Radical Pedagogy


Radical Pedagogy (2013)

ISSN: 1524-6345

Higher Order Thinking and Civic Engagement: The Interdisciplinary Nature of Journalism

Kim Pavlick

Department of Communication

The University of Scranton

Pennsylvania, USA

E-mail: pavlickk2@scranton.edu

Laurie McMillan

Department of English

Marywood University

Pennsylvania, USA

E-mail: lmcmillan@marywood.edu


This paper shows how a journalism boot camp goes far beyond simple professionalization of students. The Boot Camp, a partnership between two universities and the staff of a community newspaper, is interdisciplinary in nature as it focuses not only on writing but also photography, editing, ethics, interviewing, and other aspects of the news and media culture. The depth of thinking and the variety of disciplines that are interwoven in the Boot Camp engage students in ways that are often associated with the humanities rather than with a professional program. We thus argue that such programs are of great benefit as they offer journalistic training while also encouraging civic engagement, wedding the professional with the liberal arts.                                                                   
                Keywords: journalism, liberal arts, critical thinking, interdisciplinary, community learning, civic,


As those in higher education struggle to help students integrate their learning into real-world practice in terms of both career preparation and civic engagement, two Northeastern Pennsylvania universities have found one way to meet this challenge by teaming up with a community partner. The Northeastern Pennsylvania Journalism Boot Camp—a collaborative effort among Marywood University, The University of Scranton, and The Scranton Times-Tribune—helps students understand and apply curricular learning through interdisciplinary sessions that serve both professional and liberal arts goals.  

The Boot Camp allows college students to spend a Saturday with professionals from The Scranton Times-Tribune to learn more about the various facets of the news business. However, participants have found that the program does far more than simply offer narrow vocational training. Journalism is a professional field that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries and offers insights and tools that can benefit attendees with a broad spectrum of career goals. Indeed, with the inclusion of topics such as writing, research, ethics, photography, design, and legal issues, the Boot Camp mirrors many of the courses commonly required in a general education curriculum. Students involved in the Boot Camp are able to explore the way their own backgrounds and interests intersect with a variety of roles as they choose from a menu of sessions. Furthermore, no matter what the particular choices of the students, the Boot Camp as a whole tends to reinforce basic tenets of a liberal arts education that ideally have positive effects on students’ thinking and behavior not only as professionals but also as citizens. As the Boot Camp uses the lens of journalism to educate the whole person, it ultimately benefits all involved by enhancing both specific and adaptable skills that support professional and civic development.

            Looking to journalism as a site of interdisciplinary, liberal arts-based thinking and learning might at first seem surprising. However, at a November 2009 symposium sponsored by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Shane highlighted the connection between journalism and both professional and civic engagement. As Shane (2009) explained, “The idea is not to make everyone a professional editor or reporter” but instead to recognize that “the new media phenomenon is potentially making everyone a journalist” (p. 1). At the same time, every person is a consumer of news, so media literacy is important, especially as the field of journalism is undergoing rapid change. Shane argued specifically (and briefly) for a liberal arts curriculum based in journalism, a move that is beyond the scope of what we are proposing here. Still, Shane is correct in his suggestion that a focus on local journalism is educationally sound because “the issues posed are intellectually challenging” and engage students (p. 7). Furthermore, as we note of the Boot Camp event, centering on journalism helps students in ways that “increase their marketability and enable them to function more effectively as citizens” (Shane, 2009, p. 8). Specifically, we argue that the Boot Camp, as an interdisciplinary project, helps students develop critical thinking, proficiency in communication, interpersonal skills, and ethical reasoning—and these qualities lead to strong professionals and committed community members.

Boot Camp Background

The Journalism Boot Camp began as a collaborative effort between Kim Pavlick, a communication professor at the University of Scranton, and Larry Beaupre, managing editor of The Scranton Times-Tribune. The project was the brainchild of Beaupre, who at heart is a true educator. He was interested in developing a program that would help his employees share their skills with upcoming journalists. Beaupre (2009) said, “I wanted a closer working relationship with the University of Scranton as a way to keep myself and the staff current with academic journalism. We also had just started an internship program with the University of Scranton, and this was a way to identify and develop future talent both for the program and as possible future hires” (personal communication, December 2009). After the internship program was successfully underway, the Dean of Liberal Arts, Joe Dresibach, encouraged Pavlick and Beaupre to proceed with the Boot Camp.

