Reporting for the Media, Canadian edition

Reporting for Media, Canadian EditionReporting for the Media, Canadian Edition is the first ever Canadian edition of a American text that was developed nearly 35 years ago. Joy Crysdale reviews a traditional text’s approach to modern day reporting.

It can’t be easy, writing or publishing a journalism textbook for 2011. How does one capture in permanent form the moving target of today’s industry?  News organizations themselves are running as fast as they can to keep up to wherever the audience may be going, and the varieties of journalistic experience seem to expand and morph on almost a daily basis.

Reporting for the Media, Canadian Edition acknowledges this, noting students may be less concerned about learning journalistic skills and more preoccupied with changes in the industry and whether they will get a job. In the preface, Canadian authors Charles Hays and Maxine Ruvinsky suggest this preoccupation would be a mistake; they themselves have experienced plenty of changes in the business over time, they say, and students will still need good solid journalistic skills “once the dust settles”.

Agreed. Sort of. I’m not altogether convinced that any of the changes over the last 50 years compare to the current revolution. The book’s first chapter then addresses how best to approach the training of journalists for the twenty-first century. The authors (there are a total of five) note the responses from a survey of online managers and producers, and say students must learn critical thinking, news judgment and writing. Also agreed.

The problems, from my perspective, begin when the premise underpinning what Reporting for the Media will do is laid out. “Once students are thoroughly educated and practised in the basics of print journalism,” the book says, “they can adapt their knowledge and expertise to all types of reporting for the media.” Sorry, now we part ways — at least we do if your text purports to be for students in the twenty-first century, and that its objectives include teaching those students to present information “across media professions and platforms”.

Reporting for the Media, Canadian Edition is the first ever Canadian edition of a text that was developed nearly 35 years ago in the United States. Its very strong upside is its Canadian content, which any journalism professor who has struggled with exercises and examples which are all American will truly appreciate. However in its “print first” and the rest can come later take on teaching and learning, its age is showing.

The publisher says the book is intended as a core text for introductory reporting courses, and indeed this is where many journalism schools start — with a newspaper approach. But I think the responsibility of educators now is to help develop a student mindset about telling stories on a variety of platforms. The newspaper foundation in this text is so strong, that even the special anecdotal Canadian content about journalists’ experiences in the field is almost entirely about newspapers and newspaper reporters.

Including examples of challenges faced, ethics wrestled with, or dilemmas solved by broadcast or online journalists would have helped expand students’ horizons about the business of reporting. Each medium does  bring with it different dilemmas, and students would benefit from knowing this from the get-go.

I would also have liked to have seen at least a few examples of stories that evolve to a variety of forms from an assignment desk in a broadcast or newspaper newsroom. J-source recently did that with a story called “Tracking the Tiger: the multimedia life cycle of a Calgary Herald story”. It followed the path of a story from an email alert to online text, video, photos, Tweets and then finally to the next day’s newspaper.

In the textbook, the multimedia concept is addressed in one part of a chapter on advanced reporting, but the section only deals with generalities. Elsewhere in the book there are a few references to blogs, but none to Twitter. A very small number of the exercises make reference to online or broadcast. That, plus one chapter on broadcast writing, does not a multimedia reporter make.  

Perhaps none of this would have struck so forcefully if the book didn’t say it teaches reporting “for the media.” However, as noted, the very best and extremely useful content of this book is the wide ranging Canadian material, and kudos to Oxford University Press and the Canadian authors for that. The exercises are very good; thorough, and challenging, and professors and students will benefit from them. The Canadian law references are also helpful. I think most introductory course professors will want this book on their shelves for these aspects alone.

But as journalism schools try to change and adapt to the world where they hope their students will find jobs, textbooks must try to change with them. Perhaps the next time around, Reporting for the Media can take a more well-rounded approach.

Joy Crysdale is a professor of journalism at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber n Toronto and the author of Fearless Female Journalists.