Learning From the Pros: SJMC's Adjunct Instructors
By Ami Berger
Every year, more than twenty industry experts--professional journalists, graphic designers, advertising and public relations executives among them--join the faculty in Murphy Hall, bringing real-world experience and cutting-edge professional practice techniques with them. "In many ways, our adjuncts are the lifeblood of the School," says director Al Tims. "They give our students important insight into the work they themselves will be doing one day, and the students respond to that."
This year, three such adjuncts are Harold Higgins, retired newspaper publisher and a nationally-recognized expert in the management of media organizations; Rhoda Fukushima, a health and lifestyle reporter for the Pioneer Press; and Roshini Rajkumar, a former news anchor who now owns her own media consulting company. These three are teaching students not just the tools of their trades, but why those tools matter and the important effects they can have on public understanding.
As a health reporter for the Pioneer Press, Rhoda Fukushima covers tough issues: She's written stories about Rhoda Fukushimathe challenges of caring for Alzheimer's patients, children living with brain tumors, and how to manage diabetes. As an adjunct instructor in the SJMC, Fukushima is tackling another tough issue: diversity and the representation of people of color in the media.
"The growth of populations of color in this country makes this an important area of study," says Fukushima, who has her students examining how the nation's four major communities of color--blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans--have been and are being portrayed in film, television, print, broadcasting, advertising, public relations and online media. Jour 3741 course also examines issues of employment, hiring and the "color of money."
The course is very much in demand among majors in the School, so Fukushima must find ways to engage a large class of 40+ students. "I try to create an environment where the students can talk candidly about media and race," she says, "and they do. One of our liveliest discussions came after we watched footage and news accounts of Los Angeles cops beating a suspect--footage that ended up on YouTube."
Fukushima has always been interested in the idea of teaching. "As a child, I wanted to be two things when I grew up: Peggy Fleming or a teacher," she remembers. "Since I never learned to ice skate, teaching turned out to be a little more within reach." Fukushima first taught the People of Color in the Media course in 2000 as a co-instructor with SJMC Cowles Media Fellow Sherrie Mazingo, who was a member of the faculty at the University of Southern California when Fukushima was a graduate student there. "I enjoy teaching this class because it allows me to pull from academic research, current events, and from my own experiences as a reporter," Fukushima says.
Fukushima hopes her students will benefit from her experiences. "I come to class every day remembering the words of a retired journalist-friend who now works with young journalists of color," Fukushima says. "He told me that at this point in his career, he just wants to 'give it away.' So do I."
Harold Higgins, the retired publisher of the Pioneer Press since 2000, has a long history in the Twin Cities. Higgins first joined the Pioneer Press in 1976 as a reporter and had worked as business, city and sports editor by the time he left in 1986 to become editor of Knight Ridder's Aberdeen American News in South Dakota. After editor and publisher roles in Boulder, Colo., and San Luis Obispo, CA, he returned to St. Paul to lead the Pioneer Press.
Now that he's retired, he's taking his expertise in media management and leadership into the classrooms of Murphy Hall. His course, Management of Media Organizations, focuses on basic business literacy issues, such as sales, negotiations, personnel evaluations, and fairness and diversity in the workplace.
"For most of the journalism students in the SJMC this will be their primary course on management and leadership," Higgins says, "and at the end of the course, they'll be fully conversant with the language of business. I feel there are several media leaders of the future in the class."
Higgins is one of the nation's leading experts on media management, and is quick to point out that understanding management issues is key to aspiring journalists' careers. "Students who understand basic management and leadership principles will be stronger entry-level employees, and they should advance more quickly because they already understand the challenges of their corporate leaders." To illustrate this point, he's brought a number of industry leaders into his class as guest speakers, including John Beardsley of Padilla, Speer and Beardsley; Paul Hannah, a media attorney with Kelly & Berens; and Par Ridder, current publisher of the Pioneer Press.
This is Higgins' first experience teaching college students, since he's spent most of his time since "retiring" teaching newspaper metrics and benchmarking to newspaper publishers, editors and their operations vice presidents. But he's sure that his current crop of students are destined for success. "I worked for Knight Ridder for 30 years," says Higgins, "and my past experience in the publishing industry is one of the reasons I am sure some of my students today have the right stuff to be future media leaders."
"I really love language," says Roshini Rajkumar, media consultant and former broadcast reporter and anchor. Roshini RajkumarShe's team-teaching Jour 3415: Electronic News Writing and Reporting with SJMC instructor Ken Stone, and she's passionate about good writing for television news. "A lot of people think that good writing isn't important for TV, that the copy can be throwaway," she says. "But it's not true. Writing for broadcast is a different kind of writing--it needs to be for the ear, not the eye--but it still needs to be consise, strong, grammatically correct, and conversational."
Rajkumar grew up in the Twin Cities, attended college in Boston, and began her career in television as a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Fargo, ND. She then spent the better part of a decade moving up through the markets, from CBS in Des Moines to CBS in Nashville and eventually to FOX-9 in Minneapolis, where she covered the death of Paul Wellstone, the Dru Sjodin murder investigation, and other hot local stories before leaving for Detroit. Throughout her many moves, she kept in touch with Ken Stone, whom she met when the two worked together in Nashville. "Ken's been a wonderful friend and mentor," says Rajkumar, who recently returned to Minneapolis to start her own media consulting company, Roshini Multi Media. "When the opportunity came up to teach with Ken in the SJMC, I jumped on it," she says.
She and Stone have very different teaching styles. "I'm the tough one," she says with a laugh. "Whenever the students turn in a writing assignment, they ask who's going to be grading it, and if it's my turn to grade, they all just groan!" Despite the groans, she knows the students appreciate her insistence on quality work. "I tell them that I want their scripts to be good enough for midsize and large markets right now," she says, "and I know that they're happy that I'm so tough on them because they're seeing results in the quality of their work."
Rajkumar is also seeing results with Roshini Multi Media, her media consulting company. She's developed two trademarked media training systems and is teaching business people how to attract media coverage for their products and services. "Theis work is a new world for me," she says, "It's a wonderful way to bridge the gap between journalism and strategic communication."
She hopes that her experience with both on-air journalism and on-the-ground marketing will benefit her students. "I hope the students feel that they're getting the best of both worlds from me," she says, "especially since I'm only eight or nine months out of the TV news business. I want to tell them 'here's what I wish I knew then. Let me save you some of the pain I went through in the trenches'."