Eric Newton’s Keynote on the Teaching Hospital Concept

Eric Newton says his concept of a Journalism Teaching Hospital would include six elements:
1. Students doing the journalism;

2. Professionals mentoring them to improve the quality and impact of the journalism;

3. Professors bringing in topic knowledge and raising issues;

4. Innovators pioneering new tools and techniques;

5. Academics doing major research projects;

6. Everyone working together with an emphasis of not just informing a community but engaging it. The sixth element is not a type of person, it’s a way of doing things: working with each other and a community.

The background document on which the notion is based.

Eric says:

The teaching hospital for journalism education rests upon the ancient idea that people learn by doing. There’s a quote often attributed to Ben Franklin in the United States. It is on all the quotation websites. You can look it up. It says, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” The only problem with that: Ben Franklin may have never written it. No original can be found. When you do your homework, however, when you learn by doing, you discover this idea is not 200 years old. It is more than 2,000 years old. A Confucian philosopher Xunzi seems to have written it down first. It’s a Chinese proverb, commonly translated thusly: “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” Education thrives through learning by doing.

In other fields, science students work on real experiments with their professors. Sports students participate in actual sports. Computer science students program real computers. Journalism educators interested in learning by doing could find examples in studies of agriculture, law, the arts, education, science, sports and many other fields. But I believe medicine, and its concomitant, the teaching hospital, holds the most promise for journalism education — because like many news organizations, the teaching hospital is deeply rooted in community.

The teaching hospital

In these hospitals, medical students under the tutelage of actual doctors learn how to draw blood, how to insert catheters, how to set broken arms, even deliver babies. Why? Because book learning and passing tests are just not enough to teach you how to be a doctor. How many of you would like to go to the doctor’s office, only to have your young physician say to you, “Well, gee, I read about this in my textbook, but I’ve never actually inserted a catheter before, so, bear with me…”.

Thankfully, in the United States, there are about 400 teaching hospitals. They develop new cures and treatments. They set high standards for patient care. And they treat the most difficult cases while serving the poor. At the same time, they train more than 100,000 new doctors and other health professionals every year.

So if giving physicians real-world experience is part of their education, of course it should apply to journalism. Young journalists need to employ objective techniques to collect facts. They need to use the latest equipment. They need to learn how to communicate clearly. They need to understand that journalism is not about them, it’s about the community. Communities need news for their social health as much as they need clean water and clean air for their physical health. News and information are the lifeblood of communities.

But at this point no journalism education program mirrors exactly an actual teaching hospital. In my country, that may be a controversial statement. We have deans and directors who raise money by extolling the virtues of their journalism and mass communication programs. That is hard work under difficult circumstances. Many people, including more than a few university presidents, don’t appreciate journalism. Journalists have this irritating habit of telling everyone uncomfortable truths. So it’s an uphill battle, with funders the likes of me saying universities should care more about the future, and many news companies not willing to fund journalism education in the present.

There is some good news. American foundations are not only investing more in media at triple the growth rate of their other grant-making, but we’re also investing more in journalism education. The teaching hospital model is helping with that. But if schools don’t do actual journalism, it heightens the criticisms of those who argue that foundations should pour their money directly into critical areas like investigative reporting.