Tips for success in journalism studies

By Andrew Gibson

Entering my emphasis area at the Missouri School of Journalism has always seemed so far away.

Well, it did until Halloween. That's when I registered for convergence reporting, the first class in my emerging-media emphasis. Although the course has a reputation for brutality, I feel strangely confident when gazing at my spring schedule. I realize now it's because of the amount I've learned in journalism-studies classes.

I can't pretend to be an expert on these classes. For one, I'm in one of them: Journalism 2150, Fundamentals of Multimedia. But I'd still like to share my advice about how to succeed in the four classes leading up to the Mizzou J-school initiation. I might forget if I don't.

Journalism 1100: Principles of American Journalism
  • Read "The Elements of Journalism" cover to cover. Sure, you'll score higher on the exams, but more importantly, the book is magical. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel are literally telling you the 10 standards that define you as a journalist, and they do so in very conversational language. The book has become my bible of reporting ethics, and it could become yours, too.  
  • Participate in class. You hear that all the time, but the truth is that journalism is full of gray areas. The best way to comprehend some of the conceptual ideas you learn about is to engage in conversations about them. You can't be a journalist if you don't ask questions.
  • Take participation essays seriously. Unless the faculty has restructured the course since I took it last fall, you're going to be required to attend two events and get quotes from people at each. This isn't necessarily difficult, but it's a great chance to practice overcoming any bashfulness you might have. Don't just settle for any quote. Keep spontaneously interviewing people until you find the perfect one.
Journalism 2000: Cross-Cultural Journalism
  • Keep the knowledge in your pocket. Some courses don't require any previous knowledge, but every class at the Missouri School of Journalism implicitly assumes you remember Journalism 2000. Whether you're crafting a story, an ad campaign or a press release, fairly representing cultures is essential. You'll learn this skill in Cross-Cultural Journalism, so I recommend not throwing your notes away after the final exam.
  • Have an audio recorder. You're going to have to transcribe your interviews for the final project, and trust me, you can't write down every word as it's spoken. An iPhone will most likely suffice as a recorder.
  • Take notes beyond what's on the slides. Almost everything you learn in this class is conceptual, meaning the content you'll be tested on stretches beyond written definitions. Write down important points from class discussions.
Journalism 2100: News
  • Live and breathe Associated Press style. These are the rules that govern virtually every print news story, and you're going to learn the important ones in this class. That said, occasionally flipping through your notes isn't enough to grasp this vast set of guidelines. Send text messages using AP style. Tweet using AP style. Write cards using AP Style. Dream about AP style.
  • Don't spell names wrong. I once mis-spelled my professor's first name, losing 30 percent on top of my other errors. Never assume a name is spelled the conventional way. Smith could be Smyth. John could be Jon. In my case, Karen was Karon.
  • Call your sources ahead of time. By ahead of time, I mean weeks before your assignment is due. People are busy, and their plans change. So do yours. If you book sources in advance, you leave yourself time to come up with Plan B and Plan C. 
Journalism 2150: Fundamentals of Multimedia
  • Remember that audio is everything. As class coordinator Steve Rice told us during lecture one day, people will watch bad video, but they won't listen to scratchy audio. Before you start an interview, plug headphones into your recorder or video camera to check your levels. Also, never leave your reporting site until you've listened to your recordings. Finally, make sure to hit the record button during interviews. This is something I didn't do while talking to a Marching Mizzou drum major, and I missed out on some great sound bites. 
  • Test your equipment immediately after you check it out. I once discovered after driving home that my camera had a malfunctioning battery. If you're on a tight deadline, this could ruin you. 
  • Build your online brand. You're required to blog and tweet for this class, but not very often. Dedicate time to learning the ins and outs of these two skills outside of labs and lectures. Don't just tweet what you had for breakfast. Tweet news. 
Photo at top courtesy of: velkr0

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