Michael Shudson has been elaborating on the value that journalism schools can contribute to the “reconstruction” of American journalism. In a recent talk given at USC Annenberg and in a interview on KPBS, he elaborates on themes identified in his co-authored report “The Reconstruction of American Journalism.”
I would add that – as with culture and the arts – the universities have and should have a growing role in supporting journalism. Walter Robinson, a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter at the Boston Globe for several decades, returned to his alma mater, Northeastern University, two years ago and began teaching an investigative reporting seminar to both graduate and undergraduate students. In two years, those students have produced twelve front-page stories in the Boston Globe. Robinson proudly told me “In all the stories so far we’ve not had a single correction or substantive complaint.” More journalism schools are going into the business of actually producing journalism. Here at USC, integrating the California Healthcare Foundation’s impressive health reporting initiative into a university has not, Michael Parks told me, been a piece of cake and maybe he will one day produce a handy guide for others moving in the same direction. At any rate, his effort is part of a movement that is changing journalism.
J-schools have been “doing” journalism since their earliest days (see the University of Missouri as Exhibit A). In the current environment, these efforts are seen less as student exercises, and more as valuable contributions to the journalism necessary for healthy communities.
I think it’s also important to recognize:
(1) Reproducing some of the journalism of the past is not necessarily a high value activity for j-schools. For this work to have value, the standards, organization, editing and networking of new models must be incorporated into the creation and distribution of the journalism. We owe it to students and to the health of the discipline to push for new skills and mindsets for the future, and avoid absorbing all energy into reproducing work we already know how to do.
(2) We need to be experimenting with new models and practices, and that doesn’t always lead to the type of journalism that some people expect from j-schools. Expanding our definitions of what journalism is and how it is practiced is an important dimension of our work; we need to avoid becoming further wedded to an idealized form from the past.
(3) In addition to doing, j-schools can contribute to learning from the many experiments already flourishing. As Schudson points out, we lack concrete measurements of quality journalism. Scholars attuned to the formation of new organizations and the dynamics of community information flows can contribute significantly to identifying and defining value and then begin developing effective practices.
The schools Schudson points to are important leaders in helping us learn what is possible, valuable and desirable in the j-school of the future.
What other j-school projects would you point to that are doing similar work?
California Healthcare Foundation and the USC Annenberg School for Communication: Reporting on Health
Walter Robinson, Investigative reporting at Northeastern University School of Journalism
Rich Gordon and colleagues at Northwestern University have been producing innovative projects news companies and others are learning from: Medill–Innovation Projects