The first year saw seventy-five University of Scranton students learn how a newspaper works from its conception in the newsroom to the product that is delivered daily to people’s homes. While the focus was on print journalism, a session on web reporting highlighted connections to new media. The hour-long seminars also included topics such as Ethics, Newsroom Culture, Photography, Copy Editing, Research, and various types of Writing. Although the nine-hour day was exhausting for all involved, the initial feedback from students was extremely positive and even surprising. A few of the activities Beaupre and Pavlick believed would be “fluffy” or insignificant to students turned out to be some of the favorite activities. A student survey revealed most of the students believed they received a significant classroom education on how to do the job of a journalist, but they craved the wisdom and knowledge only professionals in the field can provide. Pavlick (2009) noted, “Most of the students said they really enjoyed the realities of living the life of a journalist. Sometimes I feel that when I talk, they hear their moms—and sometimes they think their moms know nothing” (personal communication, December 2009). She added that the interdisciplinary nature of the Boot Camp allows students to explore areas of journalism they might not have been exposed to or even considered as a career choice (K. Pavlick, personal communication, December 2009).

Looking to make the seminar more interdisciplinary and to extend the attention given to broadcast journalism and web reporting, Pavlick and Beaupre invited Laurie McMillan, English professor at nearby Marywood University, to join the project. The University of Scranton is focused on the business end of the communication world, and Marywood focuses more on the artistic end. By bringing together students from both ends of the spectrum, the trio hoped to engage students on a new level. Furthermore, the two schools working together allowed the trio to apply for a joint grant program to create projects between the two schools. The grant money allowed the program to grow into a two-day event that included not only The Scranton Times-Tribune staff but also a day-long program led by Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute. Pavlick worked with Tompkins to create a workshop called “Telling the Story with Pictures” that focused on using broadcast journalism and web reporting. Tompkins covered issues including good writing and editing ethics. By bringing Tompkins into the fold, The Times-Tribune staffers also became students learning alongside the undergraduates from both schools. Furthermore, because of the changing landscape of American journalism, adding a convergence element to the program helped students be more prepared for real world journalism, which research has shown to be important to students. Auman and Lillie (2008) found that even though students want to specialize in one specific area of journalism (i.e., print, broadcast, or online), students indicate their satisfaction with their exposure to all different types of media.

Charts 1 and 2 outline the sessions during the two-day event:







Session 1                             Session 2

  9-9:45 a.m.          News writing: Beyond the Basics           Art of Copyediting

10-10:45 a.m.Newsgathering: The Interview           Writing Headlines that Work

11-11:45 a.m.Newsgathering: Government RecordsContemporary Newspaper Design

12-12:45 p.m.         LUNCH

1-1:45 p.m.Opinion Writing                               Photography

12-2:45 p.m.Sports Writing                    Culture of the Newsroom

3-3:45 p.m.Web Reporting                     Legal Issues in Journalism

4-4:45 p.m.Feature Writing                    Journalism Ethics


“Getting a job in journalism”




8:30-9:30                What Makes a Great Story (small and large group discussions)

9:30-noon               Elements of Great Writing and Storytelling

                                    -shaping the story

                                    -shaping the sentence

                                    -finding sharp focus

                                    -developing characters

                                    -building in surprises

                                    -making the problem the story

                                    -getting beyond the obvious to the real news

                                    -thinking visually

noon-12:30             lunch

12:30-2:00              Cool Tools—Release Your Inner Geek (online production)

