Harry: So why don't you tell me the story of your life.
Sally: The story of my life?
Harry: We got 18 hours to kill before we hit New York.
Sally: The story of my life isn't even gonna get us out of Chicago; I mean, nothing's happened to me yet. That's why I'm going to New York.
Harry: So something will happen to you?
Harry: Like what?
Sally: Like I'm going to journalism school to become a reporter.
Harry: So you can write about things that happen to other people.
Sally: That's one way to look at it.
As any well-versed romantic comedy connoisseur can tell you, the best films in the genre star female journalists. Some, such as the above-cited “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) or “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” (2003), focus on reporters, while other favorites, such as “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) or “13 Going on 30” (2004), focus on editors. From a production standpoint, movies likely portray journalists for practical reasons. The writers who created the characters probably were journalists at earlier points in their careers, so it makes sense for them to write about what they know. For me, however, a devoted audience member, such movies had a powerful effect: They shaped my desire to go to journalism school.
I relay this story, not as evidence of classic media effects theories — appropriate though they may be — but as an explanation for why I approach my classrooms the way that I do. Many undergraduate students come upon their professional paths through roundabout methods, as I did. We encourage kids at a young age to decide on a major and career for themselves, and we reward them for making a decision, any decision, regardless of how much they have thought about it or how much they know about it. Lucky for me, I had wonderful high school newspaper advisors and college journalism professors who brought my vague journalism dreams out of the romantic comedies and into reality. Through classes and hands-on training, they taught me the jobs and the profession, beyond the movie images. With their guidance, I learned how to write, edit and design, and how to think like a writer, editor and designer. These skills have served me well in my work both in journalism and in academia. My teachers taught me the skills, values and practices of the journalism profession, and they allowed me to grow and question within those boundaries. As a professor, I seek to do the same for my students by bringing their professional dreams into more concrete realities.
My teaching philosophy is based on the underlying belief that my job is to provide a structured and organized environment in which students can learn the basic skills they need to move forward. I do not judge what “move forward” means to any of those students. I teach basic skills that my students can then use for any number of purposes (e.g., as a stepping stone for future classes, as training for a professional media career, as fodder for criticizing media industries, etc.). More specifically, I see it as my role to introduce students to the skills, values and practices of the media industry, as my instructors did, and to then encourage them to do what they want with that information. Whether they decide to work in journalism, to criticize journalism, or to create movies about journalists, my students leave my classes having been exposed to new writing, editing and design skills. They also leave my classes with a more concrete, nuanced understanding of the values and practices of the journalism profession.