Extra! Extra!: The NTUBulletin and Active Journalism Teaching and Writing

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Instruction at National Taipei University of Business, 2016-2018

By David Pendery
National Taipei University of Business


Abstract — This paper examines publication of the NTUBulletin newspaper at the National Taipei University of Business (NTUB) from spring 2016 through fall 2017, focusing on the fall 2017 semester. This was the first English language newspaper published at our school. The newspaper is a full-color paper, printed on A3 and A4 paper. A four-page paper has been expanded to six pages. The paper has undergone one redesign. It began with a four-week deadline schedule that was reduced to three weeks in the second semester. A News English class originally published the paper and later was moved into writing courses. The paper thus always had a focus on writing improvement with students – the value of which has been shown in questionnaires distributed to the class. This paper has created substantial energy and excitement at NTUB, and the teacher has been invited to distribute copies to other schools and speak about the experience of publication and writing training in the course.


Introduction

Teaching Journalism and News English can be a vital English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course, and with its ample speaking, writing, creative and critical analysis opportunities, is an ideal addition to an English or Applied Foreign Languages program. There is, simply put, much active, analytical, and, best of all, beneficial education to offer students in this class, and most students find it fun and fascinating. The joy of gathering and writing news, immersing in a news, media and journalism environment, and writing stories and designing newspapers sparks great interest. This paper will examine the experience of teaching Asian students studying English writing in a journalism context at National Taipei University of Business (NTUB) from 2016-2018 by way of the NTUBulletin, an English newspaper published once every three weeks during the semester.

Journalism ESP courses can be among the most exciting to conduct for teachers; they are always engaging for students, who share in the excitement and enjoy the pure pleasure of engaging in news writing, and discussing media topics and news. These courses are very challenging, offer valuable learning opportunities with rigorous academic demands, and provide rich creative and intellectual possibilities that are both scholarly and pragmatically focused. Introducing news and journalism studies and media contexts into student life and experience inserts them into current events, involves them in cultural diversity, brings them close to their communities, and in the best educational sense, provides outstanding speaking, writing and diagnostic opportunities. Such opportunities demand much of teachers and students, such that in our “media-saturated age” with its “evolving ecosystem of journalism and community information,” journalism teachers “need to revive and revise media literacy” (Gillmor 2009, 1). To continue on this line, it has been said that journalism is a principal influence in this “mediatized” society, where “ever more modes of social contact take place through mediated communication” (Dahlgren 2005, 318). Through this mediation, cultural perceptions and national identity are represented and created. This conception introduces important academic points that can be taught to students, aiding them in understanding the complex functions of media. As they recognize this concept, their eyes are opened to deeper consideration of communication matters in their nations. Related to this is the role of journalism in citizenship and national character. With the study and practice of journalism, students gain a clearer picture of their own positions and obligations in national life. “Journalism is enabled by the democratic emphasis on freedom of speech, free will, and collective decision making” writes Papacharisi, (2001, p. ix) and “the purpose of the press is to promote and indeed improve…the quality of public or civic life” (Glaser 1998, 204). Deuze continues that, “Contemporary research on journalism is inherently global in nature, therefore studies on journalism education need to identify shared questions and challenges rather than focusing on essentialized institutional or national particularities” (2009, p.267). This all becomes a kind of Public Journalism, which will be discussed below.

One principal way instructors can create interest and excitement in a course like this is through discussing the value of journalism education and the possibilities for a journalism career. Topics here include the creative side of news writing and production, the field’s role in society, the intellectual challenges and rewards of journalism, the storytelling that is elemental to journalism writing, and the improved language and investigative skills that result from journalism study. Here again, we see the value that this education brings to students, and no doubt students see this, too. A number of students in a class like this will indeed enter journalism and related professions after graduation, and thus, the value is distinct and appreciated.

The NTUBulletin: Values, Methods and Yield

The NTUBulletin project was launched in spring 2016 in a News English class at NTUB. The background is interesting, considering the emergence of a formal, single-design newspaper. Prior to spring 2016, in news classes, students created newspapers, sometimes as final projects, and sometimes several times during the semester. At that time, however, the approach was different. On the one hand, this course was taught with a standard Journalism focus, concentrating on core ideas and skills of this profession, as well as the history and culture of journalism and journalists (primarily in the United States). A journalism English textbook was used, with a variety of exercises and readings during the semester dedicated to journalism proper.

As this class was developed, the idea of students designing their own papers was launched, with various groups of students each designing their own paper. Thus, as the semester proceeded, a variety of different designs from students were submitted, and there was not a single unique design idea created by the class. Though this was fun and challenging for students, and the curriculum covered the essential journalism training and experience, the paper’s audience was less interested in these designs. When the many different designs were stacked onto a newsrack, it appeared somewhat messy, and readers were not attracted. In fact, few people picked up these papers at all. For this reason, a project was launched in which the class as a whole, with the teacher functioning as managing editor, created a single newspaper with one design. This proved to be quite popular with readers after spring 2016, and as many as 70 newspapers each issue were distributed. the die was cast, and a much more appealing approach was employed in this newspaper work.

