My Register Experience

Pass-Fail Enterprise: Register’s ME grades Bugeja and Chamberlin

Posted in Preparation Week by Michael Bugeja on November 18, 2009

By Randy Brubaker, Managing Editor, The Des Moines Register

Having Michael Bugeja and Dennis Chamberlin working alongside Des Moines Register journalists for a week was a good experience–for our newsroom, as well as for Bugeja and Chamberlin. It gave many here a chance to reflect on what we do and why we do it, and it’s always good for journalists to be thoughtfully challenged and to have to articulate our guiding principles.

Michael told me with a smile that he wanted a grade for their efforts. I responded that this was a pass-fail enterprise. And, without a doubt, they’ve passed. The story that I’ve read and edited breaks some news that the Register hasn’t previously published (and hasn’t been on television or in other newspapers around the state). We haven’t picked a final publication date, and even when we do, it’ll be subject to change based on the news of the day. But it could publish as soon as Friday or Saturday and perhaps as late as Tuesday.

I largely concur with the post-Register reflections by Michael (“Reflections on my Register Experience”) and Dennis(“What our students need”).

Michael hits the nail on the head when he says “content is still king.”

And Dennis’ analysis that today’s students need these two fundamental competencies is indisputable:

1. A familiarity with various technology that allows them to report on different platforms.
2. A traditional news skill such as news reporting, feature writing, visual story-telling, copyediting.

I think it’s worth noting, however, that in large part the experience Michael and Dennis created for themselves was focused on reporting an enterprise story, and it was a situation in which the reporter had a photographer working with him on the story. Several reporters here and at other news organizations spend most of their time on competitive, breaking news beats and often shoot still photos and video for their stories themselves. Those reporters and photographers still must rely on core journalism fundamentals, of course; but the most successful journalists in those jobs know how and when to use a wider range of tools than was the case a few years ago.

In an e-mail to me this week, Dennis recalled one day when they were in our newsroom and a hostage situation unfolded on the police scanner. It ended with the hostage dead and an officer shot. Dennis said he was tempted to jump in the car and help cover it. While that’s not a daily news situation here in Des Moines, covering that kind of breaking news requires a different comfort level with today’s new media tools and puts a reporter’s ability to execute those core journalism fundamentals to much tougher test (with less margin for error) than does enterprise reporting.

If Michael and Dennis had done that kind of spot or continuous news reporting for a week, would their conclusions be the same? I suspect so, although I think the nuance and the understanding of how the various tools are important to today’s journalism students would be different.

In that way, this anecdote echoes the call made by Michael Bugeja for funding for more journalism professors and news organizations to create experiences that allow professors to return to the newsroom for insight how to better serve students and the industry. No two journalists or news organizations will have identical experiences, and the broader the perspectives the better, not just for students but for the news industry during this time of transformation.

Finally, there’s value in pointing out that one of the reasons this experience worked for both the Greenlee School faculty members and for the Register was that a strong relationship and trust existed at several levels between our organizations before Michael Bugeja and Dennis Chamberlin stepped in the newsroom. The Register hosts the Iowa State Daily staff members and adviser in our newsroom once a year, to give that staff a look at how we do our work. We frequently have success with Iowa State journalism students as interns and as hires. And I’ve been to Michael’s office for conversation over the years, too.

We appreciate the extra efforts of Michael and Dennis in the past couple of weeks–and look forward to a time when we can do it again.


2 Responses

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  1. Bill Kunerth said, on November 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Sounds like a beneficial project for all parties involved and for many students
    who are not involved but will gain from the classroom contributions of Michael
    and Dennis. Although I’ve out of the classroom for 20 years, their effort
    gives me a chance to tub thump once more for the observations I made from
    many years teaching and practicing journalism: Effective journalism education programs must be balanced in terms of their professional, their scholarly-research and their service components.

    In my days, we probably too often pegged fellow faculty members as “green eye shades” (the pros) or “chi squares” (the scholars). There were and are faculty members out there who have substantial skills and experience in both areas .e.g. The instructor with a Ph.D. and 10-15 years in the field. But I’m sure they are still rare and, I know I’ll get a strong reaction for saying this, but over the years, far too many university administrators have placed major emphasis on and rewards to the scholars and communications researchers, at the expense of the professionals on
    their journalism-communications faculties.

    Although is is inevitable and proper that a balanced program contain individuals strong
    in each area, probably no instructor should lack experience/training in both
    areas. The Bugeja-Chamberlain effort is a good example, except that both
    of these profs already have diverse bhackgrounds. Institutiions and the profession should make such experiences available and rewarding for scholars who have not spent
    any or much time in a newsroom or a courthouse or a cop shop. LIkewise, those
    instructors who have litttle experience outside of the media and have not conducted research should be encouraged to do so. And they perhaps have a special role to play, as opposed to most conventional communications researchers, and that is to assess the performance of the press and pursue projects which will help journalists peform at a higher level. I think most educators and professionals would agree that most journalism educatoin programs fall short in fulfilling these too important obligations.

    I may be wrong, but I would guess that as things now stand, there is not a
    great deal of enocuragement in most departments/schools to get the researchers
    on the streets and to leave the professionals concentrate on the performance
    courses, without nudging them into research activities.

    Anway, Chamberlain, Bugeja, Brubaker and their employers deserve credit for
    energizing an experiment in which everyone benefits and which should be
    practiced by more journalism programs.


    Bill Kunerth

  2. Daniela Dimitrova said, on November 18, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I really enjoyed learning about Michael Bugeja and Dennis Chamberlain’s experience at The Register and I appreciate the viewpoint provided by the Managing Editor. It sounds like the core values of journalism have not changed but the toolkit available to today’s reporter is much wider. So we need to at least expose students to several different media platforms before they leave school in order to make them more adaptive/ competitive in their first jobs.

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