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Where are the questions?

jerry bearOver the past few weeks, I’ve offered my SUNY Purchase journalism students a pretty cool Who’s Who from the world of sports and media. Because the class is 3 1/2 hours, I try and keep things interesting. Generally, I break it up: First half—guest speaker. Second half—interactive lecture/activities.

A month ago, via Skype, former Dodger Shawn Green spoke to the class.

A weeks later, Armen Keteyian from 60 Minutes Sports came to campus.

A week after that, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.

Earlier today, ESPN’s Jemele Hill, also via Skype.

Syracuse, Northwestern, Missouri, North Carolina—I defy you to find me a sports journalism class that brings in—back to back to back to back—this caliber of guests. It’s cool and unique and fun and fascinating, and were the year 1993, and were I a student in such a class, I’d be asking one question after another; requesting internship information and beginning to know how one makes it big.

Alas, I am 41; 20 years removed from school; a teacher, not a student. And I’m a bit, well, frustrated. Don’t get me wrong—I love my students. They’re bright and fun and sharp. Some are fantastic writers, others are very good. I can’t say enough good things about the group as a whole. And yet, I bring these guests in, and … they … rarely … ask … questions.

I’m at a loss.

Jemele spoke for 45 minutes today. She was informative and open and—as always—cool. Number of questions asked by students: One.

Jeremy—equally great. And in person. Questions asked: Maybe five.

Armen literally told the students that he’d give me his e-mail address, and if they were interested in internships they should contact him. Number of students who asked about this amazing opportunity: Two.

Again, I love these kids, and want them to do dazzling things with their lives. But the potential journalist who doesn’t formulate questions might not be a potential journalist.

Sigh.

8 replies on “Where are the questions?”

Jeff, I’m currently a student who is taking a class in sports writing at my university. I have to say I somewhat agree with your point, we have had some guest speakers come in (although they are not as acclaimed as yours, but still accomplished) and have not been asked questions. I won’t speak for your class but in my class, as far as I can tell only about a portion of the students are in the class to learn about sports writing, the rest are taking it because it says sports and assume it is easy. It is the students who want to have careers in sports writing that ask questions

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The way I try to perk it up is by telling them to have three questions ready after having read something by or about the guest. I ask a lot of questions myself at first until I see students waving their hands. And I turn to a couple and say, “Mary, what did YOU think about what we’re discussing?”

And here’s the worst part: about one in 100 carries a newspaper.

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When I was in college I would have loved to had those type of speakers in my journalism classes. These students don’t realize how lucky they are to have such guests in their classrooms.

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I took an interviewing graduate class last year, and each week, a guest speaker came into class to talk about their experiences in reporting, broadcasting, PR, etc. Each student had to bring five typed questions for the guest speaker and then submit it to the professor at the end of class as a homework assignment. It seemed to help, not just by having questions asked, but by having us think about how effective questions are formed.

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I’ve taught college journalism classes and had the same problem — and then some. I remember one student who refused to interview people in person or by phone. He wanted to do it all by email, leaving the work to the interviewee. It’s not that he was shy or lazy (well, actually yes on the latter). He just didn’t see the point. The scary thing is that this was in 2002. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be to teach this stuff now.

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