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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.

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

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Mission Possible: Assignments that Build Skills - Reynolds Week 2011

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