Archive for the ‘J-Students’ Category
Curriculum revision used to be a chore undertaken once a decade or so, as faculty came and went and technologies and industry practices changed. Now the process is nearly continuous. Most faculty I know rewrite their syllabi every semester and sometimes mid-stream. We have a permanent curriculum committee that devotes significant time to re-designing courses on a regular basis.
Our most recent conversations have focused on the news ‘track.’ We voted several years ago to eliminate the print and broadcast sequences, but defining what news students should know has been an ongoing conversation. After interviewing alumni, analyzing job announcements and looking at trends in online journalism, we came up with three roles that seem to be growing in importance among journalists: digital storytellers, data journalists and social media managers. We are redesigning our curriculum as a series of “buckets” in which we can pour new content as it seems appropriate. We are using these three roles as key competencies, encouraging students to become expert in one area and at least conversant in a second.
This chart outlines our current curriculum for news students:
Le Monde has announced its own educational program designed to expand the diversity of its journalists. Rather than hiring from the ranks of college graduates trained in journalism, the respected daily newspaper is sponsoring a competition to select 68 aspiring journalists from many different backgrounds, who will then be mentored by Le Monde journalists:
France’s Le Monde launches plan to lure fresh talent- and readers- into the fold
…Le Monde Academie, launched Wednesday, is a two-part competition and training programme that will offer 68 aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to be mentored by the newspaper’s staff and published within its pages. It will culminate a year from now, with three ambitious young talents receiving a rare prize: jobs within one of France’s best-respected media companies. ….With the Monde academie, the 68-year-old daily is seeking new voices from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, which will attract new eyes to a publication that has traditionally been written by and for an educated elite. (Editors Weblog)
This approach made me think of the findings of a Betty Medsger study that showed prize-winning journalists tended to come from disciplines besides journalism. Medsger found:
- 59 percent of print journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes never studied journalism;
- 75 percent of broadcast journalists who won DuPont Awards never studied journalism;
- 58 percent of journalists awarded Nieman Fellowships never studied journalism, and;
- 51 percent of journalists awarded Knight Fellowships at Stanford University never studied journalism.
(From Getting Journalism Education Out of the Way by Betty Medsger.)
Le Monde is not making itself into a teaching hospital; it is mentoring promising journalists who bring with them a variety of experiences and perspectives. By attracting the best talent from across all disciplines, rather than the most educated from within journalism, they are betting that their work will become stronger and more inclusive.
If half of all practicing doctors never studied medicine, then it would make more sense to model journalism education after medical education (read Eric Newton’s recent argument for this approach and the article Shaping 21st Century Journalism). The current state of American journalism suggests that trying to make journalism a professional field from the ranks of undergraduates has some built-in limitations.
Perhaps our efforts should be spent on creating educational programs that attract the smartest, most creative and passionate storytellers, programmers and community-minded citizens we can find. Perhaps the curriculum of the Le Monde newsroom is exactly what would excite a group of people who might never sign up for an undergraduate curriculum that focuses on newswriting and technology.
Right now, accredited journalism schools teach a curriculum shaped in large part by the professionals who serve on The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. Instead, what if we developed a curriculum designed to attract the brightest and most creative students to journalism? How might journalism be changed by changing the students who study it?
I was grading exams when Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation gave a speech to journalism educators May 11: Journalism education reform: How far should it go? I have just now read it. Perhaps I am a symbol of the slowness that he rails against but I’ll plow ahead and add my voice to that of Doug Fisher (Dear Eric Newton, good ideas, but now some reality).
I agree with Eric on many, many points. I have applied several times for Knight funding. I am in awe of many of the projects funded by the Knight Foundation and impressed by the way the foundation is learning and innovating in their own space as well as that of journalism. Knight is more responsible than just about any other institution on the planet for the forward progress in many journalism ventures.
But here’s what I want to say:
Trolling up the professionals vs. academics argument is older and more tired than the bloggers vs. journalists argument. Please! If some schools in the south have their heads so buried that they are firing good people, I’m sorry. But do not fall in that deep, deep rut of an old argument because we’ll just run you over. (If you want to read something smart about it, check out Stephen Reese’s 1999 article: Progressive Potential of Journalism Education: Recasting the Academic vs. Professional Debate,” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics.)
Second, Chris Callahan is a god. But he is sucking up a lot of air the way the New York Times sucks a lot of air. We aren’t all the New York Times and we’re not all ASU. Some diversity of thought and method would help journalism education as much as it would help journalism. After receiving more than $10 million over three years to fund the News21 Initiative program, ASU is now charging journalism schools more than $10,000 each to fund a student to attend a summer program. Expensive newsrooms are not the future of the academy any more than they are the future of journalism.
