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Monday, August 10, 2009
Diversity Toolbox

Wanted: A journalism 'dream team'

By Yumi Wilson

So what kind of teachers could your school get if it paid them $125,000 a year?” That’s the question The New York Times posed in a recent story about an ambitious new charter school, the Equity Project, starting this fall in the predominantly Latino New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. (Read the story at tinyurl.com/nep893.)

By offering double the typical pay for teachers, the school has netted eight unique and talented individuals, including a self-described explorer and ex-personal trainer to Kobe Bryant. One teacher is a violist who tells students to “pass the melody gently, as if it were a bowl of Jell-O.” And it’s clear that seniority had little to do with the selection from a pool of 600 applicants — one instructor, pictured in Times article, looks young enough to be my daughter.

The theory seems to be that individuals excited about sharing their expertise — not just how many teachers are at a school, or the size of an institution or even standardized teaching models — will help children from all walks of life succeed.

My hunch is that innovative individuals excited about sharing what they know, much like the dedicated band teacher in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” will inspire greatness in many students, more so than rubrics-based teaching models, a platoon of teachers or the traditional veteran educator.

And that’s what got me thinking about what a “dream team” might look like at the university level, where hundreds of journalism schools are scrambling to update their programs to help meet the fast-changing needs of students competing in a new and different media landscape.

At San Francisco State University, where I teach, a “dream team” would have to include some of the biggest leaders in technology, fundraising, newspapers, magazines and community involvement. Of course, we already have some of these leaders (as I suspect most good schools do), so I’ve come up with a “dream list” of only three additional hires for our program:

WEB DESIGN GURU

A person with a track record for innovative Web design, tossing the usual cookie-cutter model of news magazines and papers (online or print) and opting for designs that engage readers and encourage their reading habits. This person would also have an unbridled enthusiasm for sharing this know-how with students, encouraging them to work within an easy-to-use content management system such as WordPress, and learn how to customize it to fit the needs of their readership.

SOCIAL NETWORKING EXPERT

A person with expertise in building and maintaining a successful social networking site. This person would be able to explain to students and a skeptical faculty why social networking sites should serve as an integral part of news delivery. A good example of how user-generated content is useful to journalists is when the BBC used Twitter posts during the Mumbai terror attacks in November.

Blogger Joe Marchese, with his 2,000 Twitter followers, explained the link between news and social networking best: “Long before we had the tools offered today by Twitter, Digg, Facebook, blog commenting or e-mail, people found ways to share the news — and more important, their interpretation of the news — with each other.” (Read the full blog post at tinyurl.com/lur2n3.)

WEB PORTAL EXTRAORDINAIRE

Someone who has started or runs an Internet Service Provider or portal and created an outstanding news division that aggregates and produces its own news. Perhaps we could hire Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo. Yang has stepped down as CEO, meaning he might have the time to share his expertise with us. As an on-call editor for Yahoo, I have heard firsthand that Yang is a very involved and enthusiastic person. I suspect he could be just the right person to teach students how to find new opportunities, instead of wait for jobs that no longer exist.

If we in public education hire individuals who bring passion and knowledge about areas of journalism that we don’t quite understand — and pay them what they’re worth — we could do a much better job of serving students. And not just the ones who can afford a pricey education, but young people from all walks of life. If we can inspire greatness in our students, helping them to become tomorrow’s leaders, the public — not just our industry — will reap the rewards. After all, isn’t that what good journalism is about?

So, what kind of teachers could your school get if it paid them $125,000 a year?

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