Journalism in the 21st century: hands-on learning

The idea solidified while respected international journalist and Queen’s alumnus Jeffrey Kofman, Artsci’81, was giving a lecture earlier this summer at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) about his experiences covering the Libyan Revolution in 2011.

For a while, BISC staff had been brainstorming about a course on journalism for non-journalists; seeing Jeffrey speak, they knew the London-based ABC journalist would be the perfect person to teach the course. That quickly led to INTS 312, “Seminar in Modern European Studies: Journalism in the 21st Century,” taught last fall to a group of Queen’s students and others studying at the Castle from Japan, Korea and the U.S.

The course was designed to give students a critical perspective on the news and help them become better-informed news consumers. Jeffrey took students on a behind-the-scenes look at how news is presented and how the profession is faring in a time of great change that includes the shift to online and social media and the struggle to fund media organizations within a new advertising landscape.

“It’s very easy to be a passive news consumer right now and to look uncritically at all the information coming at us,” says Jeffrey. “I hope this course gives students a solid foundation in how the media works, which is fundamental to navigating the vast amounts of information online. It is designed to help them know what to look for. In turn, that not only makes them better news consumers, but also better citizens.”

Jeffrey drew on his strong contacts in the industry to bring in (or Skype in) several well-respected journalists to the Castle, including Queen’s alumna Lyse Doucet, Artsci’80, Foreign Correspondent for BBC World Service; Lisa LaFlamme, Chief Anchor for CTV National News; and Michael Cooke, Editor of the Toronto Star.

The instructor also gave students a look at both the “high end” and “low end” of journalism, with London-based guests from Wallpaper (Publisher Gord Ray, Com’93) and Monocle magazines (Executive Producer Gillian Dobias, Artsci’81) and a mock tabloid newsroom led by a London reporter who later renounced tabloid journalism. Among more traditional assignments, students had opportunities to write their own news stories, gaining insight into the process of news-gathering.

"This course was honestly the best one I've taken throughout my undergraduate studies,” says Sophie Koumoudouros, Artsci'15. “There are no journalism courses offered at Queen’s, so I'm glad that when I was at the Castle I got the chance to take this truly unique course! I think it's very important for people to have knowledge about the media and how to be a smart and thoughtful news consumer."

Feedback from the course has been so positive that plans are in the works to offer it again in the next school year. “Jeffrey’s class is an example of the transformative learning environment that is thriving at the BISC,” says Christian Lloyd, PhD’00, Academic Director at the BISC. “We believe in fostering strong ties with the Queen’s alumni community and from offering classes, to networking events, to internship opportunities, we are actively connecting our students’ learning to our alumni’s expertise.”

Jeffrey says that as a student at Queen’s he never imagined he would be teaching for the University. He was impressed by the curiosity and enthusiasm of his students. As a Queen’s grad he finds that especially rewarding. “It’s been really satisfying for me to go back and teach for the university that educated me,” he says. “In a small way, I’m paying it forward, and I hope I’m helping to shape the outlook of these students as others at Queen’s helped shape me.”


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