Third, Eric’s measure of success of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education is circular. Pleasing industry leaders has been a large part of what got journalism education in trouble. Often when we produce people who do what the industry wants, we are building for the past. Every time I hear someone praise the Knight-Carnegie journalism education work, it’s the example of journalism students publishing stories on the front page of the Washington Post. Given that Len Downie was a lead editor on the project, that’s hardly surprising. If we want students to really practice creating new story structures, build new products and develop new ways of interacting with the public, why hold up an example that would have drawn attention and praise 50 years ago?
We can do so much better than this. Many of Eric’s suggestions move in that direction. Revising accreditation standards would go a long way to addressing some of the backwardness present in many journalism schools.
But the biggest change is opening up how we define journalism and what it means to practice it in today’s (and tomorrow’s) environment. Publishing in the Washington Post is a wonderful achievement to be aspired to by a small, small subset of our students — which is perfectly fine, given the number of jobs open in that career track. But to spend $20 million in journalism education to make that possible? This is not a trivial sum and it’s not a trivial problem. Like the direction of the News Challenge grants, smaller grants to more schools to produce more diverse projects would do far, far more for journalism education than what’s been accomplished so far in this one exclusive mega-grant to a handful of usual suspects.
Universities are about to hit the grease on the road that the media industry hit ten years ago. It’s not going to be pretty. Journalism programs are in a prime position to help lead the way forward, since we’ve been thinking about these problems longer and in a more serious way than some of the folks in other colleges. Education is about to become more open, transparent, online, remixed, and re-conceptualized than ever before. The future is not in arguing about graduate credentials or building small expensive reporting teams. We need all hands on deck from foundations, university presidents, faculty, deans, students and parents. The Knight and Carnegie Foundations could play a key role in this transformation if they think again about how to deploy their tremendous resources.
I love my job at a small state university. I love my colleagues and my students. But despite all that love, we failed big time at building a new graduate program in journalism that could have been a huge success.
I could say we failed because our visionary leader died suddenly in the first year of implementing the project. Or that we got so passionate and attached to our ideas that two team members ended up leaving the university altogether as a result of constant fights. Or that our reach extended our grasp. Or that we were totally unrealistic in estimating what it would take to make the idea fly.
But honestly, looking at my part of it, I just got tired. I didn’t believe long enough or understand enough to overcome the conflict of competing visions for what the idea could be. For a couple of years I couldn’t even think about it because it was so painful. I’ve been thinking about this post for two weeks (in the shower, mostly) and it’s only now that I’m starting to think that actually, maybe we didn’t fail. We’re just not done. It needs to morph.
Our idea took shape in 2005 as a new graduate program for our journalism school. In the first year we won an honorable mention in the Knight Batten innovation awards and a first place from the Online News Association for student projects. Our first cohort of students found interesting jobs and we were full of ideas about how to improve the program for its second year. But the energy to sustain a truly innovative program in academia takes an immense amount of work. The administration didn’t provide any recognition for the extra effort. Colleagues were either ambivalent or hostile. Grief from the loss of our colleague, Cole Campbell, compounded the angst.
When energy flagged, I didn’t look for ways to solve that problem. I failed to push through what might have been a temporary growing pain to discover what we might have learned had we continued. Instead, I gave up. I didn’t keep trying to make it work. I let it die without even a burial.
But we actually did learn a lot. We learned about the value of focusing on one community and how important it is to define that community. We learned that participation is different from coverage. We learned that preconceived ideas about what matters to a community is an arrogant way to start. We discovered that living 40 miles away from the community we wanted to focus on is laughable. We learned about steep learning curves (Drupal) and more flexible publishing (WordPress). We learned that academics and graduate students don’t generally share visions for what would make a great project. People have their own ideas about what they want to do and learn. It takes a great effort to get people on the same page.
But I am also realizing that those lessons could be put to use now, if I have the courage to try again. Academia should be a place where failures are milked for all the good we can possibly get out of them. We build on the shoulders of giants — and giant mistakes. It’s so easy to stay comfortable and go with the status quo. But what good does that do? It’s time to get up and fail again.
Thank you to everyone for their inspiration today on #jcarn fail.
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.
To be honest, the number of jobs available in mainstream news media is declining. Experienced journalists are being laid off. Most online journalism salaries are low. Lots of people seek free labor. Journalism schools are likely producing too many students compared to the number of traditional journalism jobs available.
