Lock up your Pulitzers, the new kids are on the block

12th May 2000 at 01:00
IT SEEMED a good idea at the time - "A Day in the Life of a Journalist", with third-year pupils from neighbouring schools coming for a taste of our writing courses.

But pressure of work meant that as the day approached, it became apparent that it would be a single-handed production - and that I needed a plan which would allow me to manage the induction, the teaching and the presentation of certificates to 17 would-be journalists whose birth dates all ended in an incredible second-take '85 as well as run my regular timetabled class.

The story of the chap on Barra who retired and left seven vacancies for postie, boatman, taxi driver, police officer, guide, undertaker and barman flitted briefly through my brain.

The propensity for disaster was huge. With groups from different schools, there was always the chance of some overzealous rivalry. OK, a punch-up. Then again, sometimes the atmosphere at college can be a little too heady. What, no key needed for the loos?

Turning schoolkids into students takes time and hard work. And even then the results can still surprise. In my "strange but true" selection at the moment is the story of how Paul came up to me in class: "Could I see Bruegel's 'Icarus' again?" The parameters of Paul's world are disc-jockeying and David Beckham, but for his Lit 1 assessment he'd taken a shine to Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts".

Then there was Eddie, who came as a mature student to glower at everyone in silence. Now he's the best proofreader in the class. "See him?" his mates told me. "He even sits with a pencil when he's reading the paper." Shurely not, I thought.

There's no doubt that by this time in the session, most of the soft skills are in place, and the living is easy for lecturers. You no longer have to say, as if casually, "You may want to write this down . . .", because suddenly everything you say appears to be so terribly fascinating it has to be written down just as you start to utter it.

But such metamorphoses take time.My watertight plan had to account for raw recruits and a few hours. If our guests were to sample a day in the life of a journalist, it would be only fair for my timetabled media class to sample a day in the life of a lecturer. I appointed them as team leaders so that they could experience student-centred learning from the other side.

We were also going to be heavily reliant on technology - the Macs and the printers had to behave themselves. And that would be a first. The technicians had promised to come in at the last minute to give each machine a clean bill of health. Unfortunately they took this a bit too literally and were still there as the class assembled.

Steven, fancying a job on the tabloids, was taken aback when we learnt about interview protocol. "Can't you just pretend you're not a journalist, get all the gen, and then print it?"

I fear he may be a little frustrated reporting bonnie baby shows and

WRI meetings.

The story they were after was a little more modest than finding a bus on the moon, or Elvis working down the local chippie, but the deadlines were tight. Dressed in their finest designer gear, my "lifers" were totally engaged with the event and at tea break they beat my regular timetabled class back by at least 10 minutes because they ran up nine flights rather than queue for the lift.

The team leaders were under pressure, too, as they discovered that the job lies somewhere between being a party host and a sergeant-major. They were unanimous in deciding they didn't want to do this for a living, thank you very much.

With teamwork, the journos got their stories, they met their deadlines and they did their schools proud. With the stories filed on time, certificates were presented. The day went absolutely perfectly. Just like real life.

And the good news is, because it went so well, I'm getting the chance to do it all over again in a couple of weeks.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

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