2:00-2:15                break

2:15-4:00                The Ethics of Editing

Boot Camp: Interdisciplinary Strengths

Educators regularly struggle to balance liberal education with the skills students need in order to compete in a real-world environment. Universities, after all, do not simply offer vocational training nor are they geared toward general preparation for adulthood; instead, they work “to provide students with a high-quality education that is fully responsive to the challenges and demands of their future lives, as both citizens and professionals” (Sullivan & Rosin, 2008, p. 47).  At many schools, major requirements become overwhelming as professional programs work to satisfy accrediting bodies, and Pavlick and McMillan are both at institutions that have recently reduced the number of general education credits required of students, a trend that is becoming widespread as colleges work to become more transfer-friendly. It is not surprising in this climate that educators regularly find the balance between civic and professional priorities skewed in one direction or the other, leading to Davis’s (2007) complaint that colleges rarely “communicate an explicit and compelling educational purpose to students that attempts to connect learning to all of life, and not just the forty-hour work week” (p. 63).  Of course, preparation for the forty-hour workweek cannot simply be omitted from higher education, either.

            It is unfortunate that liberal arts and professional programs are often opposed to one another and set in competition. The disconnection between the two realms and the resultant tension is largely due to misconceptions of both liberal education and professional training. Liberal arts are often viewed negatively as too general to be practical, though they are usually recognized for being concerned with values and ethics. Professional programs, on the other hand, are praised for their attention to specific practical applications, yet it is often assumed that they ignore the belief systems addressed in the “big questions” of the liberal arts. Such views are, of course, warped oversimplifications of the way both liberal arts courses and professional courses actually operate most of the time. In its Greater Expectations report, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) (2002) has recommended that “professional studies. . . be approached as liberal education” rather than maintaining “traditional, artificial distinctions between liberal and practical education” (Chapter Three). Another AACU (2007) publication further posited “a deliberate break with the academic categories developed in the twentieth century” that separate liberal studies from vocational studies, arguing that the two are best served when combined (p. 4). In the case of the Journalism Boot Camp, this professionally-oriented event is widely beneficial specifically because journalism is a field that includes many disciplines and educates students in higher order thinking that includes critical analysis, communication, interpersonal skills, and ethics—goals that combine liberal arts energy with vocational training.

In short, higher education seeks to prepare students to be strong professionals and effective citizens, and this goal is more likely to be realized when all courses contribute to this dual aim rather than having some programs support professionalization while others focus solely on civic engagement. Such thinking leads to Fong’s (2004) assertion that “Liberal learning is no longer relegated to general education: It denominates any study that inculcates the abilities to communicate effectively; think knowledgeably, insightfully, and critically; work cooperatively; and behave ethically and responsibly” (p. 10). After debriefing with the staff from The Times, both Pavlick and McMillian believe this quote sums up the students’ experiences at the Boot Camp because of its interdisciplinary focus on these components that Fong has listed—elements which liberal education strives to enhance. Educating students in each of these realms of higher order thinking is crucial to both their civic and career development, whether the students ultimately pursue professional journalism or not.

Critical Thinking

To a great degree, critical thinking is ubiquitous throughout a program such as the Journalism Boot Camp that invites students to synthesize and apply what they have learned in their university classrooms. Furthermore, critical thinking is not distinct from communication, interpersonal skills, and ethics; instead, these four qualities tend to overlap and enhance one another. Still, several components of the Boot Camp place particular emphasis on critical thinking skills. Firstly, news judgment is discussed throughout most of the seminars. Although students have an understanding of News Value theory, hearing writers and editors explain why and how they select and frame real-world news gives students a strong lesson in the critical thinking process. The role of choice in constructing stories is repeatedly highlighted; negating any lingering sense students might have that reporting the news is a passive activity. Specifically, the workshop on Interviewing as part of the writing process helps students understand the types of questions they need to prepare in order to get accurate information, and the Feature Writing seminar allows students to grasp the “names and faces” approach to journalism. Each part of news practice is implicitly or explicitly tied to theory about the social role of journalism and the implications and consequences of journalistic decisions. This attention to media literacy helps students become more savvy producers and consumers of news, which is increasingly important in this time of rapid change in the world of journalism.

