Mission Possible: Assignments that Build Skills - Reynolds Week 2011

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Pam Luecke on 'Mission Possible: Assignments that Build Skills' at Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Feb. 4-7, 2011, Business Journalism Professors Seminar. …

Pam Luecke on 'Mission Possible: Assignments that Build Skills' at Reynolds Business Journalism Week, Feb. 4-7, 2011, Business Journalism Professors Seminar.

Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, BusinessJournalism.org, Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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  • 1. REYNOLDS BUSINESS JOURNALISM WEEK ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY JANUARY 2011 Assignments that Build Skills
  • 2. Goals:
    • How to teach business journalism in a town of any size
    • How to get 20-year-olds to care about business
    • How to demystify business and economics
    • How to get beyond basic speech/press conference stories
    • How to have a little fun in class
  • 3. 12 ACEJMC skills and competencies
    • Business journalism assignments can address many of these!
    • demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications;
    • demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of peoples and cultures and of the significance and impact of mass communications in a global society;
    • demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity;
    • think critically, creatively and independently;
    • write correctly and clearly in forms and styles appropriate for the communications professions, audiences and purposes they serve;
    • apply basic numerical and statistical concepts;
  • 4. 1. History and role of professions
    • Magazine Tracking
      • Assign each student a different publication to follow for the term
      • In addition to content, have students report on ownership, audited circulation, online strategies, internship possibilities
      • Require oral presentation, one-page fact sheet and “memo to an executive”
      • Arrange presentations chronologically, beginning with “The Economist”
  • 5. Variations
    • Have class complete market analysis after presentations
      • Propose a NEW business magazine to fill an unfilled niche
      • Which magazine will be next to fold?
    • Substitute business television shows
      • Include Wall Street Week (Rukeyser), even though it’s no longer on
      • Have students show representative segments
    • This term: Economists’ blogs
      • Will have class keep a blog too
  • 6. Skills learned
    • Media history
    • Media economics
    • Business communication skills
    • Oral presentation skills
  • 7. 2. Diversity and global society
    • “ Working” assignment
      • Discuss Studs Terkel’s 1974 book:
        • Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
      • Play excerpts from interviews with him
      • Ask each student to identify a person outside of the university orbit to interview about how he or she feels about work
      • Record interview
      • Turn in unedited AND edited transcript
      • Discuss in class – have each read an excerpt
    • Post their transcripts:
      • W&L web site
  • 8. Resources for “Working”
    • NPR story about Terkel’s tapes
      • http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3892055
    • Terkel Interview
      • http://www.studsterkel.org/index.html
    • New York Times “American Album”
      • http://www.nytimes.com/ref/us/album_index.html
    • Marketplace
      • “Working in a Global Economy”
        • http://marketplace.publicradio.org/segments/working/
      • “Day in a Worklife”
        • http://marketplace.publicradio.org/collections/coll_display.php?coll_id=20013
  • 9. Variations
    • Encourage video interviews
    • Require photos of interview subjects
    • Allow students to work in pairs
    • Put more limitations on choices to drive home particular learning objectives:
      • Hourly workers
      • Racial diversity
      • Manufacturing jobs
      • Older workers
      • Laid off workers
  • 10. Skills learned
    • Interviewing techniques
    • Oral history techniques
    • Listening skills
    • Gets students outside of comfort zones
    • Grass roots perspective on business community
  • 11. Tips
    • Assignment is deceptively simple
    • Be explicit about grading criteria
      • Selection of interview subject
      • Ability to draw person out on the topic
      • Skill at editing the transcript
    • Ask students to come up with story ideas from the interviews
  • 12. 3. Professional ethics
    • Plan One
      • Give students names of business journalists to research, e.g.:
        • R. Foster Winans
        • Lou Dobbs
        • Dan Dorfman
        • Chris Nolan (San Jose Mercury-News)
        • Chiquita stories, Cincinnati Enquirer
      • Give an oral and/or written report that:
        • Describes fully the circumstances that led to the ethical dilemma and what the person did.
        • Describes what happened to the journalist as an immediate result of his actions.
        • Describes what the key ethical principles were in this case and whether you agree with how it was handled.
        • Updates us on where the person is now.
        • Discusses the implications (if any) this case has for business journalists today.
  • 13. Professional Ethics
    • Plan Two
      • Distribute SABEW ethics code
      • Develop real-life ethical scenarios and pose them to individual students or teams
      • Examples:
        • Flowers from a source
        • Dating a source
        • Acting on a stock tip
        • Who pays for lunch
        • Free airplane trip/tickets/samples
        • Acting early on information in your publication’s ads
        • Investing in stocks of local companies, sector funds, etc.
  • 14. Professional Ethics
    • Plan Three
      • Role of the financial press in the economic cycle
      • “Can press cause a recession?”
        • http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2004/el2004-29.html
      • “ Media Matters,” Sept. 25, 2001 (PBS)
      • “Dot Con”
          • http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dotcon/
  • 15. 4. Think critically
    • Enron
      • Have students watch DVD of “Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room” (or, heaven for bid, read the book!)
      • Write essay arguing a point of view:
        • Focus on transgressions of one “culprit”
        • Was this a “perfect storm?”
        • Compare/contrast with Fall 2008 meltdown
        • Role of the press
      • Devote a class to discussion
  • 16. Other meaty movies
    • “ The Insider”
      • Role of a watchdog
      • Can link to discussion of “whistleblowers” as sources
    • “ Wall Street” and “Wall Street II”
