Thursday, January 7, 2010

Teaching to teach

With 2009 behind us, it's time to start looking forward. In my case, it's about finding new stories to tell and finding different ways to tell reoccurring stories. It's also time to start prepping for another role I've taken on - that of a teacher.

I've been invited again to teach a class on photojournalism at Georgia Southern University this spring semester. I've done it twice, and it's a new experience each time. Because of new students, of course. But my profession and the industry changes at such a pace that I have to revise material and add new material each time. It's a lot of work and, at times, frustrating, but it's something I look forward to. Not only am I passing on knowledge and skills to a new generation, but it helps me focus on my own work and my own role as a photojournalist. I enjoy getting into the minds of aspiring journalists. I learn a lot about the habits of young people as consumers of information. Often, I end up learning as much from my students as I hope they are learning from me.

One of the challenges is that I am teaching a class on photojournalism to students who, overwhelmingly, won't take up photojournalism as a career. Many are journalism majors who will mostly likely become writers or editors. There are usually a fair share of broadcast majors, some going into television, some radio. And there are usually some public relations majors, as well. I have to teach my class much differently than the way I was taught as a college student majoring in photojournalism.

I see this as an opportunity. Over the years, I have worked with many writers and editors who simply didn't understand what I do. They didn't understand how photographs communicate, what the process is to create photographs that communicate, and and how the medium of photography can best be used to enlighten our readers and create meaningful discussion among them about our communities. They saw photographs as merely "art" playing a supporting role to text. Making a photo assignment was just something on a checklist. Some were resistant, and sometimes downright hostile, to the idea that photographs could be as important, sometimes more important, to telling a story as words were.

So there is just a tiny bit of selfish motivation in teaching college students. Hopefully, I can get them to start thinking about how to communicate with photographs before they even get into newsrooms as working journalists.

Mostly, though, my motivation is to share. Just as I share my experiences with Statesboro Herald readers through photography, I share my experiences as a working photojournalist with the next generation of working journalists. Beyond my personal experience with smaller newspapers, I also try to expose my students to the work and thinking of some of the greatest photojournalists, living and dead. And I try introduce them to the process and approach necessary to creating meaningful photographs.

The business of journalism is changing, too. Newsroom staffs are shrinking everywhere. Most every reporter in the near future can expect, at some time, to have a camera put in their hands and be asked to produce competent news photographs or video. Most journalists are drawn to a particular discipline, such as writing, or photography, or informational graphics. But today's journalist is being asked to have more than one skill. A writer who can shoot competent news photographs will be much more marketable as an employee coming out of college.

In a sense, teaching a college class is an extension of what I already do as a journalist. I explore our community and gather information, through photographs, so people may learn and make informed decisions about life. In that sense, I am a teacher every day. If I am successful in the classroom, I will be teaching others to teach.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.