A Mobile Responsive Expertise: Learning Outcomes, Journalism Education, and the “Teaching Hospital” Model

Mary Lynn Young and Janet Giltrow

Much of the curricular discourse over the past decade around innovation in journalism education in North America has focused on developing and expanding learning outcomes related to digital media and online journalism environments. These developments, while generally fruitful for students’ ability to recognize, know, reproduce, and apply journalism technologies, have occurred against a backdrop of` deinstitutionalization of news and mainstream media organizations (Picard 2014) and generational anxiety among the professoriate about emergent journalism practices and identities, and about the role of journalism education in a digital era when educators have uneven experience in digital media environments (Nikunen 2014; Zelizer 2004). As a result, the conversation about innovation in j-education has been hijacked by one theme – a story that has been constructed as a technological/economic problem. This paper examines how we might be able to think more broadly about teaching, learning, and innovating in journalism education.

Specifically, this paper critically examines the learning outcomes ascribed to a teaching hospital model of journalism education – a model that has emerged as a best-practice example of what is needed to train “employable” journalists today (Newton 2013). We define the “teaching hospital” model to include the recent professional/j-school collaborations as well as j-school online newsrooms; both have strong roots in student newsrooms, and, in different ways, both incorporate authentic news production. Teaching and learning spaces that closely resemble the environments in which students will be participating as professionals have long been identified as necessary for journalism students. When these spaces are framed as teaching hospitals (Newton 2013), journalism students are seen as somewhat like medical interns in terms of their learning environment. For Newton (2013), the challenge facing the teaching hospital model of journalism education is how to combine “technological expertise,” “entrepreneurial spirit,” and “community service” in a way that produces “better news than the commercial news stream does.” Outcomes identified by Youngstown State University’s teaching hospital model, which is a collaboration among northeastern Ohio public universities and media partners, include the ability “to identify talent, give students a valuable experience, encourage interest in The News Outlet, and develop a larger pool of possible content for it” (Francisco, Lenhoff, and Schudson 2012, 2687). The News Outlet emerged from discussions about the state of the program between Youngstown State students and faculty: “Everything was on the table, and needed to be – our curriculum, our pedagogy, our mission. Our sanity. We worried. But we felt we had no choice but to change. Every day brought a new story of yet another news organization downsizing” (2012, 2683).

The recent enthusiasm for teaching newsrooms in North American journalism schools could be construed as one sign of their success. But are their goals more aligned with existing journalism norms and practices, as well as resistance to downsizing? Or are they preparing students to be on the leading edge of their profession? This paper explores the learning outcomes identified by teaching hospital newsrooms in North American journalism schools, with a focus on the role of technology. We suggest it is time for journalism educators to respond to change by focusing on closing the gap between research and practice in teaching and learning instead of reimagining ideologically satisfying models of vocational training (Deuze 2005; Lowrey, Daniels, and Becker 2005). We draw from the literatures on efficiency in teaching and learning (Hatano and Inagaki 1984; Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears 2005) and on genre theory (Lindgard and Haber 2009), and suggest learning outcomes that might do more to help students become resilient, adaptive learners, researchers, and journalists on the leading edge of the profession, with the capacity to deal with real world innovation. We argue that there are both opportunities and challenges to spur innovation in journalism through “situated,” “authentic” teaching and learning (see Freedman, in Lindgard and Haber 2009, 161).

We suggest moderating the focus on socio-technical and economic problems of journalism — how technologies generate new social roles and professional identities and, in turn, the possibility of radical challenges to traditional business models — and including other perspectives. We recommend the perspectives offered by the literature on learning and teaching, as well as by genre theory’s analysis of the teaching hospital. Both these perspectives focus on student outcomes more than industry survival. They also open up a critique of the teaching hospital model: this situated, authentic experience may be good for replicating current journalistic practice, but is it good for generating innovation and an understanding of what students will be able to do on graduation as vectors by which new knowledge – rather than replicated practice – enters the profession?

