Ready for the real world

Journalism instructor prepares students with practical assignments, thoughtful critique

Students who successfully complete Laura Smith’s “Power Producing” course often find themselves in high demand when they’re ready to graduate. That’s because, under Smith’s tutelage, they’ve learned the fundamental skills of TV news producing and hone them further in their final capstone semester. 

“More than 60 percent of our students who graduate from the broadcast program are taking jobs as producers, the behind-the-scenes jobs that are much more plentiful than on-camera positions,” Smith says. “The industry has caught wind of the fact that we are producing producers, and they’re coming to us and asking about the students who are coming out. Many of them get job offers before they graduate.” 

Part of what makes the students so marketable is the fact that their instructor has a wealth of television news experience under her belt — a dozen years of award-winning work as a producer at big stations in Virginia and Florida. She’s also developed a hands-on teaching style that’s intensive and effective, working one-on-one with students as they create five-and-a-half minute news cut-ins twice per week.  

“They are learning by doing, and it’s hard on them, but I want them ready for what the industry expectation is,” Smith says. “They have to get used to being critiqued in public because that’s the nature of what we do — the public is going to critique it, our bosses are going to critique it.” The same is true in Smith’s reporting and podcast production courses, where students learn a range of technical, writing and critical thinking skills. 

We watch and listen to every single piece of content the student produces, and I teach the students how to be critical but supportive. They learn how to identify the strengths of a piece and the opportunities to improve a piece, learning from other students’ successes and failures.” 

That crucible experience is challenging but necessary, Smith says, and it’s aided by the extensive feedback and one-on-one time she offers to each student. “I have an open-door policy; my students are in my office all the time,” she says. 

Along with the practical skills they acquire, Smith’s students also build extensive portfolios from their course-completion work. 

“I really want to give them practical assignments that aren’t just classroom assignments — merely things they’re going to turn in and get a grade for but things that will have a publication venue, that give them real-world experience so that when they get out into the real world, it isn’t their first rodeo,” Smith says.  

In the podcasting course Smith teaches, students are able to submit their work to  WUSC, the campus radio station that Smith has cultivated a relationship with to get the students’ content on the air. It’s all part of her strategy to prepare students for careers in in news and communications industries. 

“For everything we hear about the death of journalism, it’s going through seismic shifts, but it’s really thriving and local journalism has never been more important,” Smith says. “I’m very excited about teaching it here.” 

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