Mixing Reporters and Students: A “Live” lesson in media relations

When the news of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s generous grant (to name the James L. Knight School of Communication) was announced, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the gift impacted my teaching opportunities in the classroom; but I never thought that the impact would be so strong on the very first day.

News releases issued by the Knight Foundation and Queens University of Charlotte inspired local and national media to contact both organizations with inquiries. One contact, WBTV 3, the local CBS affiliate in Charlotte asked to interview me for a segment of the evening news; a request that I honored.

The issue for all of us was one of scheduling. I was teaching afternoon courses and the reporters were on a tight deadline.

I asked Jeff Atkinson, the reporter, if he would mind taping my portion of the story at the beginning of my Integrated Strategic Communication class in the Knight-Crane Laboratory, explaining that a portion of our course is devoted to public relations staff and their relationship with the media. I thought that the opportunity to see a media interaction occur would be far more valuable than a lecture. Atkinson readily agreed.

Dr. John A. McArthur teaches in the Knight-Crane Convergence Laboratory in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte

As the class gathered, they were able to watch the video and audio set-up, the interaction between the reporters, the university’s media relations expert, and the interviewee (me). They got to see the behind-the-scenes preparation and the mutual creation of valuable sound bites. Later, they were able to watch the news story to see how the interview was translated into the news story. Thanks to Jeff Atkinson of WBTV 3 for being a willing participant in this strategic communication lesson and for the excellent coverage on the evening news.

In our subsequent conversation, students critiqued the event, gave feedback on my answers, and discussed the reporter’s ability to shape and edit the conversation. This media relations lesson opened our eyes toward media literacy, creating a better understanding of the ways that media of all kinds can craft and shape their content. One student used the event to write a reflection about her experience.

I’m confident that this will be only one of the many lessons afforded to our students as we work to build the James L. Knight School of Communication in the years to come.

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