“This class is not meant to teach you,” my editors and adviser should have told the class. “It is meant for you to learn. On your own.”
But they didn’t tell us that on the first day of Journalism 352, the Mustang Daily reporting class. Instead, we were given requirements: write 20 stories and five blogs and produce 2 multimedia presentations. That’s it. Sounds simple. But I guarantee anyone who has taken the class, whether they passed or failed, would tell a person that it sure isn’t easy.
It may not be the ultimate “learn by doing” Cal Poly experience, but it is for me and my peers. From the first day of class, you’re expected to begin reporting, to produce content for a newspaper and Web site that thousands of eyes examine. Daunting, to say the least.
That first day of class almost left me in tears at the prospect of climbing the mountain of work that lay before me. But I bit my tongue, flipped the switch to brain and accepted it. If I wanted to be a journalist at all, especially if I wanted to be a good one, I would have to do this, and do it well.
Damn if it wasn’t hard though. I stood outside the gym in the dark, looking creepy, getting rejected by students who didn’t want to talk to me about gym construction. I asked administrators questions they didn’t answer, hung up and then called them again. I wrote stories during sports games, preparing two endings, depending on a Mustang win or loss. I left hundreds of messages, e-mails, notes. I called people charged with lawsuits. I was often embarrassed, frustrated, angry or just plain stressed.
But I sure did learn. My confidence in talking to just about anyone has gone through the roof. If I was assigned a story that required me to talk to President Obama, I would make that phone call, granted I could reach him. My writing flows out not like the trickle it was before but like a stream filled with spring mountain snow melt. My perception of complicated topics and their facets now moves seamlessly connecting points as the information enters my brain. My senses find details and my mind catalogs them accordingly. I formulate questions before the last one is fully answered.
It feels good. I’ve accomplished a lot, even if it is all inside my head, on scraps of paper or on a computer screen. I’ve never learned more in a class and especially in one that isn’t about teaching. I feel prepared, ready for the world. You hear it all the time at all, but it’s for a good reason; “learn by doing,” is the best way to learn, even if you are in the liberal arts college at a polytechnic university.