Journalism students: Please don’t do this

by Gregory Korte on November 2, 2010

Over the years, I’ve helped dozens of journalism students with their projects. A few have been extremely thoughtful about the news business, and I’ve even learned some things from them in the process. Heck, I was once a journalism student myself (albeit in the age before e-mail).

But lately, I’ve gotten a number of help-me-with-my-homework e-mails from journalism students that make me worry that they’re just not getting it. Take this one, received from a student at a respected journalism school the day before Election Day with 11 questions on beat reporting due by midnight:

From: (Name redacted) (MU-Student) [******@mail.mizzou.edu]
Sent: Monday, November 01, 2010 9:25 AM
To: Korte, Gregory
Subject: Beat Reporting Interview

Gregory,

My name is (Name redacted), and I’m currently a sophomore Journalism student at the University of Missouri – Columbia. We have begun to study beat reporting, and, as part of a class assignment, I’m required to contact a reporter outside of the city of Columbia and question him or her about this reporting technique. We are working on a deadline, and have to turn in our assignment tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. I realize that it is short notice, but I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about beat reporting? If you could please answer the questions listed below and e-mail me your responses by midnight, I would really appreciate it. Thank you!

Sincerely,

(Name redacted)

Is beat reporting still used in your newsroom?
If not, why is it no longer used?
Have you ever worked as a beat reporter?
If yes, what beat(s)?
What kind of events did you cover?
If you don’t currently cover a certain beat, would you like to?
If so, what would you prefer to focus on?
What do you think are some of the qualities of a good beat reporter?
What do you feel are some of the challenges that come with being a beat reporter?

Did a journalism professor actually assign this? What will this student learn about interviewing — or for that matter, beat reporting — by cut-and-pasting my answers into her paper? Don’t get me wrong: I use e-mail as a reporting tool all the time. I have never, and would never, send a cold-call e-mail to an unknown source with eleven essay questions.

To make it worse (or perhaps better), this same student e-mailed a colleague with the same questions. I’m not sure whether to be offended that she’s wasting our time doing duplicative work, or to admire her canny resourcefulness. (How many of us have sought the same information from multiple sources on deadline?)

For the first time I can remember, I’m not helping a journalism student. And that makes me sad.

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