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Back to Journalism 101


Journalism students in Kate McLaughlin's introductory course at El Camino College. (Photo by Ryan Cooper)

After visiting the nationally-renowned campuses of LMU and UCLA, I decided to stay in my neighborhood to check out a community college setting. I was in for a surprise. I thought it would be a small campus, but El Camino College in Torrance, California, is a sprawling, 126-acre campus with multiple buildings, athletic areas, and green space. By comparison, LMU is only 16-acres larger.

In fact, the campus was so much larger than I had thought that I had to rush to the far side by foot to get to the Humanities building for the 745am class.

Kate McLaughlin was the teacher for my final two class observations. Her first class was J1 – “News Writing and Reporting.” She told me she believes this is the best class on campus because the students are forced to get out of the classroom and be journalists.

It was a small class of six students, but all of them were very sharp and engaged, especially for the early start. Vangelisti, Daly, and Friedrich (1999) discussed the importance of “temporal” aspects of learning: “the time of day the class is taught and the duration of the session” (p. 34). While it may be a challenge for some students to attend this early class (it was certainly a challenge for me to get up so early), the students were energetic and often contributed to the class discussion.

Kate began by calling this her “enemy of the people training,” a reference to President Trump’s derisive moniker for the media. She handed out copies of the “hot-off-the-press” student newspaper, The Union. And several of the students had features or articles in that issue. Everyone had to point out the front-page headline: “Drunk naked man arrested after defecating on campus.” Together, the class went through the paper to discuss the importance of individual stories, and why they merited inclusion in the paper.

Kate said that students in her classroom could submit an “extra-credit portfolio” if they do any journalistic work outside of the syllabus requirements. For grading purposes, she scales the work of the student with the most outside work against the rest of the students and gives a sliding scale of extra credit. I thought this was a great way to encourage students to do some additional reporting and writing, and it has the added benefit of building their portfolios.

She then gave the students a current events and AP style quiz. She mentioned that the class is worth 550 possible points, and 100 of those points constitute these pop quizzes. This was the ninth pop quiz, and since the only remaining class for the school year is next week, she said this would be the last one, and then she would take their highest score on any of the previous quizzes and double it.

I breathed a sigh of relief that I knew all the current events quiz questions, but the AP style questions were less familiar since I come from a television background. The first question: Who made a public comment for the first time on the Mueller report yesterday?

At the end of the class, students turned in their written assignments. They were asked to attend a recent city council meeting and write up an article about a news item that emerged from the meeting.

During this class, Kate sat at her computer and had her desktop displayed on a projector the entire time. Peppered throughout the discussion, Kate brought up journalistic ethical concerns, reviewed the issue of “fair use” for photographs and video, and consulted the SPJ Code of Ethics. She has a very energetic, humorous, and approachable style that is relatable for the students. She mentioned that she likes the students to call her Kate, as she is a vocational teacher, not a professor with a fancy degree.

In my final observation journal, I will examine the differences between these three college settings.

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