      • First one is dated, but a classic
      • Debate “greed is good” and business ethics
      • Changes in technology and the role of the press
    • Several lists of “Top 10 business movies”
    • Keep your eye out for current ones
  • 17. Other meaty books
    • “ The Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy,” Pietra Rivoli
      • Good introduction to globalization and trade
      • Aimed at college students
    • “ Nickeled and Dimed,” Barbara Ehrenreich
      • Good insights into issues of wages, benefits, Wal-Mart
    • “ The World is Flat,” Thomas Friedman
      • Be sure to highlight outsourcing of journalism jobs to India
    • “ The Selling of the American Dream, Micheline Maynard
  • 18. 5. Write clearly and professionally
    • Final journalistic story
      • Major story on a public company with ties to your community
      • Expect students to use all skills covered during the term
      • Teach the process
      • Describe assignment early in term
      • Require story pitches and likely source list
      • Require a story conference with you
      • Ask for a second, more developed story proposal
      • First draft – graded!
      • Peer editing of drafts
      • Final draft
  • 19. Variations
    • Spend a class or two on story organization
    • Devote a class to students’ oral descriptions of story focus and reporting obstacles
    • Have entire class do final story on the same company:
      • Collaborators on key interviews
      • Competitors on final stories
      • Grade on originality of angle
  • 20. Topics from 2008-2010
    • Ruby Tuesday: rebranding
    • Mead/Westvaco: union issues
    • Retailers
      • Wal-Mart, Peebles, Dollar Tree, Lowes, Kroger, Food Lion
      • Distribution: Target, JCrew
      • Blockbuster, GameStop, RedBox
    • Advance Auto Parts: growth strategy
    • Bontex: purchase by Taiwanese company
    • Ntelos (small regional telcom)
  • 21. 6. Apply numerical concepts
    • Deadline earnings exercise
      • Go to Yahoo Finance calendar for earnings or conference calls
        • http://biz.yahoo.com/cc/
      • Pick a company you’ve heard of that is releasing earnings at a convenient time AND having a conference call
      • Give students the company’s press release
      • Require a cogent story in 55 minutes that includes comment from the CEO’s conference call
  • 22. Variations
    • Play conference call in class
    • Let students do exercise as a take-home
    • Give them a choice of companies
    • Have deadline competition for Blackberry “alert”
    • Note: A controlled earnings exercise in advance in advisable
  • 23. 7. Other assignments
    • SEC Scavenger hunt
    • Retail round-up
    • Humanizing an economic indicator
    • Profile of Fed chairman
    • Closet survey
  • 24. a) SEC Scavenger Hunt
    • Pick a company of local interest
    • Go through SEC filings from last 2 years (or more!) and look for small nuggets of information
    • Craft 20 or so questions to which they must find answers
    • Require citations of document number and date
    • Discuss in class
  • 25. Key skills
    • Comfort getting around sec.gov
    • Appreciation for value of primary sources
    • Better understanding of the purpose of various filings
    • Underscores the value of public documents to locate incidental information – e.g. a board member’s age, who a company views as its competitors, which other boards an executive serves on – and, of course, executive compensation
  • 26. b) Retail round-up
    • Divide local retail community into categories, e.g.
      • Toys, specialty clothing, discount stores, electronics
    • Assign or let students pick a store from each category
    • Ask them to interview the store manager and file a 150-word feed about the store’s holiday outlook (or sales)
    • Put feeds in a common electronic folder
    • Add recent press releases from trade groups, statistics from the Commerce Department, etc.
    • Give students 55 minutes (or more or less) to write a local retail outlook story
  • 27. Variations
    • Can be done before or after Thanksgiving – or post-Christmas
    • Make part of the grade the quality of the student’s feed
    • Show students examples of retail roundups in advance
    • Offer best stories to the local media
  • 28. c) Economic indicators
    • Select key economic indicators and assign one to each class member (or let them draw)
    • Ask each to prepare a fact sheet or memo about the indicator, including:
      • What it measures
      • Who measures it – and how
      • How often it is released
      • Any controversies about the measurement
      • Is it leading, lagging or coincident?
    • Ones to include:
      • Retail sales, durable goods, consumer price index, GDP (though not technically an indicator), unemployment
      • Sources: Economic Indicator Calendars
        • http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/national_economy/nationalecon_cal.html
  • 29. Economic indicators, part two
    • After class presentations about indicators, ask each student to write a story humanizing and localizing an indicator
    • Doesn’t need to be the one they reported on
    • Good ones to use: retail, housing starts, unemployment
  • 30. Variations
    • Begin with general discussion of indicators
    • Include fun ones:
      • Lipstick
        • http://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/lipstickindicator.asp
      • Hemlines
        • http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2006/04/short_or_short_.html
      • Superbowl
      • Starbucks
    • Have class brainstorm a local or campus economic indicator
  • 31. d) Profile of Fed chairman
    • Combines writing exercise and research on Fed’s mission and history
    • Can frame profile as:
      • Advance obit
      • “ Resignation/retirement story”
      • Changing of the guard
    • Tip: Tell students to be careful where they print out their stories!
  • 32. e) Closet survey
    • A little, ungraded assignment
    • Engaging way to begin discussion of trade and globalization
    • Ask each to examine12 clothing labels and write down the country of origin
    • In class, go around the room and keep a tally on the blackboard of how many items were made on each country/continent
    • Discuss implications
    • Variation: Ask each student to wear to class that day something made in the USA
  • 33. Final thoughts
    • Mix it up
    • Befriend professors in economics, accounting, business, law
    • Keep topics fresh
    • Teach from the headlines
    • Have class pools or “consensus estimates”
      • Where Dow will end the day
      • What unemployment rate will be next month
      • GDP estimate
      • Reward winner with chocolate
    • Sustain YOUR interest; theirs will follow!