises in class. The main project in Autumn Quarter 2014 involved studying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act
on the Peninsula. To cover this, the students work both individually and in large group of twenty or more. Within this twenty-person group are four subcategories: the reporters, multimedia team, data analysis team, and the multimedia desk. A total of ten students are assigned to be reporters who identify individual articles that they choose to pursue for the project. A separate multimedia team consists of eight students who are responsible for photography, video, and audio; they often communicate very closely with the article reporters. Two more students form the data analysis team that is responsible for performing data analysis and creating data visualizations. In addition to this are the multimedia desk, which is mainly responsible for live-blogging, and an event team which puts on a panel later in the quarter in the Learning Theater.
Apart from this large-scale project, the students are also responsible for smaller activities throughout the quarter such as a student-envisioned and student-built website, a four-minute video report, and about a dozen deeply reported news articles that include photo galleries, smaller, shorter videos, and data visualizations.
The main goal of the course is to facilitate reporting and writing on government and public policies and issues, and examining their implications for the people and the press, at a real-world pace. “[Journalism] is such a fast-moving thing,” says Brenner. His goal, then, is to create journalists who can match such a rigorous speed - journalists who know the right questions to ask, who can report effectively, and who take the time to practice the craft in order to hone their skills.
“My overall philosophy is that the practice of journalism has a bias toward doing. In some ways it’s analogous to if you're in a theatre program,” Brenner says. “Yes, it’s important to know theory and yes, it’s important to know technique, but if it just stops there without the actual practice of getting on stage and getting it workshopped, it only goes so far. There’s what I call the nexus between exposing them and teaching skills and techniques and then saying okay now you have to put that into practice.”
Simulated new events were a huge success, so that he thinks having more of these included in the curriculum would benefit the students. The events, such as an imitation Election Night, get students excited and give them something to practice reporting on in a supportive environment. These events offer high-reward, low-stake atmospheres for students, while helping them to apply their newly acquired skills.
Brenner is leaving in June 2014 to become director of the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin Moody College of Communication, but this class will continue to be offered be offered by the Department of Communications.
Sierra Freeman is a junior majoring in English.
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