In addition to highlighting the importance of critical thinking throughout the journalistic process, the Boot Camp also ties critical thinking to the writing process. As all journalists will attest, the art of writing—regardless of its purpose—is based in critical thinking. Students learn that reporters use analysis throughout the process of producing a news story, whether in interviewing, fact gathering, framing a story, or synthesizing information. By making such connections in a workshop format, the Boot Camp helps students apply and sharpen their own critical thinking abilities.

Written Communication

Writing is not only tied to critical thinking but is also another learning element that is woven through many sessions, helping students to value writing skills and better appreciate the nuances and complexities of writing. With a variety of sessions devoted to different kinds of writing, students begin to believe that the most important skill a journalist can hone is his or her ability to communicate clearly. Although the students learn grammar, usage, structure, and Associated Press style in the classroom, Pavlick (2009) noted that students often do not understand why it is important to study language usage so closely (personal communication, December 2009). However, hearing how the reporters and editors use such knowledge on a daily basis impacts students greatly, especially because the Boot Camp helps students understand the writing process from critical thinking to print.

In addition to learning that the rules of writing are important, students also develop a sense of how complicated and nuanced writing can be. Each story may be approached in multiple ways, and journalism includes a variety of writing styles. To some degree, students better understand this point as they move from sessions on Opinion Writing to Feature Writing to Sports Writing where journalists articulate principles and guidelines connected to each sub-genre. The complexity of writing is further highlighted in the Copyediting session and during Al Tompkins’ visit. Stephanie Sadowski, the copyeditor for The Times, showed how grammar rules are often not hard and fast rules but instead are connected to usage and consistency, so it is important to understand the writing context. Furthermore, she explained how to write headlines and the importance of appropriate verbs to tell the story accurately and ethically (Sadowski, 2009). Tompkins reinforced this lesson by having students write and critique headlines for a variety of stories. In each of these cases, writing is connected with framing, and as students practice writing in various sessions, the challenge and importance of writing clearly and effectively is emphasized.

Communication / Interpersonal Skills

Obviously, learning from reporters in the field helps students understand the practicalities of working in the media. Furthermore, although we know this generation is technologically connected, there seems to be a disconnection between communication through technology and interpersonal communication. However, during the Boot Camp, students learn the importance of human interaction through Faith Golay’s seminar on Newsroom culture. Golay speaks of the interpersonal dynamics of the staff including behavior patterns, respect, mutual rights, and mood. Although her presentation is light (and often includes toys as prizes), she stresses the importance of good human interaction in order to make a quality product. Too often, affective learning and emotional intelligence are overlooked, both because they are difficult to teach and because they are often considered non-academic subjects. Golay’s approach, however, is practical and down-to-earth, helping students learn valuable lessons through stories and discussions.

            In addition, students not only learn about but also practice interpersonal communication as they interact with the staff from The Times. The journalists who participate in the Boot Camp volunteer to do so, and they are interested in talking with students. That makes it easier for students to probe for details about a journalist’s lifestyle without feeling insecure, and the questions tend to focus on matters that a faculty person might not be able to answer. Some of the questions are practical such as, How much money can I make?, but others are more investigatory, such as, How can I get a job in the industry?. In addition, the professional journalists attend one another’s sessions, and they often pose queries of their colleagues who are leading the session. The ease of communication and the friendly support among the reporters and editors provide a role model for students as the journalists demonstrate strong interpersonal relations, probably without even realizing they are doing so. These interactions throughout the Boot Camp help students gain a greater sense of a successful newspaper culture, and, in more general terms, students are more prepared for the many career fields that involve teamwork and a “greater diversity of people” than ever before (AACU, 2002, Chapter One). Contact with professionals with strong interpersonal communication skills can only place students at more of an advantage as they move forward with their education and career choices.


Just as critical thinking, writing, and interpersonal skills are a vital part of a liberal education that students may not always value in terms of practical application, so too is ethics. Even if students do recognize the importance of ethics, they might not turn to the world of journalism for answers because public perceptions of an overly-liberal media or attention given to unethical behaviors can lead to pervading negative thoughts about journalism. However, both Larry Beaupre’s session on ethics and Al Tompkins’ attention to the ethics of digital editing enlighten many students to the quandaries journalists face every day and also help students become more responsible consumers of the news.

