Do we push journalism students too hard?

1f19a1bBy Dr. Gregory Perreault
Appalachian State University

I know, I know. The answer is “no,” right? The problem is that “we don’t push them hard enough.”

As a journalism professor, the question of “how hard is too hard,” is a question I’ve faced teaching introductory journalism classes at both the Missouri School of Journalism and Appalachian State University. While the students are different, the dilemma is not—you can see where the journalism students are in terms of their skillset and yet you know where they need to be to be competitive for a job. That’s sometimes a challenge, as anyone who teaches those classes can tell you. Because the gap is large and, depending on whom you ask, getting larger. I’ve had assignments turned in where the president’s name is misspelled, where information from Wikipedia is just blatantly cut-and-pasted in the document (“you’re allowed to do this as a paraphrase–right?”), and where the writing reads like a text message.

And so I’ve pushed pretty hard in my classes to try to get students competitive. But recently I received an email from a former student that made me reconsider just how hard I was pushing.

The email was from a student who is far from what I would consider a “whiner” and it is a student who has become fairly successful in his college career. He noted that through the way that I worded my critiques and challenges to students he got the impression that he “couldn’t do it” and felt he had to prove me wrong.

The problem here was that his motivation for his success became “proving me wrong” as opposed to something else. This ended up being troubling for him. It motivated him through journalism school but now he’s not entirely sure, as a graduating senior, he even wants to be in this field.

It is worth considering if the way we motivate students to success–by making it hard–also sometimes forces people into a field, or conversely, forces people out of field they would have chosen.

It’s easy to forget that many journalists just fell into the field. As for myself, I fell into journalism during college inbetween a stay in pre-med and creative writing. But that choice led me to a field that I’ve enjoyed. In a “harder” program, perhaps I wouldn’t have stayed. Journalism is a big tent that requires and benefits from a variety of personalities and skillsets. Journalism would be deprived if only a single “type” of person can brave the gauntlets.

Granted, different programs have different expectations as students continue through the ranks, but I suspect we can all agree that its worth considering how to best motivating students to move through them.

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