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Making the Transition From the Newsroom to the Classroom

By Dr. Sybril Bennett, Associate Professor, Belmont University and inaugural executive director of the university’s New Century Journalism Program

Many journalists have been motivated by fate as well as by choice to seek alternative employment.  First of all, if you are reading this and you only have one stream of income, rush out and get a copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad right now.  It is imperative that you have more than one revenue source at all times. In his book, How to Succeed in Business Without Being White, if my memory serves me correctly, Earl Graves talks about making money while sleep.  Whether the income is from book royalties, advertising or renting space on your blog, the stock market (if you’re money is on drug companies, ironic, I think not) or selling merchandise on eBay, it is imperative to diversify your internal portfolio. With that said, many people turn to teaching as a short or a long-term solution for career change.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, local educators and administrators participated on a panel sponsored by the Nashville Association of Black Journalists’ Professional Development Committee led by Tennessean Business Reporter, Getahn Ward (Twitter: NashvilleNABJ) to discuss making the transition from the newsroom to the classroom.  The session was moderated by the Nashville chapter President Harriett Vaughn, a Multimedia Reporter at The Tennessean. On hand were: Drs. Terry Likes, Department of Communications Chair at Tennessee State University, Dwight Brooks, the new program director for journalism at Middle Tennessee State University, and yours truly, Sybril Bennett, Associate Professor at Belmont University.

Although, I did not take notes, here are thoughts from the session:

  • Just because you want to teach, doesn’t mean that teaching is for you.  Teach Sunday School, become a substitute teacher, become a guest lecturer, teach at a community college. Get some experience not only to set yourself apart but also to determine if this vocation is for you. Teaching is a service just like journalism. And like journalism, it isn’t for everyone.
  • Don’t just focus on the colleges and universities, investigate teaching opportunities at private K-12 institutions as well.
  • There are different levels of teaching on the collegiate level:

-Adjunct Professors-They work part-time, do not receive a salary or benefits. Pay per class can range from $1500-$3000 depending on the university and state of course, but that’s a ball park figure to consider.

-Instructors and/or Lecturers may be salaried, could be full-time and may receive benefits, however, they are not on track for tenure or promotion.  Like adjunct professors, they serve at the will of the department chair and/or Dean.

-Assistant Professors are full time, tenure track employees on salary and with benefits.  They are eligible for tenure which basically means that if achieved a person has a right to work at the institution without having their position terminated without just cause. Typically, the offense must be extreme.  On average it takes 5 to 7 years at most institutions to achieve tenure.  This factor may be negotiable based on years of experience. Nothing beats a failure but a try.  An Assistant Professor can receive tenure without being promoted to the rank of Associate Professor.

-An Associate Professor is a faculty member who has been promoted and more than likely has tenure. It is possible to be promoted without it. Faculty usually spend another 5 to 7 years before achieving the rank of full Professor.

-Full Professor’s are normally tenured with promotion obviously given the title change. They are the most stable employees at an institution and difficult to fire and in some cases to motivate as well because they don’t have the fear of termination.

-Professor of the Practice is yet another designation, typically reserved for someone with a lot of professional experience who may not have a terminal degree but fulfills the requirements to teach.

  • Types of Institutions
    • There are different types of institutions of higher learning. For example, Tennessee State and Middle Tennessee State are research institutions. Therefore, tenure-track faculty are expected publish articles in peer-reviewed journals. The expectation is to focus on Research, Teaching and Service in that order of priority and importance.
    • At Belmont University, a private, Christian, liberal arts institution, the focus is on teaching. Therefore, in order to achieve tenure the focus is on teaching, service and research respectively.
    • Teaching Requirements:

For Public Institutions, requirements vary by state.  For example, in order to teach in the Department of Communications in the state of Tennessee, a bachelor’s degree is required and six graduate level courses in communications or journalism that’s 18 credit hours. The rules at Private Institutions are governed by the institution.  Always ask to find out what the rules are.  Most institutions want a master’s degree but many will make allowances. Make no assumptions, find out for yourself.

  • Google is your friend.  Use it to read job descriptions and find out exactly what each institution requires.  In addition, look up syllabi and use the templates provided to create your class. Don’t copy, remix. In other words, get inspiration from others but create your own class based on the requirements of your respective department.
  • Get on Twitter and follow journalism professors like Drs. Serbino Sandifer Walker (a board member of the NABJ Digital Journalism Task Force),  Barb Iverson Mindy McAdams and Dr. Syb. (Please respond to this post and add more)
  • Get online and strengthen your multimedia and storytelling skills.  Try taking courses at:, the Knight Digital Media Center or take a course at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute in Nashville, Tenn., all are worth your time.
  • Partner with journalism schools now and create positive relationships.
  • The biggest change from the newsroom to the classroom for the panelists was speed. In the newsroom clearly, deadlines were important. In the academy, not so much. They typically move much more slowly than the industry, although some private institutions may be more flexible than some public ones.

I know your time and attention are scarce so I’ll end there. If you want more, we are all happy share. The session was a huge success and hopefully many of you with determine whether the classroom is really for you. This is Dr. Syb, The Multimedia Maven signing off, Peace!!!



Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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