Developing the Tools for “New Interpretations”

For beginning learners, “innovative experiences may be particularly important” (Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears 2005, 42–43). According to Schwartz and colleagues (2005), “they help learners develop new interpretations instead of assimilating new experiences to old ways of thinking” (43). But helping learners “develop new interpretations” can be more difficult in a professional teaching and learning context. For example, the literature on efficiency in teaching and learning suggests that professionals tend to have two kinds of expertise: routine and adaptive/innovative (Roll 2014). For an example of a routine expert, Roll (2014) offers a dentist, from whom we expect impeccable routine skills. An innovator, by contrast, is “adaptive” – someone who can, as Hatano and Inagaki (198) suggest, “not only perform procedural skills efficiently, but also understand the meaning of those skills and nature of their object” (Hatano and Inagaki 1984, 28). Thus the range of skill development towards innovation is expected to move from “replicative” to “applicative” to “interpretative” (Broudy, in Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears 2005, 13).

In the teaching hospital model, this ability to distinguish and locate practice, journalistic ways of knowing, and professional ideologies is not high on the list of learning outcomes. But it should be, given evidence from the literature on genre theory. That literature suggests that while in situ learning is optimal for learning a genre, ironically, expertise and socialization as practitioners can inhibit teachers from preparing students to learn to interpret and therefore innovate. For example, that literature indicates that in starting to write in a genre, one takes on the “feelings, hopes, uncertainties, and anxieties” associated with its practice (Bazerman 2002, 14). In this framework, one would want to be careful to ensure that this shaping is as explicit as possible if the goal is for students to demonstrate adaptive knowledge and competencies – not simply apply existing practice and absorb the “feelings, hopes,” and so on. Scholars like Lingard and Haber (2009) have identified a gap between explicit knowledge in medical teaching hospitals and tacit knowledge, finding that much of the learning takes place implicitly. This is not to say that implicit learning and tacit knowledge are ineffective; rather, it is to question how effective such knowledge is for fostering an understanding of “the meaning of … skills and nature of their object” (Hatano and Inagaki 1984, 28). It is to ask about those dimensions of professional practice that are left unexamined as newcomers to the field tacitly absorb traditional professional know-how.

The tacit/explicit challenge has arisen in a teaching hospital course model in which one of the authors team-teaches: the Integrated Journalism (iJ) teaching news platform at the University of British Columbia. The course publishes an online news website three times a year focused on Vancouver issues and events. The faculty members, all former journalists, act as hands-on editors. A question often heard during the editing process is: Why does one faculty member identify something as a news story, but another does not? Not surprisingly, as masters in a certain genre and/or substantive area, instructors will have integrated knowledge within their own interpretative frames. This raises a second question: How does one slow down enough to effectively unpack professional knowledge – both implicit and explicit – to the benefit of students’ conceptual learning, so that they are able to both produce news and understand the values and conceptual knowledge related to practice? The concept of “slowing down” might be anathema to journalistic ways of being and knowing, but without it, we risk developing the skills and competencies for more “dentists” (to continue the Roll analogy) than innovators.  

Learning Outcomes and Approaches for the Future

A first step toward integrated learning outcomes related to creating a learning context that prioritizes being on the leading edge of the profession would be to think about an appropriate balance between students’ ability to demonstrate “efficient” transfer of knowledge/skills (i.e., how quickly they can “replicate and apply,” as in producing news), on the one hand, and their ability “to learn to solve novel problems and engage in other kinds of productive activities” that build their interpretive and conceptual abilities, on the other (Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears 2005, 60–61). Schwartz and colleagues (2005) suggest prioritizing learners’ interpretive contexts in addition to relating with other types of expertise (42). The need to work with other university researchers has been articulated in the teaching hospital model context, but often in a more instrumental than generative manner, as a way to “import” their expertise as opposed to co-creating new journalism knowledge (Newton 2013).

For example, the audience/news relationship has recently been cast as a journalism problem. A 2014New York Times report on innovation identified the audience as in need of attention. The problem(s) should not come as a surprise, given that scholarly analyses of audience and readership patterns in the United States have long suggested that “reporters and editors live by audience lore, not by any coherent body of facts about their readers” (Leonard 1995, 219) – not, that is, by findings attested by methodologically disciplined research. Leonard (1995) notes that popular culture representations of audiences tend to pathologize readers, producing for the newsroom a folk image of readership rather than a research-attested one. Both the emergent need and the ability to connect with audiences in new ways through social media and online comment have opened up new areas of research, as well as methods such as analytics to measure that interaction. Journalistic practice and knowledge can work in tandem to generate approaches that are relevant to current questions.

