As I strolled into the Centre College classroom, I came face-to-face with 23 millennials anxiously awaiting their first day learning about “Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media.”
They didn’t know what to expect and neither did I.
I had a faint inkling I would enjoy my three weeks with the students as part of what the Danville school calls CentreTerm. But I had no idea how challenging three hours a day in the classroom would be.
These weren’t journalism students; Centre doesn’t offer that course of study. This impressive group of bright and engaging young people included politics and government majors as well as those studying English, Spanish, finance, and math. When I was invited to teach, I thought it might be interesting to talk with them about the type of news-gathering I cut my teeth on many years ago. For that, they read “The Elements of Journalism,” a solid primer that many reporters still use today.
We also read Timothy Crouse’s “The Boys on the Bus,” an excellent first-hand account of the 1972 presidential campaign between Sen. George McGovern and incumbent President Richard Nixon. One of our guest lecturers was John Carroll, a former editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader who was one of the “boys” on the bus as a young reporter. We also heard from Sam Youngman, a journalist who has returned to Kentucky from Washington to cover politics for the Lexington newspaper. Neil Budde, executive editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal spent an afternoon with the group; and John Nash of the University of Kentucky College of Education spoke with us about design thinking.
Three visitors joined the class from afar: Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Paula Poindexter of the University of Texas Journalism School; and Anne Evans, a former KET employee who is attending Northwestern Journalism School.
Through these discussions I wanted the class to think critically about how journalism has changed in the past few decades. I asked the students to ponder questions about the ethics and values of news reporting today, and how social media and journalism overlap. I was also curious about why their generation doesn’t seem to embrace traditional news the way their parents and grandparents do.
The highlight of the term was a final project. I challenged the students to design a social media tool such as an app, Facebook page, website, or podcast that would provide voters with helpful, interesting, and factual information about this year’s race for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat. You can see what one group of students came up with at commonwealthduel.weebly.com
With our guest lecturers, our classroom discussions, and their projects, the CentreTerm course was over in a flash. I hope the students learned a lot about journalism and politics.
What was my takeaway?
That much of what we’ve heard about millennials, generally those 18- to 29-years old, is untrue. They are not lazy, selfish, or shallow – at least not the 23 kids in my class. They were serious students who offered thoughtful contributions during my time with them.
I learned a lot and hope the students did, too. This was a great experience – one that I hope I can practice again sometime.