Thursday, October 02, 2003

Call me Professor: Yesterday I taught my first class at University of New York in Prague, where I instruct pupils in the fine craft of "Media Writing" every Wednesday. It was a scary experience.

Scary because unlike virtually every other English-speaking expatriate in Prague, I have never taught English. I've never taught anything, period. And I'm a terrible public speaker.

I wish I could write all about the class, but some of the students are probably smart enough to Google my name and discover my blog, so I'm afraid brutal honesty would not be appropriate. It's a mix of nationalities, something like 75% Czech and Slovak, taught in English. Indeed, the students are pretty smart. Maybe too smart. One of the "texts" we went over in class was this AP article about the Wilson-Plame-CIA affair. The point was not to criticize the article (which isn't to say there's nothing wrong with it) but rather to analyze the style in which it's written. Notice, for instance, how the author leads with the most recent developments, which are threefold: FBI launches investigation, Bush pledges to cooperate, Dems demand independent counsel. The article weaves these threads together for the first six paragraphs, and expands them throughout the rest of the story. It's not until the seventh paragraph that the author even begins to explain what the whole complicated issue is really about. In other words, it's the classic "inverted pyramid" style of news writing.

The students, of course, were having none of this. Since they didn't understand the background of the issue -- and one certainly couldn't expect them to, given nobody seems to really understand what really happened -- they more or less thought the article sucked. One person said the author was trying deliberately to confuse the reader. Another said the writer clearly didn't know what the affair was all about, and therefore he shouldn't be writing about it.

Ah, youth!


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