            Beaupre’s session focused on actual situations that caused ethical pause for him and his staff.  He took students through each step of the case study, turning the tables so that the students walked in his shoes as they answered: Was there a story? Was the story worth reporting? Those questions allowed the students to apply concepts learned in their philosophy, ethics, and communication ethics courses. Because the case studies actually happened, Beaupre was able to also speak of the outcomes and the criticisms that both he and the paper faced after the stories were published. McMillan (2009) noted that as a participant in the session, she regularly erred on the side of caution when analyzing the case study, and she thus chose not to print stories if an ethics question arose (personal communication, December 2009). When Beaupre unveiled the true story, however, she discovered that he was challenged for making the same choices she had thought were appropriate (L. McMillan, personal communication, December 2009). This case study showed that ethics can be called into question whether one chooses to print a story or not, and it also helped participants understand that journalists need to develop a set of guidelines to follow in order to make difficult decisions and be able to explain those decisions to others. Indeed, the matter of accountability is daunting.

Ideas about ethics were explored somewhat differently in Tompkins’ visit. Speaking from a convergence standpoint, Al Tompkins demonstrated the way the editing of video can change the ethical presentation of a story. For example, Tompkins showed how video editing had been used in one venue to make President Obama’s inauguration speech seem as though it addressed global warming more than it actually does. Another example focused on how the editing of the same story of a shooting on a local newscast shed a completely different light on the story. Both examples gave students pause as they understood the implications of applying ethics to editing. While Beaupre’s session placed students in the position of the journalist or editor who must make choices about whether to present a story and how to present a story, Tompkins’ approach helped students understand the importance of questioning news presentations and valuing reportage that is told appropriately. 

            The lessons learned at the Boot Camp thus span critical thinking, communication, interpersonal skills, and ethics in a way that sharpens the cognitive and affective abilities of all participants. Because journalists are at the forefront of communication in today’s 24/7 news cycle, having an interdisciplinary understanding of intricacies of news delivery also allows both news consumers and future journalists to take a more active role in the proliferation of news content.

Boot Camp Benefits: Not Just for Future Journalists

In its widest application, then, the Boot Camp offers all students the sort of professional training that is readily adaptable to careers outside of journalism, and it simultaneously encourages good citizenship. In terms of adaptable professional training, the Boot Camp’s  interdisciplinary emphasis and liberal arts focus meets twenty-first century career needs: 1) the ability to apply effective thinking, creativity, and communication to a variety of contexts and 2) a blend of professional expertise and community commitment. Furthermore, whether students become journalists or enter another career field, they are all going to be citizens with lives outside of their professions, and the Boot Camp addresses the need for higher education to support civic development. The Boot Camp thus benefits all types of students—not just future journalists—by focusing on higher order thinking and skills that are needed in both professional and civic realms.

In terms of professional needs, experts note that twenty-first century careers will include the introduction of new professions and the increasing likelihood that people will change career fields several times rather than stick with one company or role for most of their lives. One estimate suggested that  “30 percent of our graduates may eventually work at jobs that do not yet exist,” a situation that means students are best served learning transferable skills because “training for a specific career is insufficient preparation for lifetime employment” (Fong, 2004, p. 10). Furthermore, “Americans already change jobs ten times in the two decades after they turn eighteen, with such change even more frequent for younger workers” (AACU, 2007, p. 2). In this context, career advancement will require people to respond to changes, “new situations, and challenges” (Fong, 2004, p. 10). The Boot Camp is useful as it provides opportunities for students to “integrate knowledge from different sources” and develop the kinds of skills that can be adapted to many contexts (AACU, 2002, Executive Overview).

Critical thinking and creative problem solving are especially important as new career fields develop within a global economy. As the AACU (2007) has noted, “even with more students in college, there is a looming shortage of exactly the employees needed by the knowledge-based economy: college educated people with mental agility and adaptability. Employers view the production of creative and intellectually skilled workers as essential for the country's prosperity in a competitive world” (Chapter One). Creative industries in particular are playing an increasingly central role in the workforce, a situation that calls for more transdisciplinary learning in higher education (McWilliam, Hearn, & Haseman, 2008, pp. 247-248). As the Boot Camp forms a picture of journalism that includes both a business and an arts focus, it encourages students to embrace both traditional and non-traditional ways of knowing and understanding—ultimately helping students develop the higher-level skills that will help them remain competitive in the developing market (Schneider, 2009).

