Archive for January, 2011
David Cohn, aka DigiDave, outdoes himself yet again in organizing — and then daring to instantaneously summarize in a logical, readable, invaluable post — a new round in the Carnival of Journalism. More than 50 bloggers contributed posts on the subject of universities and the information role they can play in their communities. We could build a year’s worth of faculty meetings around this one round-up: A Confetti Carnival of Journalism.
One of my favorite entries is Will Sullivan’s vision of how quickly and how radically a university experience could change. He says:
A few years ago, the vision behind Wikipedia looked like a pitiful impossibility, probably the way Wikiversity looks today. I absolutely would not discount the possibility that a free, crowd-powered educational experience might become a formidable competitor to an expensive degree program, and sooner than you think. I hear the derisive guffaws of a thousand assistant professors, fresh off another long night of grading their students’ work. I used to know a journalist or two who thought that way.”
He then goes on to make specific recommendations: teach “Your City 101” and let anyone register, whether officially part of the university of not. “Build a Local Wiki” is a proven idea that more journalism programs should adopt and experiment with. Encourage blogging among journalism students to build expertise in specific areas. Encourage professors to do more applied research — these ideas are doable, valuable and would build exactly the kinds of ties and expertise we should be developing.
Daniel Sinker, a punk rock magazine editor turned assistant professor, nails our never-ending curriculum conversations and says what I think (but have so far failed to act on):
We talk about updating curriculum, but what I really want to see is an update of the thinking of what journalism is and what a journalism education should be. We need to better reflect a changing landscape, not just by creating classes in social media or data journalism (though by all means, do that too), but by reflecting the change itself. We need to show students that change is a part of the process, that risk is something worth taking, that the unknown is something to embrace.
The Carnival subject also included the topic of media/news literacy. Since we’re actually a step along that process I should have written about it too, but maybe tomorrow. For now, some of the ideas I liked the most include Suzanne Yada’s observation that her media literacy class was cool but she doesn’t remember anything from it, whereas a class in critical thinking changed her life. We need to make sure our literacy classes have that kind of impact.
P. Kim Bui, social media and community editor at KPCC in Los Angeles (and who, unrelatedly, just retweeted our ad for a digital news professor) writes of her disappointment in the weak response to changes in journalism from her alma mater, the Greenlee School at Iowa State.
Since I’ve left Greenlee, I’ve worked for traditional media and technology companies and had I not learned how to fail publicly with grace, I would not be where I am today. I am worried that is not being taught to students. I’m worried that the ability to form partnerships and understand the business side of journalism as a journalist and a entrepreneur is not being taught, but instead we’re relying on others to teach our students this.
Let’s stop teaching students that they are the ultimate source of information as journalists. Let’s teach them that their ultimate goal is to learn from the audience as well as their sources. Let’s teach them to talk to the audience that they are working for.
Let’s work with start-ups, the business school, newsrooms and beyond to have students understand why storytelling is the most important skill you have as a journalist — but not the only one necessary to survive.
Yes, it’s a lot to ask of journalism programs. But if we’re asking so much of our students, shouldn’t we ask that much of our teachers?
Adam Tinworth, an Editorial Development Manager at RBI and who teaches part-time in Cardiff, speaks to the academic mission of journalism as well as its teaching mission: “Any university which fails to poke at the changes of journalism with a sharp, academic stick is failing in its duty,.. We need more solid research into the changes in this industry. Too much is anecdote, evangelism and guesswork right now. The more hard facts and evidence we have to shape the publishing choices we make, the better.” He also argues that journalism programs still make sense as a university degree, but only if the curriculum is geared for 2011 and not 1991:
Largely, I would suggest, that means teaching journalism students the core skills of journalism, and detaching them as much as possible from the skills of expression. To me, the core streams that Jomec offers – broadcast, magazine and newspaper – seem meaningless in the second decade of the 21st century. While all these streams still exist – at least for now – not a single one of them thrives in isolation any more. TV journalists blog and connect with their audiences on Twitter. Newspaper journalists may spend more time writing for the web than for the dead tree edition. Magazine journalists may be doing more audio (for podcasts) and video than their nationally broadcast colleagues.
And some of those students might well be looking for “none of the above”, for a career in purely online reporting. And those careers exists, both in personal journalism startups, and in businesses like RBI, where we now have titles that exist online-only. And I tell you what, when we recruit for those roles we look for both core traditional skills, as well as experience and awareness of everything from data journalism to content promotion and audience engagement through social media.
