Business Journalism Professors 2014: Deciding What to Teach by Chris Roush


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Chris Roush presents "Deciding What to Teach" during the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism's annual Business Journalism Week, Jan. 2, 2014. Roush is the Walter E. Hussman Sr. Distinguished Scholar in business journalism and the founding director of the Carolina Business News Initiative at the University of North Carolina.

The annual event features two concurrent seminars, Business Journalism Professors and Strictly Financials for journalists.

For more information about business journalism training, please visit

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Business Journalism Professors 2014: Deciding What to Teach by Chris Roush

  1. 1. Deciding what to teach Chris Roush Jan. 2, 2014 Business Journalism Professors Seminar
  2. 2. The syllabus —  The syllabus should be a contract between the students and the instructor. —  The instructor agrees to follow the syllabus, and the students agree to meet the requirements listed. —  Changes in the syllabus should be in writing.
  3. 3. The syllabus —  Writing a syllabus is an art. —  A good syllabus effectively spaces out writing assignments, guest speakers and other work so that it’s not bunched together near the end of the semester. —  A good syllabus also builds momentum. It starts out slow, with easy work, and then becomes progressively harder.
  4. 4. The syllabus —  I’m also a big fan of a syllabus working up to a major final project due at the end of the semester. —  All of the lectures and assignments build up to a student showing what they have learned during the semester into that final project.
  5. 5. The syllabus For “Business Reporting,” syllabus should tell students why this is going to be a great class to take. —  Think about answering these questions in the document: 1.  What will you cover in this course? 2.  What won’t be covered? 3.  Why is it worthwhile to study this subject? (What got you interested in this topic initially?) — 
  6. 6. The syllabus —  More questions to consider with the syllabus: What is your approach to teaching this content? 2.  How will this relate to the material that was covered in the prerequisite course(s)? 3.  Is there any other body of content that it will draw on? (For example, a this course might draw on business and economic concepts, even if business and economics courses are not a prerequisite.) 4.  Are there any life experiences that the student might find it helpful to draw upon? 1. 
  7. 7. Parts of the syllabus
  8. 8. Parts of the syllabus —  Most syllabuses will include basic information such as office hours, how a grade will be determined, textbooks to be used and when the class meets. —  But there are other things to consider when writing the syllabus.
  9. 9. Objectives —  I like to list an objective for my sources. —  For “Business Reporting,” it might state something like this: —  “The objective of this course is to make you comfortable writing stories about business and the economy. My goal is to have each of you call or e-mail me from your first job when you were asked to write that earnings or IPO story, and tell me how easy it was.”
  10. 10. Readings —  In addition to the textbook, the syllabus needs to explain what is expected of outside readings. —  Most “business reporting” classes require students to read TheWall Street Journal or local business news sections. —  Can also require reading Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune.
  11. 11. Readings —  How do you determine whether students have actually done the readings? —  Can have pop business news quizzes as part of the grade. —  Can also offer bonus points for successfully answering questions about current business news issues.
  12. 12. Readings —  As far as textbook readings, I like to list what I expect to be read before each class. —  Accomplishes two things: Improves class discussion, and lets you know who has done the reading when you ask questions and they don’t know the answers.
  13. 13. Non-textbook readings —  Like to give students a book to read during the semester in addition to the textbook. —  Needs to be something that shows them how business reporters do their job. —  A number of recent books qualify.
  14. 14. Non-textbook readings Here are some suggestions: 1.  "24 Days: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America." By Rebecca Smith and John Emshwiler. Harper Collins. 2003. 2.  “The Fortune Tellers: Inside Wall Street's Game of Money, Media, and Manipulation.” By Howard Kurtz. Touchstone Books. 2001. 3.  “The Best Business Writing 2013” Columbia University Press. — 
  15. 15. Non-textbook readings —  1.  2.  Some other suggestions: “The Big Short,” by Michael Lewis. Norton: 2010. “All the Devils are Here,” by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera. Penguin: 2010.
  16. 16. Non-textbook readings —  If you do assign one of these books to your students, don’t make them write the typical book report. —  Hold a class discussion one day about the reporting tactics discussed in the books. —  Or, have the students write about how they may have reported stories differently than the journalists in the books.
