Sunday, September 12, 2010
Singing Opera in Journalism Class
It was an unexpected thought or conclusion – and the entire class had missed it. Being unexpected is one of the attributes of ideas that are “made to stick.”
I have one of those journalism stories, too.
I took my first journalism course – Introductory News Reporting (J 51, as we called it) – in my sophomore year. The instructor was relatively young for the faculty at that time – somewhere around 40. There were stories that he had been in the military, and there were stories he had been a Jesuit priest. Both could have been true.
We all knew that something would be different about this class when he gave us a week to memorize the Associated Press Style Book. And we were expected to have it for every class. After that week, he gave us our first in-class assignment: write a news article from our “Assignment Jonesville” workbook.
And then he said: “You have your style books with you, and the dictionary is right here. All the facts are in the assignment. Just so you know, if you make a style error, it’s an automatic F. Same thing for a misspelled word. And for a factual error. You can now start.”
Shock set in immediately. Then came the second shock.
He started doing calisthenics. Side-straddle hops (jumping jacks). Push-ups. When he finished, he started singing. Opera. (And he wasn’t bad.) Then back to calisthenics.
To say that the class was rattled would be an understatement. Every one of us was convinced we had fallen into the hands of a lunatic. And we had – a lunatic for writing accuracy. A lunatic for writing properly. A lunatic for learning how to do your work in a noisy, distracting newsroom. A lunatic for teaching you how to work under tight deadlines and do it accurately in the middle of chaos.
It worked. Well, it worked for some of us. But the end of the semester, 70 percent of the class was gone, most having transferred over to advertising (I'm making no moral judgments here). I stayed. I took the second journalism course with him, and a history of journalism course, and two independent studies. After that first year, he was moved from teaching the introductory courses – the Journalism School grew alarmed at how many people were switching majors. But the quality of student journalism skyrocketed.
What I learned stuck. And a lot of it still sticks, 40 years later. I can often block out the entire world to get writing done.
And all because a teacher chose an unexpected way to help us learn. the Heath brothers, I think, would smile.
Over at the High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess has started a discussion on Made to Stick. You can find last week’s discussion on the concept of “simple” here. This weeks's discussion is on "unexpected," so take a look at Laura's post, "Unexpected Journey."