I’ve been teaching a feature writing class this semester, and we’ve been using a pretty cool book that has proven to be popular with my students: The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton.
Many of the featured journalists and writers talk about spending months — even years — working on their topics. They’re covering issues that don’t usually get mainstream attention, and they’re spending amounts of time that the typical “feed the beast” journalist just doesn’t have when pursuing a story.
While recently considering the challenges related to time and resources that face (or maybe plague) modern journalism, I started thinking about my own desires to hop back onto the active journalism track. I love my academic job, but there are times when I really miss being out on assignment, talking with people about their experiences, and crafting a narrative for a story that hopefully others would find just as interesting as I do. It occurred to me that perhaps journalism and mass communication faculty could play a significant role in producing the kind of in-depth journalism that many local and regional communities rarely see.
Fellow faculty members, I’ll give you a couple of moments to finish mocking me.
I know we’re busy. I haven’t eaten like crap, failed to exercise, or arrived home past 10 p.m. during the past weeks because I had too much time on my hands. But give me a shot at convincing you.
We Can Find the Time
Over the semester, we should be able to find some free moments to tackle this kind of journalism. I may not have a blank line on my calendar for three solid weeks, but perhaps I’ll have two hours on the last Thursday of the month when we can meet at a coffee shop and talk about whatever it is I want to talk to you about. We don’t have to be in a rush because, presumably, we’ve chosen a topic that isn’t pressing news. The same holds true when considering the production schedule. Also, the typical tenure-track faculty member knows it’ll likely take six years to achieve tenure, so we’re already thinking in years, not days or hours. Summertime is a great period to do some journalism, too. Even for those of us who take on extra classes, our schedules tend to remain flexible enough to pursue some great stories.
We are Research Beasts
Faculty know how to conduct research, and that’s what really great in-depth journalism is based upon. Spending hours in a library or combing through digital archives doesn’t phase us. If we find information that is contradictory, we spend even more time trying to ferret out the source of the inconsistency. We’re not afraid to conduct long interviews, either. These skills are part of the researcher’s and journalist’s common repertoire.
We Can Get Academic Credit
The pressure to publish in academic journals and present research at academic conferences is real. I feel it, too. But there are programs that give faculty members credit for professional work. A well-crafted piece of in-depth journalism likely will have more impact on its readers than will an academic article, and good department chairs and deans recognize the importance of solid professional work.
We Have Experience
Many of us in the faculty ranks were professionally employed before we made the jump into academia. We have the experience, the knowledge, and the patience to spend a few months working through a challenging topic, and we have the professional pride to make sure we produce something that is worthy of the public’s time.
We Can Enhance Our Courses
Faculty members who continue to pursue journalistic endeavors can model professional behavior and ethics to their students. Our experiences can even provide source material for classroom discussions and debates. And let’s be honest — the extra street cred certainly won’t hurt us.