By Pam Luecke
Ask employers about the skills they’d like to see in the young journalists they hire and chances are one will be “an understanding of business.” That’s why some journalism schools and programs have started courses and concentrations in this area. But if your program isn’t in a position to do that quite yet, don’t despair. Here are a 10 ways to infuse your existing courses with business terms and concepts and make sure that your graduates know the difference between and IPO and an Ipod.
1) Add a “business beat” to your beat-reporting class. Most journalism programs ask students to cover a specific topic on campus or in town, but many focus only on government entities. If you don’t already have a “business beat,” try it. You’ll find it a rich source of stories that haven’t yet been tapped.
2) Add a “business” component to a class on American institutions. All good journalists need to know their way around a legislature or courthouse. But shouldn’t they also know their way around the agencies that regulate businesses and the economy? Add a few sessions on the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and business-related agencies unique to your state or community.
3) Include business and economic news on current-events quizzes – including identification of key financial leaders. We expect students to know the names of elected officials, but a well-rounded journalism graduate should also know key business and economic leaders and have an awareness of major business news. Add to your quizzes the names of Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner and, when they are in the news, the CEOs of top companies. (Be sure to include female and minority executives and officials.) And when a major company files for bankruptcy or acquires another company, consider that a current event worth knowing, just as you would passage of a new bill in Congress.
4) Have students – individually or in teams — create hypothetical stock portfolios and report on their performance throughout the term. This is a great way to focus student attention on how the stock market works – and it also builds numeracy skills. I use Yahoo! Finance as a way to track the portfolios and look at them several times during the term; there are several other Web sites that will allow you to do the same. Students love the competition with each other.
5) As part of their internship experiences, require students to learn about the history and ownership of the companies they work for and include that information in their written and oral reports. Savvy students will use this requirement as a way to meet the publisher or general manager. We used to protect students from the business side of the industry; that time has passed.
6) If you invite sports reporters or arts reporters to speak to a class, ask them to talk about the need to understand business for their beats. Most sports reporters have covered a dispute between players and management or an attempt to get public financing for a stadium. Similarly, arts reporters know all about the relationship between economic cycles, ticket sales and fundraising.
7) Invite local community leaders to talk to a class about property assessments and the town budget. The housing crisis can seem remote until it shows up in tax bills.
8) Encourage business-related stories in the campus media: What are the job prospects for seniors? Which local pizza shop has the quickest delivery? Are university sweatshirts manufactured overseas?
9) Invite an economist from the nearest Federal Reserve Bank to speak to a class – or have a class interview him/her via speaker phone. The Fed is committed to citizen education about financial topics and will probably be most agreeable. For the Fed bank or branch nearest you, see: http://www.federalreserve.gov/OTHERFRB.HTM
10) The next time your trustees are on campus, invite one from the business world to talk to a class about his or her experience with the news media. Make sure the students have researched his or her company well!
Pam Luecke was the initial Reynolds Endowed Chair in Business Journalism, her success at Washington and Lee University paving the way for the naming of subsequent business journalism chairs.