This has continued to the present day, although there have been changes. As noted in the abstract, the four-page paper expanded to six pages by the second semester, and one complete redesign of the paper has taken place. The journalism exercise approach and textbook were gradually abandoned in class, as we began to focus on newspaper  production. As our class unfolded, the initial four-week deadline schedule was reduced to three weeks: Such deadlines are a key skill for students to study and master. The schedule  further reduced to two weeks, with the possibility of  a weekly paper considered but not attempted.

The most important change occurred in fall 2017 when a significant course alteration was deemed necessary: NTUB discontinued this teacher’s News English class. Only writing courses remained, which required that the project be absorbed into the curriculum. One writing course was selected, as  stronger students likely enrolled. Admittedly, this was a bit out of the ordinary, as this was technically a “composition” course to be taught in the standard method. The writing course was redesigned, however, with the aim of publishing the newspaper—while always keeping the aim of “writing” in mind as the core study for students. With the student’s cooperation, the aim of the course was altered, and it shifted from academic composition to creation of this newspaper.

As noted, the intent remained the same with this new approach: the study of writing as writing and the construction of creative and well-written “compositions,” although in a journalistic format. This brings up an important point: Writing in a journalism mode can aid students in their other academic work and other written styles. Indeed, some might critique this approach, saying that journalism writing is not at all like academic writing. But this is not true, and in fact journalism methods and approaches are very applicable and valuable in academic contexts (not least, simply the idea of gathering the Who-What-When-Where-Why and How of any topic being considered). Writing standard news stories can contribute to overall writing skills for students in substantive ways, similarly, higher-level “essays” are published in newspapers. There were three full-length essay compositions in each edition of the NTUBulletin, which did indeed exercise advanced writing skills with an academic flair. Two were feature articles written every edition: one a general human-interest feature article, and one an “Art Walk” feature that focused on arts in Taiwan. And one was the formal editorial (truly an exercise in significant essay writing, through which a number of outstanding analytical essays were written). In addition to these works, students wrote general news articles for the paper, which are in some ways different from academic composition, but do in fact exercise valuable writing skills that can be used in any form of writing. One UNESCO report, “A Reflective Model for Teaching Journalism,” says journalism education can develop “self-reliance, confidence, problem solving, and adaptability, while simultaneously gaining knowledge and developing a sense of efficacy in their ability to negotiate inherent dilemmas in practice.” These are exactly the skills that students want and need, which capture the true value of journalism writing in education. Taiwanese students are in general fascinated by these ideas, and eager to study them.

The teacher took on the role of managing editor of student work. Initially, every story that crossed the editor’s desk was simply edited in a straightforward fashion and returned to designers without any particular correlation with the actual writers — that is, students did not receive corrected papers from the teacher. The aim was always near-perfect English in the newspaper; it was not intended to be unalloyed “student work,” but a professional publication equal to any major newspaper. Although different from typical student/teacher interface, in another way this is identical to what is done in any standard  writing course: Students were able to observe the edits in their journalism writings and they could compare this to their original work (and indeed several said they did exactly this).

As the semester progressed, however, this method changed, after which student writings were edited, on paper, and returned to students, who were then told to make the corrections, and get the work back to the editor. Thus, a two- and three-step editing process was engaged in that very much involved students. This was found to be a superior method and it was continued. Students were given scores of 0-100 on all of their stories. At the end of the course these grades were averaged, student attendance and behavior was observed, and it was calculated how many stories each group had published. Students were then given a final score. (Note that there were seven writing groups in fall 2017, with 1-5 students in each group.)

Two students managed the design processes of the paper and minimum suggestions were offered  about design. It has been found that, although design is a relatively new process for most students, they perform it surprisingly well. While  this skill somewhat differs  from what is expected in college composition courses, it is not wholly outside the writing needs of students. That is, the “design” of papers can add to the import of a writer’s work. Good design of final papers, theses, dissertations and the like is not only the best practice  and more attractive for readers, but can also add to the work, as noted. Design, in a word, works hand in hand with actual writing, and contributes to the content and substance of a paper. Students were advised on these skills and given a PPT presentation in which design skills and visual displays were examined. This included important points such as the idea of graphical integrity, rendering pictures as instruments for reasoning about quantitative information, thinking about the reader’s “eye,” and enriching the density, complexity and multidimensionality of displays and information.

