This blog post about our NewsTrust Baltimore local news experiment was written by community manager Gin Ferrara and originally published on our Baltimore blog on March 4, 2011. It is republished here for the benefit of our national community.
One of the pleasures of NewsTrust Baltimore has been the opportunity to work with local partners --the educators, community groups and media organizations that inspire our work and keep us connected to Baltimore. Our educational partners are a particular source of inspiration, and we love visiting classrooms to see how NewsTrust can teach journalistic and criticism skills.
In Dr. Stacy Spaulding's course “Writing for New Media,” Towson University journalism students are using NewsTrust Baltimore to help them research their news beats. Each student has a topic to follow and review and is also writing his or her own stories on that subject.
Lauren Slavin, a Towson journalism major and an editor at The Towerlight, Towson's student newspaper, said that reviewing articles on NewsTrust Baltimore helps to "truly evaluate what it is you're reading and how it measures up with what solid journalism should be.”
“It's funny how many lingering questions stories from the most reputable of publications leave after you're done reading,” she said. “As a journalist covering similar topics in a course about investigative reporting, it helps you realize what new information you want to bring to your readers."
Spaulding has taken the process a step further by using the NewsTrust review model as a framework for developing an evaluation rubric. Beginning with her own research on minimal grading and peer writing evaluation, she adapted our Full Review form and changed some of the evaluation criteria to better fit her objectives.
She sees this as a practical measurement system that gives the students real-world expectations. One of her goals is to "get students away from thinking, 'Is this A, B or C work?’ … and to get them to begin thinking, 'Is this good journalism?'"
For the students, this is a new way to approach their coursework. Katie VandenHeuvel, a Towson journalism major, said: "Because it's hard to say what the difference is between an A- and B+ in writing it's become a lot easier to just ask, 'Is this good journalism?' Because if it is, it always will be good journalism and deserves to be graded as so."
Spaulding also has the students review each others’ writing. "I put students in groups of three and have them review three stories from the other class section. They like working in groups and discussing the stories. They ’grade‘ the stories, and then I review each score and add my own comments," she said.
VandenHeuvel sees the rubric as a helpful tool for evaluating other students. "You can't be too easy or too hard on the other students when there are questions that ask you to describe why you rated the story the way you do."
Slavin sees peer reviews as a valuable learning experience. "Having classmates point out what specific values you may be missing from a story or reading their work for similar values just lets you grow that much stronger as a reporter," she said.
Spaulding plans to continue to adapt this strategy this semester and hopes to see the benefits to the students' overall progress. "Since students are catching writing, style, attribution errors, it allows me to focus on reporting, how their work connects to their project, and the big-picture successes/challenges they're facing."
We’re delighted by Spaulding’s creativity in adapting NewsTrust to the classroom and by her students' positive response to the process. We hope we can support your goals, as well, whether becoming a more informed news consumer to honing your own journalism skills, to connecting with a community of others who value good journalism. We’d love to hear your stories of how NewsTrust Baltimore has made a difference in your life.