But before you write off journalism as a major, consider two points:
(1) The skills you learn in journalism make you employable in many types of jobs;
(2) This is a profession/craft that is reinventing itself. For creative, ambitious, motivated, curious, driven seekers of interesting life work, journalism offers:
Excitement. During the industrial revolution it was cool to be in textile manufacturing. Today the revolution is in communication and information. If you gravitate to chaos, uncertainty and risk, align yourself in the knowledge industries. If you prefer stability and predictability, try accounting.
Discovery. “Today if you’re curious you have an insane advantage. The noncurious get left behind.” (#newsfoo 2010) If you want the insane advantage of curiosity, chose a field that stimulates your curiosity every day. Journalism is an excuse to be curious. If you’re not curious, journalism will feel pointless (as will a lot of life).
Creativity. You will spend time on three things in journalism school that will help you function in any field: how to find stories, tell stories and know which stories are worth telling. Transmedia storytelling is the latest buzzword but the fact is journalism school will help make you make a stronger writer, sharper visualizer and more powerful sense maker. These are skills you can put to good use personally and professionally in nearly any context.
Morality. The “we” generation considers the importance of community, humanity and honesty in relationships at work and home. As Umair Haque writes: “The economy’s what we create every day, with every decision we make. And we can, with small steps and big dreams, create a better one. It’s a perspective anchored in creating real, enduring value, by doing stuff that matters most, in a messy, complex — and very fragile — human world.” Journalism is a social practice built on moral values. If you care about the quality and impact of your work, journalism offers a path to individual and collective value.
Technology. You’ll become a Tool Master. J-profs always says it’s not about the tools but in reality a lot of j-school is about the tools. Knowing how to create awesome video/take photos/tweet/post/precision edit/database/customize/personalize makes you powerful. Lots of organizations would jump at a chance to hire someone who knows how to make these tools produce something that’s actually readable and usable.
Subversive. The status quo is visibly worn out. The future is subversive. Journalism can be a tool of subversion as well as a tool of control. Put yourself in a place that’s about confronting the powerful. Document the voiceless. Connect the unconnected. Learn about the neighborhoods in your own city that you’ve never paid attention to and countries you’ve never heard of. Help pierce the bubble of the comfortable class and engage people in finding new paths to peace and prosperity.
The transition from an institutional/industrial model of journalism to a networked assemblage won’t be smooth or direct. Plenty of disasters await us as we sort through how to circulate and use information at a speed and volume unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
The new model of journalism is far more attuned to relationships and knowledge than connections and style. Schools scramble to catch up and news organizations will come and go faster than you can graduate. You will encounter professors who define journalism by what they experienced rather than what you experience. But if you persevere, you will be well prepared to encounter a future vastly different from the past.
[And j-profs...our challenge is to create a curriculum and education that matches all of this and more.]
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.
Since I couldn’t attend AEJMC this year, I’ve been working to glean what I can online. Here are the best posts so far:
Eric Newton, vice president for Journalism at the Knight Foundation, identified Journalism Education’s Four Transformational Trends:
- Transformational Trend Number One: Journalism and communication schools better connecting to the intellectual life of the entire university.
- Transformational Trend Number Two: Journalism and communication schools as content and technology innovators.
- Transformational Trend Number Three: Journalism and communication schools as the master teachers of open, collaborative approaches.
- Transformational Trend Number Four: Journalism and communication schools as digital news providers who understand the media ecosystems of their communities.
He also challenged journalism educators to study their own work more carefully to better understand what is actually changing in the way we do our work — and how effective we are.
Alfred Hermida is keeping his Reportr.net blog up to date on the sessions he’s attending. As always, he has excellent posts, sprinkled with his own comments (and research). For example, in a session by Rich Beckman on rebooting journalism education, he notes:
Teaching journalism today is much more than teaching students how to use a piece of software or coding.
Rather, I would argue it is a mindset. It is understanding how digital is changing journalism norms and practices and how to teach students to tell compelling stories in creative and critical ways.
AEJMC is also keeping track of conversations on its blog (AEJMC News) and AEJMC Tumblr. A good list of talks and resources for incorporating social media in the classroom is linked on the AEJMC blogspot site.
I’ve enjoyed reading the Twitter posts on #AEJMC10 although the duplications are driving me to find a better system for filtering. I just noticed that the social media discussion has moved to a subtag: #aejmc10sm. It helps! (And so does the analysis capturing the tweets and the stats. Thanks @ree_tweets!)
Steve Fox is following the conference on his blog UMass Journalism Professor’s Blog. Yesterday Fox posted an interesting message from a former student, about his evolution from working on the student paper to covering the campus for a local newspaper to developing his own online coverage.
