If you’re a Facebook friend or Twitter follower of Norfolk State University’s student newspaper, the Spartan Echo, then you probably wonder how students are producing as much (if not more) news through these social media outlets as most commercial news organizations. The answer is simple: they’re being trained and, according to scholars and professionals in the field, they’re being trained in the best possible manner using what’s called a “teaching hospital” methodology.
That’s probably why the Black College Communication Association (BCCA) has recognized the Spartan Echo’s website (http://www.spartanecho.org) a number of times over the past decade as “the best” of any Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
As a requirement in the mass communication and journalism degree programs, each student must serve as a “web content producer” for SpartanEcho.org. Their work is then automatically tweeted on the newspaper’s Twitter account (@SpartanEcho or http://twitter.com/Spartan_Echo) and posted to their Facebook pages (http://www.facebook.com/NSUSpartanEcho and http://www.facebook.com/Spartan-Echo-145298285537067/timeline/).
Three classes are taught during the fall, two during the spring, and one during the summer semesters. That equates to a minimum of 96 students per year serving as web content producers for SpartanEcho.org. Throughout this time, the students are assigned a “beat” (a topical or geographical area of concentration) and must use the Spartan Echo’s Associated Press membership to browse, curate and post news stories from the famous wire service as a major part of their course work. They do this using WordPress, the Internet’s most famous and widely used content management system. In addition, while they are doing this throughout the semester, they also are learning how to write HTML code (the computer language of the World Wide Web) by hand. As a result, each student comes out of the course, and the mass communication or journalism degree program, knowing how to write HTML code and having experience as a web content producer, one of the most in-demand communication positions in the commercial marketplace today.
While a single semester of web content producing experience will get very few–if anyone–a job, students who use the experience to continue serving the student newspaper in that capacity for another year-and-a-half during their schooling have gone on to obtain $66,000 per year jobs right after graduation, which is unheard of for the vast majority of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
In addition to web design, students who take the Broadcast News Writing and Reporting course at NSU serve as reporters and producers for Spartan Echo TV, where they create original video reports for SpartanEcho.org (available at http://www.youtube.com/user/NSUSpartanEcho). BCCA has often recognized these as some of the very best of any HBCU.
Of course, the students who take NSU’s News Writing course, or students who work and volunteer at the newspaper, are an obvious part of the Spartan Echo, too. These students create original material for the Spartan Echo, both the website and the print edition (http://issuu.com/spartanecho). As a result, their work is shared with the world through SpartanEcho.org and social media. In fact, professional members of the media make-up a significant portion of the Spartan Echo’s Facebook friends and Twitter followers, so they can see for themselves what Norfolk State students are doing with their education.
In fact, while many universities around the world have moved to digital-only student newspapers, they’ve forgotten one critical element of communication education that Norfolk State University has remained steadfastly committed to: teaching students how to communicate through ink on paper. That’s a huge technical and professional difference from communicating through light displayed on an electronic screen. And, as long as organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to mom-and-pop operations are using ink on paper to communicate, Norfolk State students will be able to that for them, unlike many graduates today.
Even in a worst-case scenario, all of these Norfolk State students are getting a good taste of what many students never get, real world experience. Media scholars call this the “teaching hospital” method, what many call “on-the-job-training” where an apprentice works under the tutoring of a professional. And Norfolk State models this in their student newspaper and mass communication and journalism degree programs as a matter of routine that’s built right into their educational system.
Students and their potential employers aren’t the only ones who benefit, though. The Spartan Echo’s Facebook friends, Twitter followers and website users get something, too: a lot of free news, from around the world to the most remote corner of the Norfolk State campus.
The Spartan Echo is a student organization funded and overseen by the Office of Student Activities through the Division of Student Affairs at Norfolk State University. Vice President for Student Affairs Edward M. Willis says the Student Affairs mission is “…to foster a community that engages students both in and outside of the classroom” and the Spartan Echo models that blend of campus life and academics.