Archive for October, 2010
Our faculty meeting today was a difficult one. No one came to blows, no one said anything they will regret, we all clapped at the end. But the question of how to fill a critical vacancy revealed again uncertainty and disagreement about the nature of our future.
For context, our school has three unfilled faculty positions with another retirement scheduled for the end of this school year. For these four vacancies, we have permission to hire one, with dismal prospects for filling the others in the foreseeable future. All four of these positions were filled by respected, experienced professionals and so, like many others, the pressure to do more with less forces us to make difficult choices.
For a little post-meeting therapy, I need to think through how this question might be considered: What is a reasonable response to a very difficult dilemma?
First, ours is school that has acknowledged change, identified innovation as a key strategic goal, built convergence into our beginning courses and expect all students to be versatile in multiple media. We have professors on iPads, who Twitter and blog and create amazing multimedia stories. (We are not failing in the ways alleged by Wayne MacPhail). Yet we still get stuck in habits of the past.
Here are my assumptions, premises and questions:
(1) My beginning premise is that journalism schools have the same mission as universities in general: to teach students and to produce research of value. Not all faculty members need to have Ph.D.’s but we do need to be active public scholars as well as skilled and committed teachers.
(2) Few of our students are going to go into traditional journalism jobs. Nearly all of the students at the university are engaged in some form of journalistic behavior, from sharing news stories to creating multimedia stories about their lives. I believe an emphasis in our work should be to cultivate a passion for public affairs and a capacity for accurate, truthful communication among a wide diversity of students, not just those intending to pursue professional journalism.
(3) At the same time, students pursuing journalism as a career should have deep knowledge and expertise in something. Average generalists are populating content farms and generating press releases; talented specialists are experimenting and building new forms of journalism and communication.
(4) We accept the principle that advertising and public relations students need to learn to report and write and tell stories. We should consider a similar principle in reverse: news students need to learn to think strategically about their communication and understand how to reach audiences.
(5) We live in one of the most screwed up states in the country. Is creating another traditional reporting class to cover public affairs in Nevada the best way for us to contribute to our state? (i.e. Is it a lack of reporting that is adding to our problems?) Or is there a more innovative way for us to address the truly awful problems we face in our community? What could a project look like that forged new ways for journalists and strategic communicators to work together to solve public problems?
(6) Is solving public problems our mission? Is making connections within, and between networks, the added value we bring to an information economy? I think our mission is far more than “informing” the public about an issue, a company or a product. We are in the business of solving public problems. And ALL parts of our school should be about that mission. Advertising and public relations can be public problems if practiced in routine ways. We should place our mantle on an explicit purpose of journalism that applies to all students in the school.
(7) Mass media isn’t dead, but it’s not the future. Plenty of j-schools are teaching students to operate in that world. Networked journalism is the future and we would do better to hire someone who can help us figure out what that means than someone who will teach our students to succeed in the mass media of the past.
(8) The person we hire should be active in public conversation, analysis and experimentation in the future of journalistic communication. The industry (journalism/PR/advertising) isn’t doing the R&D that’s required to make this transition. Engaging in the problems of civil society is the least we can do in service of our land grant mission. Teaching is one leg, research and public scholarship is another, service to the profession and the community is the third. If this is our only hire for a state-funded position in the foreseeable future, we have to aim as high as we possibly can.
So: here’s my current proposal:
HELP WANTED: A creative, talented journalist/communicator passionate about making the world a better place through the use of intellectually honest and engaging public communication. Must have a proven track record of accomplishments that demonstrate a high regard for ethical methods, quality standards and effective results in an online environment. Must have demonstrated expertise in either written or visual communication and a demonstrated commitment to participating in public scholarship about journalism for the future. Teaching experience preferred, advanced degree required.