The picture I get from watching AEJMC online this year is far more robust than last year — an encouraging sign. But I also know this picture is from one side of the house. Based on comments on the Newspaper Division listserv on whether the division should change its name, it’s clear that deep, nearly impassable divides exist about the nature and direction of change in our discipline/industries. A tweet from Jay Rosen yesterday about a poll question stuck in 2005 reinforced that perspective. We mirror this dynamic from our industry and society overall…but the weight is definitely shifting.
Mark Lee Hunter, an investigative journalist, researcher and adjunct professor at the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre in Paris, is giving a keynote presentation this week to the European Journalism Training Association in Paris.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Mark Lee Hunter about journalism education posted on the European Journalism Centre web site:
Kathlyn Clore, EJC: In the recent INSEAD working paper you co-authored on Disruptive News Technologies: Stakeholder Media ad the Future of Watchdog Journalism Business Models, you write, “with the exception of Norway, every European Union country is graduating approximately twice as many reporters from journalism schools as can be hired by the industry.”
What shifts do journalism educators need to make in order to better equip students to work for stakeholder media (rather than news media) which are indeed on the rise and likely employers for journalism school graduates?
Hunter: It means we have to think hard about ethics and methods. It also means we have to train them in entrepreneurialism and partnership skills. We also need to train them to understand how to collect, organise and mine data. It is not just about reporting and writing anymore. It’s about creating a future. The fundamental issue is that the news industry as presently composed will not provide a future for enough of our students.
EJC: In your working paper, you write about a shift in priorities, from “project focus to business development.” How can journalism educators help facilitate this shift?
Hunter: More strategic analysis: where are we going with this material? What are its future uses? How do we capture them?
EJC: You write in the working paper, “we have assumed that great content will solve our problems. It has not done so and it will not do so, because the historic and primary market for that content, the news industry, is in decline.”
Where does this leave journalism students or younger reporters who are enthusiastic about their work? Is the old maxim “content is king” no longer true?
EJC: No. I meant that content alone will not solve the problem if we think of content only as making one great story. We have to think beyond “this” story. We have to think about where we are going to be and what we will talk about in 10 years.
I read two pieces today — a cover story from Columbia Journalism Review and a 2009 academic paper from AEJMC — and am convinced [once again] how deeply we have to change the way we teach journalism. The journalism idealized in the halls of most journalism schools and the messy, chaotic and unpredictable ecology of journalism ‘out there’ is creating an intellectual disconnect so sharp it hurts.
We say we want students with curiosity, passion and commitment. But we often fail to select or nurture those qualities. We tolerate courses that focus on punctuation, style and formulaic writing and require a curriculum that stipulates a smattering of survey courses across the university. We bring in guest lecturers who can’t wait to leave the profession and wonder why our students aren’t picking up the paper copy of The New York Times when they enter the building texting on cell phones.
Today’s cover story in the Columbia Journalism Review describes one reality our students face when they so cheerfully graduate (or don’t graduate, as in the case of this writer). After describing the typically disjointed career path of a ‘today’s urban writer’ and a series of (sometimes) appalling experiences from WSJ to Gawker, the author makes this point: we have to ‘humanize journalism.’ I agree, as I do with the argument about objectivity, both of which have echoes across the landscape. But Tkacik’s fundamental assessment that journalism is floundering because it became part of an empty and unsustainable enterprise is to me a far more insightful analysis of the problem than the endless search for new business models that assume what we do and how we support it have nothing to do with each other.
Look at me!
A writer’s search for journalism in the age of branding by Maureen Tkacik
…Maybe the best policy for our beaten-down population of journalists just naturally involves letting down the old guard of objectivity and letting go of illusions of unimpeachability. Rather than train journalists to dismiss their own experiences, what if we trained them to use those experiences to help them explain the news to their audience? Allow their humanity to shape their journalism? This isn’t some radically profound notion—it only seems that way in the context of the ridiculous zero-sum debate over the relative merits of “straight” news versus the self-absorbed nature of blogs. Maybe there is a way to combine the best of both.
If journalism’s more vital traditions of investigating corruption and synthesizing complex topics are going to be restored, it will never be at the expense of the personal, the sexual, the venal, or the sensational, but rather through mastering the kind of storytelling that understands that none of those things exists in a vacuum. For instance, perhaps the latest political sex scandal is not simply another installment of the unrelenting narcissism and sense of invincibility of people in power. Most of the journalists writing about it have—as we all do—some understanding of the internal conflicts that lead to personal failure. By humanizing journalism, we maybe can begin to develop a mutual trust between reader and writer that would benefit both.