One might first identify as a learning outcome the ability to analyse how journalists have viewed their audience in the past; one might then integrate related literatures and research traditions that approach questions about audiences, such as political economy, analytics, collective intelligence, and social media studies. One could encourage combining research about interpersonal relationships with research conducted by other disciplines such as psychology (into cognition, emotions, online relationships), political science (into participatory democracy), and/or linguistics (into people’s background knowledge and how this shared knowledge works to build “common ground,” the basis for communication) (Clark and Marshall 1981). One could also invite students to think about their own experience with audiences through social networks. We suggest that when we integrate other research contexts with journalism research and take a less conservative approach to teaching and learning, opportunities arise for educators to provide students with a learning context that explicitly supports adaptive and innovative thinking and learning. With its focus on both the replicative and the generative, and on newcomers’ learning of styles of expression, rhetorical genre theory can contribute to our reasoning about journalism education.

Rhetorical Theories of Genre: Applications to Journalism Education

In recent decades, the term genre has been applied far more broadly than in the past. Researchers and theorists in applied linguistics, rhetoric and writing studies, systemic functional linguistics (SFL), and critical discourse analysis (CDA) have applied the term to a wide range of professional, public, workplace, and personal occurrences of writing and speaking. It has also seen a high-profile revival in leading-edge literary studies. Common among these applications is the notion that the phenomenon of genre – roughly, for the moment, the recurrences of recognizable forms of expression – is relevant far beyond the literary domain (and in fact may not find its best application in that domain). Less common and often in dispute is the measure of form, as in “forms of expression.” While some genre studies programs focus on form or on a form/function coupling, rhetorical genre studies have disavowed form as the signal of genre and turned instead to notions of “exigence” (Bitzer 1968, 1980; Miller 1984), motive (Burke 1969) and sphere of activity (Bakhtin 1986): when mutually engaged in a sphere of activity (the newsroom would be a sphere of activity), language users share the experience of a certain kind of thing needing to be said now. Formal regularities follow – with great unevenness – this sensation of exigence, this motive to speak or listen. As a simple demonstration of this principle, we can point to writers finding it difficult to learn a genre just by being told formal rules for it, when they have had no experience of the sphere of activity in which it is embedded. So, for example, we would know not to expect a newcomer to the news genres to get the hang of writing news by being told about the form the “lead” or opening sentence should take, or the style for identifying quoted speakers – or even the criteria for news, which can include timeliness, proximity, impact, controversy, usefulness, and emotion (Lanson and Stephens 2007). We know not to expect facility in the genres to follow immediately from this kind of formal instruction. Yet we do to some degree engage in formal dictates.

In teaching hospital online news sites, the stakes are sufficiently high for all participants when student journalism becomes public (see Newton 2012 for a discussion of legal concerns such as libel). In the teaching hospital model, students are called out on formal grounds (“these are the rules, we told you the rules”) as they prepare their news stories for publication when the real issue can be the editor’s silent assumptions, prejudices, and interpretations. Of course, resort to formalism is far from new, and far from exclusive to online newsroom pedagogies. Adam’s (2001) definition of journalism is helpful here: it includes “linguistic, narrative and representational technique” (324) with the “editor’s voice and lexicon” (318). An article published by Lewis in 1993, but revived on Twitter in 2015, addresses precisely the “futility of journalism instruction” that we are trying to discuss – an overt formalism masquerading as transparency. In this article, a journalist reports on a journalism class at Columbia University and identifies the way the instructor is trying to teach the class how to write a news story: the instructor starts with a “creative thinking” exercise about a baseball cap, then moves on to critique student work at a style/spelling level (Lewis 1993). Students then get criticized for “factual,” grammatical, stylistic, and form errors (the latter can be highly subjective and located in the instructor) (Lewis 1993). Rhetorical theories of genre would target the fallacies in these formalist approaches to educating newcomers about the genres of this professional sphere of activity. 