At the same time that professionals are changing career fields and new career fields are emerging, there is a renewed focus on infusing professional development with a sense of community responsibility. As Sullivan and Rosin (2008) pointed out, “Recent scandals in once-trusted professions” such as “finance, law, and health care” have contributed to a loss of “public confidence,” and educators “worry that these scandals have occurred at least in part because professional education has become detached from the public purposes that ought to be at its center” (p. 44). While liberal arts courses may assist in addressing the need for increased community commitment within professional fields, an interdisciplinary focus that brings civic-minded priorities into the heart of professional preparation is more likely to translate in students’ minds as a clear and relevant priority. Not only future journalists but also students destined for other careers are likely to benefit from such an emphasis. As the Boot Camp focuses on critical and creative thinking with an ethical dimension, it helps all participants develop the kinds of skills that meet twenty-first century career needs.

Boot Camp Benefits: Civic Engagement

In addition to contributing to professional development, the Boot Camp’s interdisciplinary focus increases civic engagement. Of course, whether students become journalists or enter another career, they will all be citizens. Higher education has historically addressed the need for responsible community members to build a strong nation and, now, a strong global community. As Schneider (2009) explained in her foreword to an AACU publication on civic engagement, “The sustainability of a democracy depends on its citizens’ possession of knowledge, judgment, skill, and willingness to engage with other citizens.”  Goodlad (2008) more specifically addressed the need for “a populace committed to an agenda of participating in the political process, righting the injustices that inevitably exist, eliminating poverty and homelessness, ensuring equal opportunity, and providing for all the education required to forge a democratic public” (p. 11). In addition, now more than ever, civic education also includes attention “to the international as well as the domestic context” (Hollister, Wilson, & Levine, 2008, p. 19). Indeed, Wood (2008) extended Goodlad’s list of concerns in his worries about global issues such as warfare and “the degradation of our environment” (pp. 29-30). In response to such challenges, Keohane (2006) suggested that it is the university’s responsibility “to educate people who will, as citizens and professionals in various fields, carry out their responsibilities with integrity, breadth of understanding, and compassion, as well as skill and commitment” (p. 10) ultimately helping to develop “good citizens, contributing members, and leaders of society” (p. 100). Research has shown that such a view of higher education is becoming more common, so students often expect elements of civic responsibility to be part of their college education (Hollister, Wilson, & Levine, 2008, p. 18).

            If universities do indeed have a responsibility to foster civic engagement, the question then becomes, where does education for civic participation take place? Hollister, Wilson, and Levine (2008) argued that higher education should move civic engagement beyond the co-curriculum to create “synergies between students’ curricular and extracurricular experiences” (p. 20). They also found that one strategy that works well is to “encourage students at different institutions to collaborate,” a dynamic that the Boot Camp supports (Hollister, Wilson, & Levine, 2008, p. 20). Pascarella and Terenzini (2005) asserted that bringing together students who are civically engaged and academically successful can strengthen their civic development. While general education courses might be one place to foster civic responsibility, students pointed out that “if their institutions really want them to become involved with community problems, that expectation ought to be tied to their major” (Schneider, 2009). Civic engagement, in other words, should not be a separate focus that is tacked on to college priorities through an additional course or activity. Instead, it should be woven into the fabric of higher education. The interdisciplinary nature of the Journalism Boot Camp fosters exactly that sort of civic development.