Another class discussion featured a PPT that highlighted Public Journalism. It was hoped this study would motivate students to employ this approach in their journalism. Public Journalism is a movement in the United States that attempts to situate newspapers and journalists as active participants in community life, rather than as detached observers. It seeks to make newspapers forums for discussion of community issues, enablers of diversity in localities, and processers of discussion and debate among members of the community. Public Journalism is a communitarian idea that students can embrace; this approach can improve and deepen their writing. Students also were given training in other journalism techniques, including Literary Journalism, a higher level writing approach that attempts to elevate skills. Another presentation was an examination of storytelling in journalism, and how important this is to overall writing. All great journalists say they are “telling stories” when they write news, and such stories include the personality of the reporter, commentary, ample details, a sense of history, a basic idea, and lots and lots of communication with others. Characterization and dialog are focused on in this approach, which are valuable skills in any writing. Students learn the focus is about people, and they are encouraged to talk to people and ask questions — once again, essential skills in any writing.

Student Response

In the most recent semester of this course, the teacher was waiting to see student responses in their online evaluation of the class, but desired to know their feelings sooner. A questionnaire was therefore distributed, designed with five questions asking the following: Whether the course had offered useful and valuable writing practice and skills education; Whether the writing skills learned in this class could be applied in other writing styles and genres, such as academic writing, creative writing, or professional writing; Whether students enjoyed this class and the training they received on a personal level; Whether the chief difficulty in this class, which is not found in composition classes, was deadline pressure; and Whether students enjoyed seeing their work in a professionally published and designed format—which as discussed can be valuable in academic writing.

The overall numbers in this questionnaire were not bad. 77 percent agreed that the course did offer valuable writing skills—and no doubt this is a key question.  54 percent agreed that the skills in this course could be applied to other writing. 46 percent enjoyed the class personally. 54 percent found the deadline pressure difficult (this is understandable; deadline pressure is an ever-present challenge in any writing). 92 percent agreed that they enjoyed seeing their writing in a professionally published format.

Conclusion

This class has had real significance in terms of diversity of enrollment: the bulk of the students in fall 2017 were Taiwanese students, both males and females, and one foreign student from Myanmar, and overall Asian student education. Students proved to be remarkably effective in these journalism skills (if outside their normal areas of study), and as the very first English language newspaper in NTUB, the NTUBulletin impacted students, professors, and many visitors and readers at other schools.

It is hoped this paper has offered  a clear picture of the value of this newspaper to students, how it has bolstered their writing skills, and given them a view  into a professional practice, which, as noted, some will enter after graduation. The writer is pleased  with the results, and confident this writing instruction, although different in significant ways from what is usually expected in a “composition” course in Taiwan, was of real substance to students and can be applied to all of their college writing. Students developed their skills in enthusiastic ways, received and gave great feedback and enjoyed seeing their work published in a professional format. These rewards have been gratifying for everyone involved in this course.


REFERENCES

  • Dahlgren, P. (2005). The Public Sphere: Linking the Media and Civic Cultures. In Rothenbuhler, E. and Coman, M. (Eds.) Media Anthropology. pp.218-227. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
  • Deuze, M. (2009). Global Journalism Education. In de Beer, A. and Merrill, J. Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems. pp. 19-34. San Francisco: Pearson Education Inc.
  • Gillmor, Dan. (2009). Introduction: Toward a (New) Media Literacy in a Media Saturated World. In Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas in Communication, Zizi Papacharissi (Ed.). pp. 1-11. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Glaser, T. & Croft, S.(1998). Public Journalism and the Search for Democratic Ideals. In Liebes, T. & Curran, J. (Eds.) Media Ritual and Identity. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Papacharissi, Z, (Ed.) (2009). Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas in Communication. New York and London: Routledge.
  • UNESCO Web Archive. A Reflective Model for Teaching Journalism. Retrieved from http://webarchive.unesco.org/20160802182052/http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=19075&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
  • Dahlgren, P. 2005. “The Public Sphere: Linking the Media and Civic Cultures.” Media Anthropology: 218-27. Thousand Oaks, London, New Delhi: Sage Publications.
  • Deuze, M. 2009. “Global Journalism Education.” Global Journalism: Topical Issues and Media Systems: 19-34. San Francisco: Pearson Education Inc.
  • Gillmor, Dan. 2009. “Introduction: Toward a (New) Media Literacy in a Media Saturated World.” Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas in Communication, Zizi Papacharissi (Ed.): 1-11. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Glaser, T. & Croft, S. 1998. “Public Journalism and the Search for Democratic Ideals.” Media Ritual and Identity. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Papacharissi, Z, (Ed.) 2009. Journalism and Citizenship: New Agendas in Communication. New York and London: Routledge.
  • UNESCO Web Archive. A Reflective Model for Teaching Journalism. Retrieved from http://webarchive.unesco.org/20160802182052/http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=19075&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html


David Pendery was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from San Francisco State University, and his Master’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. He has lived in Taipei, Taiwan, since 2000. He obtained his Ph.D. in English Literature from National Chengchi University in Taipei in 2010. He is currently an Associate Professor at National Taipei University of Business. He is married to a Taiwanese woman, with one daughter, Ariadne.

 

 

 

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