Rhetorical genre theory disavows form as genre’s prior condition. From this has emerged the observation, noted earlier, that most genre knowledge is “tacit” – that is, absorbed by language users through their experience in a sphere of activity and through their interactions with others similarly experienced in the orientations, values, and identifications of that sphere. This observation has led to radical critiques of classroom teaching of writing (Freedman and Medway 1994 is an early influential critique). Such critiques challenge explicit, formalist, rule-governed instruction and call for students to be introduced to the authentic rhetorical situations of a sphere of activity, and guided to motivated participation in those situations. We could say that the teaching hospital newsroom model of journalism education – situated in a sphere of activity, more or less authentic – has evoked lessons beyond formalism, even as formalism may have crept into the teaching newsroom through handy rules and rehearsed rubrics. Rhetorical genre theory would recognize the student-journalist-writer’s taking up of the ways of the professional sphere, through interaction with others in that field of practice and values; in its purest form, rhetorical genre theory would not predict the mixing of formalism (explicit rules, rubrics, templates) with the tacit transmission of genre know-how through mutual practice in a sphere of activity. But the theory is able to capture this mix for observation, and for inquiry into professional education.

Challenging formalist notions of genre knowledge and advancing social-interactional ones, rhetorical genre studies have hosted many studies of professional acculturation. Among these have been studies of social workers (Paré 1988), physicians (Lingard and Haber 2009), engineers (Artemeva 2011), central bankers (Smart 2006), students in graduate programs (Berkenkotter and Huckin 1995), and eighteenth-century traders/naturalists (Giltrow 2011). Throughout these studies, which focus to some degree on writers’ identifying with the motives of a sphere of activity rather than simply copying extant forms, the tacitness of genre knowledge has been a theme, as has been the difficulty of making explicit the know-how that genre users share. This is not to say that people do not talk about genres. Many genres are attended by metagenres (Giltrow 2002) – that is, by dense prescriptions for writing (often including some formalist rubrics), along with warnings and advisories about what not to write, and by rationales, manifestos, and (often) ethical claims about the genre and its mission. Although they are epiphenomenal and not essential to the substance or survival of a genre, metagenres can take on a life of their own, doing their own work hosting ideological assumptions that obscure or are misaligned with actual practice. At the same time, in some cases, metagenres, despite their epiphenomenal status, can play an active role in professional formation. Metagenres can be profoundly misleading to learners – for example, handbooks and teachers tirelessly trumpet rules against passive voice in academic writing by students, when in fact passive voice is used widely and indispensably throughout academic genres and beyond (e.g., in novels written by or in the style of Jane Austen). The false rule is supported by moral claims for honesty and against subterfuge in proper writing. So even as some metagenres are misleading and confounding, they may also establish an esprit de corps among practitioners in a sphere of activity – a sealed and sacred distinction.

While professional formation – both the acquiring of tacit genre knowledge and the recruitment to the prevailing metagenre – has been the object of genre-theoretical rhetorical inquiry in many fields, it has not been investigated by these means in journalism. Genre study of journalism has been principally text-focused and taken up mainly by SFL-tending CDA, a relatively formalist approach. The less formalist and more deeply phenomenological approaches of rhetorical genre theory have not been brought to journalism and journalism education. In other words, the challenges to journalism education outlined earlier in this paper – issues arising from the teaching hospital tradition and from the focus on technological adaptation – are open to investigation from the perspectives of rhetorical genre theory. How has the sphere of activity been conceptualized by current pedagogies? What is the profession’s metagenre, and what role does it play in journalism education? And most crucially, can journalism education be designed so as to broach the tacitness of genre knowledge, to bring to light for critical, expert examination the values, interests, and assumptions silently embedded in this sphere of activity? Can journalism education be reconceived to produce a disciplined and disciplinary expertise that can respond to the questions people have about journalism itself and its role both historically and currently in shaping the social order? This kind of investigation – challenging the silent know-how of the profession – would contribute not only to reasoning about journalism education but also to rhetorical genre theory. So far, rhetorical genre theory has taken satisfaction in observing the membrane of tacitness around genre know-how. Since genre is not form alone, and sometimes scarcely form at all, it evades attempts to state its features: the complex of experiences, intentions, motives, and mutually recognized exigences that compose genre know-how cannot be contained in explicit dictates (and, as teachers, we know that a student who says just tell me what to do has not taken up the interests and values of the activity). But what if explicitness were manifested not as prescription but as preliminary to examining the assumptions and unspoken values of a sphere of activity, that examination constituting a professional expertise?