            More specifically, the Boot Camp increases civic engagement by connecting journalism to ethics both in terms of producing the news and also by helping students be more responsible consumers. While many Boot Camp sessions comment on the power of the media to shape lives and make a social and political difference, Pat McKenna’s session on Opinion Writing was particularly striking. McKenna taught students how important opinion writing can be in enhancing the public’s understanding of an issue and in shaping public policy, simply by providing a fresh perspective on the same set of facts. McKenna discussed several local political issues that were greatly influenced by editorials in The Scranton Times-Tribune during his tenure. For example, when the Scranton School Board was proposing to build a new multi-million dollar high school, the majority of the community was against the project and its subsequent tax increase. McKenna (2009) explained that the paper ran editorials for almost five years in support of the project, which eventually came to fruition (personal communication, April 2009). Two of the school board members told McKenna that the paper’s support of the project ultimately helped sway their decisions to move forward with the project. Hearing such stories of the news having a real-life local impact helps students to care more about journalism as a source of power and responsibility within a community. To a great degree, the journalists at the Boot Camp act as role models for students as they showcase their own interest in and dedication to the well-being of the local populace.  

            At the same time that McKenna and others connect journalistic work with good citizenship, students are similarly educated through the Boot Camp to be better consumers of the news. As professors sometimes note, many students do not read often or well. Even students who are serious about pursuing a career in journalism often do not read. The Boot Camp actually gets students interested in reading what is written in the newspaper by creating friendships between the staff and the students. Anecdotal evidence shows the students gain a great interest in finding out what their “friends” have covered on a daily basis, which leads to a greater understanding of the Scranton community and its politics. According to Beaupre, “The Boot Camp engages students to be more civically involved by providing contact with reporters and editors who are directly involved in covering all aspects of the community. It encourages them to be interested in and to read newspapers, to understand how the news is shaped and why it is reported in the way it is, and to critically contrast that with what they actually read in newspapers, hear on the radio, or see on TV” (personal communication, December 2009). Increasing the amount of news reportage students read is important to civic development; helping students become more critically aware as they read doubles the benefit of the Boot Camp. 

            While students get an inside look into the world of journalism and understand news better, the session with Al Tompkins in particular asked students to use their critical thinking skills as consumers of the news. Students looked at clip after clip to identify what story was being told and to consider whether the story could have been told better. In this situation, students were both summarizing media stories and evaluating the way the stories were presented. Then, in the second half of the day, students examined more clips to evaluate whether each story was being told ethically and responsibly. Again, Tompkins first had students identify what story was being told, training them to initially engage with a text on its own terms. However, summarizing stories is never the end of the reception process in Tompkins’ workshop, just as consumers of the news should not simply take information to heart but rather should engage with it critically. As students learned to evaluate not only whether a story was told well but whether a story was told truthfully, the stakes in journalism were raised. Students immediately recognized the way video editing can manipulate perceptions of the truth, and they became more careful about the evidence they trusted and about the conclusions they were willing to draw. At the same time that the Boot Camp offers role models of committed and responsible journalists, then, it also offers students models of committed and responsible consumers of the news. In both ways, student civic engagement increases.

Boot Camp Benefits: 21st-Century Journalism

Although it may be apparent from its title alone that the Journalism Boot Camp serves the field of journalism and future journalists, the particular benefits are worth articulating. Journalism is a field undergoing incredibly rapid changes, and the Boot Camp helps address some of those changes, ultimately supporting newspapers themselves as well as the students who are interested in journalism careers. As the newspaper industry struggles to find a paradigm for its survival and citizen journalism is becoming more prevalent, it is more important than ever for students to understand the world of media. Clarke and Rowe (2008) have viewed journalism as one of the keys to lifelong education and “enlightened participation of citizens” in a democracy (p. 181). However, as the audience of newspaper readership diminishes, scholars worry about the implications of losing the watchdog of democracy. One goal of the Boot Camp is for students to understand the importance of maintaining newspapers as a critical means of keeping democracy in check. As Clark and Rowe (2008) have suggested, the public is more likely to support news organizations if the media are “more transparent in their work” and “let the public look in on the practices of journalism and the obligations that go along with it” (p. 196). Through programs such as the Boot Camp, students develop “an expectation that they will find in print and broadcast journalism adherence to basic principles such as truth (accuracy), humaneness, justice (fairness), stewardship, and freedom” (Clarke & Rowe, 2008, p. 185). Journalism plays a crucial role in the work toward a free and just democracy, and the Boot Camp helps students recognize this role.  

