Thursday, December 11, 2014

What students think about Journalism Lab

Students in JOUR 330 and 331, the two Chico State classes that provide an opportunity for academic credit for working at The Orion, have mostly positive things to say about their experience this semester but made it clear they'd like more feedback and communication with editors.

Here's a summary of their comments on an informal survey taken at the start of critique Wednesday.  They were asked to write down:

• One thing you wish you had known at the beginning of the semester that would have made a difference in how successful you were at The Orion.
Several students mentioned needing more training for their jobs, specifically mentioning InDesign, photo and video skills, and apps for visual storytelling. Several wrote they didn't know how hard or time-consuming it would be to find sources for stories. Others mentioned the specific time and skill requirements of their particular jobs. My favorite comment was: "How exhausted I would be by this point, but also how proud."

One thing you wish your supervisor had done differently that would have made your time at the newspaper more satisfying.
A fairer distribution of work, better coaching, more feedback after a story is published, allowing more initiative by staff members, being more open to story and column ideas, providing more specific story assignments, especially in the early weeks of the semester. Several said their editors were great. One student wrote: "My supervisor is the reason why my experience was so beneficial."

One thing you would change about the academic course (JOUR 330 or 331) that would make it better for students in the future. 
Several students wanted more direct instruction on journalism norms, methods and skills instead of an hour-plus critique each week, with one person suggesting this blog would be a good place to do that. Others mentioned requiring all students to enroll to weed out slackers, focusing less on the print paper and more on the Web, adding a second general critique for students who can't attend on Wednesdays, a field trip to a professional newspaper, more outside design critiquers, group critiques of sections, recruiting more staffers and more feedback from editors.

The one thing you learned during this semester working at The Orion that changed the way you think about journalism or your career.
Students provided a wide variety of comments, with many saying they are now focused or more focused on becoming professional journalists. Some other responses: It's important to get stories up quickly because the lifespan of an article is short, proofreading and fact-checking are incredibly important, communication really is key, how to develop a news story, to be more active on stories, mutlimedia is equally important as a well-written story, time management, how to work and manage a group of people, admitting weaknesses as a writer and student, to be more assertive, always record, the way a leader's style influences a newspaper, and how to "quick fire tweet stories." A couple of students said their writing improved dramatically. My favorite comment was: "Not really learned as much as remembered how much fun it is to write."

They were also asked to:
• Make one suggestion for how the weekly critique session could have been more helpful or educational for you personally.What one change would you make in the class if you were in charge?
Suggested changes included: more AP style lessons, more journalism-skills instruction, analyze a video or infographic for effectiveness each week, being more choosy about outside critiquers, doing more of the liked-didn't like story listing and discussion, employing a wider variety of critiquing approaches, sending out the written critique earlier so writers can ask questions about it during class, looking at other college papers and what they're doing,  a focus on sections and what they should be doing rather than specific stories, returning to more adviser-led critique with opportunities for students to comment, one-on-one time with editors, spend more time dissecting articles, editors discussing finished work after publication, one-on-one critique for designers, continuing the separate critique for copy editors and designers, and offering more suggestions about major changes for the paper and website. By far the most common response, though, was shifting the focus of critique from print to the paper's online efforts.

The suggestions and comments have me thinking about:
• Changing up Oriontation by having training for editors-only on the first day with a focus on coaching and communication and a special journalism-basics training session for students new to the paper.
• Adding a 20- to 30-minute training segment at the beginning of every critique.
• Videotaping the guest critiques and making them available on BlackBoard.
• Increasing the frequency of the nonstandard critiques.
• Offering a more extensive InDesign training experience before the start of the semester and adding a mobile-video workshop.
• Shifting the critique focus away from print and onto and the Orion news app, using the design critique to focus on the printed newspaper.

If you have other suggestions, please feel free to add them as comments to this post.

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