“One Digital Roof”

The sphere of practice for the teaching hospital model of journalism education has been largely conceptualized as a multiplatform newsroom, an immersive situated journalism experience for students in which they create news for audiences, using evolving digital journalism tools such as blogs, data visualization, and social media. Programs in Canada that incorporate the teaching hospital model of journalism education include the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s online news website, The Thunderbird, http://thethunderbird.ca. In addition to direct public access, some journalism education institutions partner with professional media organizations to produce news content. Newton (2013) defines the “teaching hospital model” as “learning by doing that includes college students, professors and professionals working together under one ‘digital roof’ for the benefit of a community.” Goals that have been identified include increasing the “quality and impact” of journalism (Newton 2013), creating “more and better” journalism in order to supplement and support a declining industry (Lemann 2009; Mensing and Ryfe 2013), encouraging an opportunity for journalism schools “to become anchor institutions in the emerging informational ecosystem” (Anderson et al. 2011), and supporting innovation (Newton 2013).

Our goal should be for the teaching hospital to provide better news than the commercial news stream does. The goal should be to provide greater community engagement and service. Somewhere within the hospital, clinical trials should test new techniques and technologies, with results made widely known. The ultimate teaching hospital can be the engine of change for journalism education and for journalism. No longer would journalism programs be a training caboose driven around by industry. (Newton 2013)

Francisco, Lenhoff, and Schudson (2012) point out that the teaching hospital model in journalism education has a long but not widely taken-up history. Others, such as Anderson and colleagues (2011), suggest that an important part of journalism education has long included different kinds of immersive professional experiences, from internships at professional journalism outlets to campus media outlets. In this sense, professional identity formation for journalists has contained some component of situated experience, which, as genre theory suggests, is likely to transmit the indigenous genres[1] through participation in the field of activity as well as the tacit accumulation of knowledge. In this sense, the current teaching hospital newsroom model can be recognized as participation in journalism’s updated field of activity for digital conditions. This sphere offers unique characteristics, which include inexpensive and direct access to audiences and the possibility of learning and adapting to new technologies concurrently occurring in the field of practice (Pinch and Bijker 1989).

Thus the teaching hospital model of teaching newsrooms appears to be a necessary generative learning context for the professional formation of journalists to understand journalism and its spheres of activity, which may be particularly relevant in a digital media ecology given the intersection with and pace of technological change. Yet, as discussed above, from genre studies and the teaching and learning literature we know that interpretation is important and that situated learning leaves unexamined assumptions that occur at the tacit level (something is news, something else is not, this much is known among practitioners even as the “news” principle is unstated), and through metagenre (rules and ethical claims). How do we also interrogate the tacit accumulation of knowledge and create the context for students to emerge as self-motivated adaptive thinkers and journalists?

“A Supply Side Theory of Journalism”

An underlying, unattended gap we will focus on in this section involves an explicit learning outcome in the teaching hospital model of journalism education – the value that there is a moral and economic/professional obligation to increase the amount and quality of news. The quantity/quality principle that more news and better news is optimal fits the economic context of the recent past during which news was a replicable product. In this context, journalists tested and judged their professional capacity among other journalistic insiders, which became a proxy at times for an independent assessment of news quality (Ehrlich 1997; Young forthcoming; Zelizer 2004). It is difficult to argue with the proposition that more quality news is beneficial; however, public concerns about the homogenization of news, for example, make it clear that “quality” is a key journalistic assumption that needs to be examined much more carefully. As we have discussed, situated experiences in spheres of activity, according to genre theory, involve the tacit production of professional subjectivities in which important histories, assumptions, and values can go unquestioned and take on a life of their own. These experiences also host ideological assumptions that may obscure and/or be misaligned with actual practice and at the same time, in some cases, may play a crucial role in professional formation. It seems relevant to review some current questions/public concerns around the quantity/quality principle and consider the damage we may already be doing in the teaching hospital model of journalism education – and end with possibilities for addressing this consequence of teaching through situated experience.