Of course, traditional journalism currently competes with students’ reliance on Internet resources. Even though students can gain vast amounts of knowledge with a few clicks, much of that information has its origins in the form of a newspaper story. Furthermore, while the Internet is a wonderful source of knowledge, it is important for students to be able to sift through the overwhelming amount of information provided to determine whether findings are accurate and reliable and, in addition, to think critically about implications. As Clark and Rowe (2008) have explained, students “need more than an abundance of information. They need to be able to analyze the information coming their way, to sort useless and/or dangerous information from that which is potentially constructive” (p. 182). For example, a Pew Institute Internet & American Life Project survey found 24 percent of all American adults read blogs (Smith, 2008). Although much of the information written about in blogs is derived from news content, most bloggers put their opinions and political spins on the information. Although journalists are taught to be objective, not all bloggers are journalists—most often they are citizen journalists with no formal journalism training. The Boot Camp addresses the issues of news credibility, ethics, and critical thought that are needed in order to assess the reliability of that information.

At the same time that the Boot Camp helps students value the role newspapers play in American culture and in their local communities, it also helps prepare students who are either interested in careers in journalism or in citizen journalism. The Boot Camp increases student understanding of the various facets of news reporting in a hands-on, practical manner while also showing how each particular role in the newspaper is part of a larger endeavor that involves many skill sets and areas of expertise. Downie and Schudson (2009) in “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” wrote, “Reporting is becoming more participatory and collaborative. The ranks of news gatherers now include not only newsroom staffers, but freelancers, university faculty members, students, and citizens” (p. 29). Furthermore, in an age when the backpack style of journalism is becoming more typical, the Boot Camp helps students integrate the roles of researching, reporting, photography, and design. As the industry is becoming more converged and interdisciplinary, many universities have responded to the call by changed curricula to prepare future journalists. Many scholars have agreed that faculty and students need to understand the interdisciplinary concepts of language and skill in order to work in an integrated platform (Huang et al., 2003; Kraeplin & Criado, 2005). With sessions not only on newspaper writing but also on web reporting, web production, and broadcast journalism, the Boot Camp makes great strides to contextualize the emphasis on higher order thinking within a convergence model.

Additional Benefits

Several additional benefits are derived from the Boot Camp. The program fosters better town-gown relations—not just between the newspaper staff and students, but between The Times staff and the universities’ faculty as well. Pat McKenna (2009), one of The Times editors, explained that the Boot Camp is key to helping the paper survive because it allows his staff to interact with a new generation of consumers and think about ways to better attract and accommodate this younger readership (personal communication, December 2009). Clark and Rowe (2008) supported McKenna’s perspective in their argument that journalism needs to stay in touch with the public in order to “more closely reflect the needs and desires of its citizens” while also “reconnecting citizens, media, and society’s processes of governance” (p. 191). Furthermore, because many of the journalism faculty attend the professional sessions, they keep their skills fresh to that they are better prepared for the classroom. More specifically, the Boot Camp laid the foundation for Pavlick and McMillan to collaborate with The Times-Tribune staffers to develop a stronger three-credit internship program and to use the staffers as guest speakers in classrooms. In short, the Boot Camp supports not only student growth but also the development of the journalism professionals and the university faculty involved with the program.

By connecting college to community, the Boot Camp has developed an interdisciplinary focus that makes it extremely adaptable. In other professional programs—whether based in healthcare, business, law, engineering, or another field—connecting with local organizations is bound to have similar potential. After all, those who are strong professionals bring to their work the kinds of critical thinking, communication skills, interpersonal abilities, and ethics from which students can learn. Attaching such learning to local professionals helps reinforce coursework in ways that are immediately meaningful to students. Professionals themselves tend to feel invigorated from acting as role models for students while simultaneously connecting with their colleagues. In short, the lessons of the Journalism Boot Camp may be easily applied to other schools and other disciplines. As with the Boot Camp, students are only too ready to make sense of their classroom experiences in engaging and vital real-world contexts.


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