SPJ selects Melinda McAdams, University of Florida professor, for Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award
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INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has chosen Melinda McAdams as recipient of the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award. McAdams is the Knight Chair in Journalism Technologies and the Democratic Process in the journalism department at the University of Florida.
Each year, SPJ honors an outstanding journalism educator who has made an exceptional contribution to the profession and/or journalism education. McAdams won this year with detailed letters of support from faculty and current and past students who said her in-depth curriculum, knowledge of the field and mentoring helped them find a new career path in journalism.
After seeing changes in the journalism industry with a shift toward digital, McAdams prepared students by creating a sequence of coding courses for journalists. With her guidance, students were able to go from “I know nothing about coding” to high-end news app developers who are making major marks in the industry in their first jobs out of college.
“I can draw a direct line between McAdams’ teaching and where I am now, working as a data reporter on the Miami Herald’s investigations team. For me and so many others, she has expanded the definition of journalism, showing how storytelling doesn’t have to be limited to words,” Caitlin Ostroff said. “Code can be used to scrape and analyze data, build news apps or as I recently did, automate the sending of hundreds of records requests without my writing a single email – all in pursuit of journalism. She taught us how to think and learn in a world and industry ever-changing from technology.”
McAdams began by creating two courses, an introductory course to teach students the coding essentials and an advanced course where students would dive deeper and learn to use coding to design innovative storytelling. After having students who wanted to continue to grow their skills, McAdams created a coding capstone on the fly.
In his nomination letter, Department of Journalism Chair Ted Spiker said McAdams’ courses draw students from all majors in the College of Journalism and Communications, and he often has student begging for a seat in an already full course. McAdams offers a challenging curriculum but also gives students many opportunities to get help with lab, office and workshop hours. Students said she challenged them to think logically and solve problems themselves, but was responsive to emails and questions, no matter the time they came in.
“That responsiveness represents everything that makes professor McAdams great,” Romy Ellenbogen, current student, said. “She cares about what she teaches, yes, but she cares more about the students who she gets to share the knowledge with.”
In addition to her coding courses, McAdams has been a long-standing member of the department’s curriculum committee. She has a strong voice in the importance of community, national and global journalism and its role in society and is considered one of the most prominent educators in worldwide journalism training. Not only does she care about journalism, Spiker said, she aims to serve all students — not just the top ones — and pays special attention to matters of diversity, inclusion and community.
“She has positively influenced waves of students by showing them a world that many of them never knew existed,” Spiker said. “And through her vision, energy and patience, she has trained some of the best thinkers and practitioners in journalism today.”
McAdams will be honored at the Excellence in Journalism 2019 conference in San Antonio, Sept. 5-7.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.