Analysts of the news suggest that a homogenization of news content has been taking place; Boczkowski and de Santos (2007) define homogenization “as the extent to which different media focus on the same stories during a particular news cycle” (168). Scholars have identified this trend towards homogenization of news content as reflecting economic, technological, sociological, and professional components (Boczkowski and de Santos 2007; Picard 2008). According to Picard (2008), “contemporary news processes and practices produce a significant homogenization of news and opinion.” This is the result of a combination of forces that include dominant approaches to defining news, as well as journalistic practices that create “economies of scale in the collection and distribution of news” (221). These tendencies have also emerged in the online space (Boczkowski and de Santos 2007; Friend and Singer 2007). Boczkowski and de Santos (2007) examined content overlap in leading online and print newspapers in Argentina and found that “technical practices or how journalists use the technology to make news” amplified existing problematic trends vis-à-vis homogenization of news, with a concomitant impact on the diversity of public affairs journalism (76). Meanwhile, Friend and Singer (2007) suggest that despite significant innovation in online journalism in the United States and an increase in its quality, “many news sites remain morgues for wire copy, secondhand material and recycled stories from the morning paper or evening newscast” (33).

The assumption that journalists need to create more news of a certain kind and use that content to achieve market ascendance needs to be challenged and exposed within the hospital model of teaching newsroom. In this regard, Mensing and Ryfe (2013) refer to “a supply-side theory of journalism” in the teaching hospital model in which “society will improve if we increase the supply of high quality, credible information” (2). They ask whether this approach merely replicates a broken economic model of news, and they identify an antidote: “entrepreneurial journalism,” which they define as journalism education with an “orientation to change” (Mensing and Ryfe 2013, 7). They argue that an “entrepreneurial journalism” model would replace old values with newer, more relevant orientations, and they propose four main shifts: a focus on demand (audiences) rather than supply, on social networks rather than institutional ones, on reflexivity rather than habit, and on experimentation rather than practice and formalist writing drills largely limited to style and structure. Their paper asks useful questions and suggests new possible interpretations of journalism practice. It also provides evidence of some uneasiness with suggestions for remedy. The remedies – here, entrepreneurial journalism – may themselves rely on unexamined assumptions, in the absence of a methodologically disciplined means of developing and assessing alternatives.

Exposing and inspecting the values embedded in professional identity formation – here, that more and higher-quality news is better – and juxtaposing it with the public critique about the repetition of news items across formats opens up an opportunity to move beyond replication towards interpretation, and to imagine what adaptation might look like in a digital field of practice.  When we fail to challenge the assumptions behind a metagenre value of more and better-quality news, and allow the teaching newsroom to cultivate a consciousness of that value – to think this way is part of being a professional journalist – we limit the range of opportunities for journalists who operate in today’s contexts to create new interpretations and to adapt. For example, how are we to understand and support criteria that would eliminate the endlessly reiterated news items on the basis of their rhetorical, informational, socio-political profiles, rather than on the basis of their origins and distribution?   

Thinking this way about more news as better news, the professional journalist may also miss the opportunity to do the work that Ericson (1998) and Picard (2015), for example, call for when they identify deficiencies in the definition of news. In modern times, journalists require greater independence of thinking – a greater capacity to inquire and conceptualize – when it comes to assessing what news is. They also need to recognize the impact of past interpretations of and assumptions about news on the present (see also Gasher 2005; Lowrey, Daniels, and Becker 2005, and Adam 1989 for their critiques of the quality of journalism curricula). For example, using these questions as teaching opportunities to encourage the development of students’ ability to interpret could support their capacity to generatively raise questions about the role of the audience, and about what is news, and to adapt to emergent economic, technological, and intellectual spheres of activity. Other current concerns include the need for journalists to be able to distinguish between news, information, and knowledge in a digital environment (Picard 2015). However, these shifts are not possible when making visible the tacit values and assumptions embedded in previous professional subjectivities is not a clearly articulated goal of journalism education. Such rendering visible is the foundational condition of independent thinking.

