Clockwise, from top left: Staci Baird, U of La Verne, rethinking basic journalism; Lisa Williams, Boston U, boosting coding expertise; Jonathan Groves, Drury U, community podcasting; Stephanie Anderson, Murray State, trauma training; Erik Palmer, sharing course expertise; Amara Aguilar, USC , Latinx reporting alliance.

Meet the 2018 Tow-Knight Disruptive Journalism Educators

Jody Brannon
Disruptive Journalism Educators Network
7 min readApr 30, 2018


Standout professors — whose approaches to teaching ensure that students succeed in the ever-evolving online news space — have been selected by the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism to a fellowship in which each will champion a specific aspect of journalism education. As a Disruptive Fellow, they will engage other forward thinkers in the Disruptive Journalism Educators Network Facebook group, in person and in other ways that prove effective.

Fellows will present about their projects in select educators sessions during the Online News Association’s three-day conference in Austin Sept. 13–15.

Follow the #Disruptors via this Twitter list; see them on a Google map. Individuals associated with journalism education can request access to the DJEN Facebook group to see some of the links shared below.


Amara Aguilar, associate professor, University of Southern California

PROJECT: Vamos! Building a collaborative network of universities covering Latinx communities.

At USC, Aguilar develops and teaches journalism for mobile and emerging platforms, and interactive media design for publishing, among other courses. She also teaches digital journalism in the graduate program. Her professional experience includes sports reporting, video, social media and designing.

Her disruptive plan is to build collaborative coverage across schools and cities on issues important to young Latinx adults. The goal of the Vamos project is for faculty who advise Spanish (or Latinx-focused) student media outlets to combine forces so their students can provide depth of coverage/engagement for Latinx audience. An example: Three universities might collaborate to cover how DACA changes affect young Latinx students across the U.S. Instead of covering the issue at a single university, they could combine coverage with layered voices and stories.

April 6 post: Challenges and opportunities to collaborate on projects across universities
May 16: Collaborative storytelling tools
June 2: Favorite tools and platforms for covering breaking news?

Stephanie Anderson, assistant professor, Murray State University

PROJECT: Trauma in journalism: Creating modules and/or courses to help student journalists cover and cope with traumatic events.

At Murray State, Anderson advises the Murray State News and teaches two courses in the journalism and mass communication program. Her professional background is TV news, print advertising and public relations.

Her disruptive plan is based on her doctoral research which indicates 90 percent of journalists have covered a traumatic event, though journalism schools typically don’t teach students how to properly cover these events and how to cope with the psychological effects. She proposes to start a national conversation among journalism educators that might help other instructors to include the teaching of traumatic events in journalism programs.

April 15: How schools currently handle the issue of journalistic trauma across the curriculum
May 20: Inquiry for journalists willing to talk about covering traumatic events
July 1: How do departments blend trauma coverage into the curriculum?
July 8: Poll: Is trauma journalism taught in your program?
July 10: What do educators need to know more about to incorporate trauma coverage into courses?
Aug. 13: YouTube video: Trauma journalism
Aug. 19: Video: Trauma journalism discussion with student Ashley Taylor

Staci Baird, assistant professor, University of La Verne

PROJECT: Reinventing the basics: Assessing what’s taught in intro reporting or news writing courses.

At LaVerne, Baird teaches journalism and public relations courses, emphasizing social media. Her professional background is in multimedia, innovation, strategic communication and community management.

Her disruptive plan is to work with other educators to redesign the intro to news reporting course. Faculty complain that students cannot write, but perhaps today’s media ecosystem means its time to examine fundamental rules, norms, traditions and structures. She will explore how the first journalism course is taught, starting by identifying learning outcomes and subsequent assessment.


April 21: Deconstructing basic reporting.
May 9: Building up to advanced reporting: What do students need to know
May 25: Soliciting and collecting syllabi for basic reporting/intro to journalism
June 25: Ingredients to basic reporting course?
June 7: Course shell in Top-Hat?
July 13: Deconstructing “gathering”
Aug. 1: Poll: Who teaches intro reporting in your program?
Aug. 1: Creating a Slack-based collaborative classroom?
Aug. 14: Model (with terms) for the journalism process that involves Gather, Develop, Produce, Publish, Promote, Evaluate…?
Aug. 15: Poll: Does your program have learning outcomes for courses?

Jonathan Groves, associate professor and department chair, Drury University

PROJECT: Engage: Implementing a community-first curriculum, starting with podcast prototype.

At Drury, Groves advises the student radio station and focuses on the future of journalism and media. His professional background is in newspapers, reporting, editing and online.

His disruptive project is to launch a student radio newsroom to tackle community issues, defining beats to raise awareness and gather solutions.


May 3: Excellence in podcasting: a roundup
May 26: History of audio storytelling: graphic
June 20: Tips on starting a pod
• July 2: Exploring the intimacy of podcasts
• Aug 6: Trends in podcasting > emarketer infographic: Podcasts: Who’s Listening, and What It Means for Marketers
Aug. 20: Podcasts force students to blend disciplines
Sept. 3: Working partnerships and community groups into a podcasting curriculum

Erik Palmer, associate professor and department chair, Southern Oregon University

PROJECT: Alt-J Schools: Creating for-credit mini-courses from innovative faculty shared to schools of all sizes.

At SOU, Palmer teaches social media, visual communication and design thinking. His professional background is in photography, visual journalism and digital production.

His disruptive project is to explore ways to launch innovative journalism courses that wisely combine technology, online collaboration and clever loading tactics to answer national needs in specialized topics.

I need a convenient and flexible way to offer innovative and robust journalism courses for students at my smallish public liberal arts university

Lisa Williams, adjunct professor, Boston University

PROJECT: Full-stack depth: Developing reusable learning modules to integrate coding into J-school programs.

At Boston U, Williams is infusing coding into more courses across the curriculum. Her professional background is in innovation, engagement and technology.

Her disruptive project will be to work with educators and students to build reusable curriculum “building blocks” and hold virtual bootcamp for students and educators who want to learn more coding skills.

April 24 post: Deciding on step-by-step tutorials, readings, and sample code files of interest to educators to teach or oversee on their campus.
• May 19: Welcoming testers >Link to sign up to test courses | Exercise 1 on GitHub
July 22: Walk-through/code-along of Exercises 1 & 2 (video recording)

The Tow-Knight Disruptive Educators project is affiliated with the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. Read about the first cohort of disruptive fellows, from 2017. For more information about the Disruptive fellows program, contact



Jody Brannon
Disruptive Journalism Educators Network

.com journalist, educator & consultant since '95 (WashPost, USAT, MSN, News21, Atlantic, NatGeo, Bing, CUNY, CJL) intent on maximizing the medium.