What does this all mean for us in Nevada? That our current efforts at curriculum redesign should be deeper and more structural than we’ve attempted. Yes, we face terrible budget cuts and don’t have enough faculty to offer everything we want to do. Many of our students are seriously underprepared for college and need our full attention. So? That means we have to be as creative, enterprising and ready for change as they do. Not to be trite, but we have to be the change we know they need.
Addendum: As I continue to read posts from the Carnival, here are more tidbits relevant to our school:
…innovation without a problem and a hypothesis is aimless. Universities don’t need to create new stories or better stories for a market in which there’s insufficient demand. They need to formulate precise questions with answers that will impact the free exchange of ideas and support communities’ information needs….
Universities aren’t going to lead the journalism industry by providing undergrads with new skills. They will only lead if they are providing a new roadmap founded in research.
Ryan also suggests accrediting amateur journalists. From his description, it would be akin to offering a certificate program in journalism. We could do this. We could develop a program through Extended Studies of 9 or 12 credits that would help local bloggers, writers, videographers, advocacy groups and others gain skills in writing, reporting, social media, communication ethics and law.
Addendum 2: Jacob Caggiano from the Washington News Council provides a good summary of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and the way the University of Washington has been working to connect citizens, students and faculty. He describes two projects that illustrate how a university can prompt civic engagement and participation among students and community members. It’s definitely worth a read for concrete examples: The University of Washington’s Center for Communication and Civic Engagement – An example for the Knight Commission.
Addendum 3: As he does every Friday, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Mark Coddington has a smart round up on the future of news. He has a number of excellent highlights from the Carnival, including several on media literacy I’ve not gotten to yet: This Week in Review.
News organizations and universities have grown up together. Both flourished in a progressive era that welcomed scientific progress and valued objective expertise. Both have had long, healthy runs dispensing knowledge and information to the public. And now, for related reasons, both are often seen as isolated, inflexible mammoth institutions deaf to public needs. A new generation thinks reading newspapers and sitting in classroom lecture halls is equally lacking in stimulation.
My vision is that journalism faculties — all faculties! — will start working to make their insights and observations and research applicable to the big and small problems gripping their communities. As with journalism, we (at least, some of us) need to shift our emphasis from production of highly structured, particular types of knowledge to participation in the creation of knowledge that binds people and places in tangibly constructive ways. And done in collaboration with students, the ‘service learning,’ applied research and community involvement may ignite more enthusiasm than we’re seeing in many college classrooms.
Both journalists and professors can be highly focused on defining what they do and doing it, regardless of whether anyone else needs or wants it. There is still a place and a demand for some of that, of course, but the great need, as I see it, is to radically rethink what our work is about and who it is for.
What might that look like? I see journalism faculty and students acting as facilitators, connecting communities of particular needs with appropriate faculty and students in the university. In the process, greater two-way information flow will foster more applied and more relevant research and teaching.
Here’s an example: our university is doing a great deal of interdisciplinary research on climate change. Scientists have their research questions. Funding agencies have their mandates. Everyone gives lip service to outreach. But little attention is spared for identifying what information people in the state actually need to know, when and in what form. No politicians or policy makers are giving citizens advice about how to respond to climate change economically, socially, politically. Community organizing has never been a traditional role for professors or for journalists, but now that’s exactly what’s needed in our state, fractured by competing interests and limited resources.
We could start anywhere. Say we started with the problem of ranching and how it might be affected by climate change. Or growing plants. Or running ski resorts. Rather than asking students to ‘cover’ an issue for a semester, we teach them to find the community of people who care about addressing the problem and listen to them. A lot. Find out what they need. Figure out the critical information gaps that prevent progress. Listen and watch carefully to learn what people need to know. Follow Jonathan Stray’s suggestion and find out where the misperceptions lie. At the same time, find faculty on campus who have relevant expertise. Talk to them. Reframe the problem. Bring them together. Get students to participate. Facilitate relevant research and related service. Help participants to make media about what they are doing. Communicate the process as a participant and enabler, rather than a detached observer.
Lots of problems would need to be solved before a scenario like that could really work. But they are problems that can, theoretically, be solved through agreement and reordering of priorities. Our communities need us, desperately. Will we have the courage to reorient who we work for, in what ways and how?