  17. 17. Writing assignments —  Will the writing assignments be done in class, or outside of class? —  Unless you’re teaching in a room that has computers, most reporting classes require stories to be written outside of class. —  Make sure there is a set deadline when stories are due. Make deadlines realistic, but enforce it strictly.
  18. 18. Writing assignments —  The writing assignments should be assigned at the end of a class, but they should also be marked on the syllabus. —  Discuss the material in class, such as earnings stories. Talk about how it’s reported and written. —  Then, assign immediately, so it’s fresh in their minds. —  Give them real deadlines.
  19. 19. Writing assignments —  Also, set guidelines on what the students can – and can’t – do for the writing assignments. —  Can they e-mail or call you with questions? —  Can they look at how similar stories were written online? —  Can they have another student look at their work? —  What type of sources are they supposed to use?
  20. 20. Writing assignments —  Also, discuss with the class how the writing assignments are going to be graded? —  Are you more interested in seeing that they understand the concepts that they are writing about? —  Do you also want to see good structure and transitions, for example?
  21. 21. The fact error issue —  It’s vitally important to instill a belief in “Business Reporting” students that getting a number or name wrong can kill their credibility, especially with those they’re writing about. —  How much will you count off for a fact error? —  At UNC, it’s 50 points.
  22. 22. Writing assignments —  How much should a student’s writing assignments count for their overall grade? —  I like to give 9 or 10 writing assignments throughout the semester. —  Make them at least 40 percent of the grade.
  23. 23. Class participation —  Will you make part of the student’s overall grade how much they participated in class? —  I’d encourage it, but no more than 10 percent. —  Gets students involved in the discussion about issues and topics.
  24. 24. Exams —  How many exams you give should be up to you. —  I prefer to give exams that focus on understanding concepts such as the SEC and its filings rather than making them write a story. —  Want to see they understand what they’re writing about.
  25. 25. Exams —  Give only a mid-term exam, and it counts for 20 percent of the grade. —  Short-answer questions that makes them think. —  Example: “List six reasons why a company would file a Form 8-K with the SEC.”
  26. 26. Using guest speakers —  I like to use guest speakers to emphasize points made in class, or as a writing assignment. —  Will have CEO and CFO of public company come be interviewed. —  Or, can have sell-side or buy-side analyst discuss reports or portfolio.
  27. 27. Using guest speakers —  Also like to have a PR person from a local company talk about relationship with business reporters. —  Downside: How do you know they do what they tell the class? —  Upside: Can expose students early to what can be a tense relationship.
  28. 28. Using guest speakers —  One of the problems I’ve run into with guest speakers is vetting them beforehand. —  If you’ve never heard them speak, how do you know they’re going to be good? —  Sometimes, have to take a chance. —  Stay in class, and direct conversation back on point.
  29. 29. Schedule —  I prefer the syllabus include a calendar of what will be done EVERY day the class meets. —  Prevents ambiguity. —  Lets students know what to expect each day. —  Lets them know about deadlines.
  30. 30. Final points about the syllabus
  31. 31. Make it available online —  Having the syllabus easily available on-line will save both you and students time and frustration later in the quarter, when paper copies have been misplaced. —  Make sure students know how to access it. —  Blackboard or personal URL? —  Sakai?
  32. 32. There is no length issue —  Take as much space as you feel necessary to write the syllabus. —  If in doubt, it is usually best to err on the long side, to ensure that important course information is fully covered. —  At the same time, students will appreciate having key information in succinct form on the first page or two.
  33. 33. Show your personality —  Have some fun with the syllabus. It puts students at ease. —  Showing humor will also help show them that business and economics are not boring topics. —  Example: “April 11: Bonds. Not James. Munis, government, etc. Chapter 7 in Show me the Money.”
  34. 34. Always look to improve —  Don’t use the same syllabus every year. —  Find new guest speakers. —  Come up with new assignments, possibly about breaking news in the area. —  Using same syllabus makes instructor bored, and students will notice.
  35. 35. Changes for 2013 —  My big change in 2011was swapping places with a business journalism professor from Spain. —  He came to UNC and taught my class for two weeks about business reporting in Europe. —  I taught his students for two weeks about business journalism in the U.S. —  In 2012: Exchange with London university that has business journalism program. —  2013: Had students write profiles of dead, famous business journalists. —  2014: ???