A Mobile Responsive Expertise

We end with a discussion about how we might intervene to change the subjectivity of journalists and journalism’s disciplinary formations through learning outcomes. We suggest that identifying a learning outcome for the teaching hospital model of journalism education as including “a mobile responsive expertise” would recognize the historic importance of in situ learning in journalism education and professional formation through practice, while also identifying the need to create interpretative capacity to expose assumptions of professional formation through an awareness of how other disciplines have studied journalism. We suggest that there will always be professional subjectivity in journalism: arguably, all professions are constituted first in the subjectivities of their members – the values, identities, orientations, and conscientious activities that compose a professional identity. We propose here, however, that graduates of professional schools, including journalism, need to incorporate more of the subjectivity (values, interests, orientations) generally characteristic of other disciplines, and especially characteristic of the disciplines that already take journalism itself as an object of inquiry. They must be able to create news and information content and understand the ramifications of practice through exposure to other disciplinary approaches such as those taken by history, media studies, economics, and technology so that they will be able to act independently and to intervene in professional identity formations. In these senses, journalistic expertise would be mobile (i.e., drawn and refreshed from relevant disciplines) as well as responsive (i.e., alert to the findings and questions these disciplines present about journalism itself). Currently, some of these approaches are being integrated into the UBC teaching hospital model in class assignments and courses outside the multiplatform newsroom. This highlights the opportunities and tensions of bringing a more adaptive, reflexive approach to the model.

The recent case of NBC news anchor Brian Williams embellishing past experience about an assignment covering the Iraq war in 2003 is an example of a journalism issue that graduates should be able to respond to because of the questions it raises about professional identity formation in television news. One prominent academic commentator has suggested that the case lends itself to questions about trust in media:

A leader of a network news division that is still dependent, for better or worse, on the archaic anchorman system would recognize that the architecture of trust that places the lead anchor in both the glamour and the “stress” positions — head of state and prime minister, as it were — can crumble instantly if the anchorman himself cannot be trusted in telling the story of his own experience. (Rosen 2015)

This commentary emerges from value-laden terms and metagenre common to the professional subjectivity of journalism – “trust” and storytelling – and common, too, to the reporting of the story itself. Are there no other terms for inquiry into this episode? What about the demands of television formats that expose the journalist as “staged authority” in which that staging is inevitable because of technical challenges and the “need to appear normal and natural through … retakes, reenactments and the use of stock footage” (Ericson 1998, 89–90)? Can journalists themselves not find those terms? Journalism’s independence is only a “putative independence” if students do not have a research sensibility, which, in our culture, is one of the most independent means of asking and addressing questions. This independence would have generated from the profession a range of responses to the Brian Williams case different from those that were most widely published – different, that is, from reiterations of the traditional metagenre on trust and reliability, and more methodically inquisitive, more research oriented, more responsive to the questions the public has about journalism and its role in making public knowledge, more attuned to perspectives already established by research methodologies in disciplines that take journalism as one of their objects of inquiry.


In this paper we have taken up rhetorical genre theory as an instrument for viewing journalism education: What are the rhetorical features of the teaching-hospital/teaching-newsroom model? We suggest that the teaching hospital model of journalism education is a generative environment for digital technologies and possibilities that needs the support of an explicit and consistent examination of past professional interpretations in relationship to other disciplinary knowledge in order to be effective at supporting innovation as a learning outcome for students. With this lens, we have isolated the supply-side focus of teaching newsrooms as an example of a vehicle of unexamined assumptions – a vehicle of which the teaching newsroom is a driver. But there are no doubt many other assumptions mobilized by the professional interactions activated in the teaching newsroom, at each of which we might pause. In the pause, we might bring to bear disciplined modes of inquiry to examine these assumptions. This pause would also allow journalism educators to create the space to add to replicative learning with opportunities for adaptive and innovative thinking and learning in productive ways that would provide students with the outcomes to engage generatively in the leading edge of their profession.


The first author would like to thank Alfred Hermida and Kathryn Gretsinger, her long-standing team teaching colleagues at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, for being so willing to experiment with being on the edge of teaching and learning journalism.

[1] Giltrow (2012) distinguishes between genres indigenous to a sphere of professional activity and those which are artefacts of classroom activity. The teaching hospital model of journalism education, by most if not all accounts, avoids classroom genres and engages students in genres indigenous to the profession. In other formats of journalism education, we may indeed find classroom genres, such as the reflection on the baseball cap reported above.


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