Networked Journalism Education

Archive for October, 2009

Does media literacy belong in j-schools?

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The sign welcoming participants to the EuroMeduc conference held in Bellaria, Italy Oct. 22-25, 2009.Last week I attended a media literacy conference in Italy sponsored by EuroMeduc, a European exchange network for media literacy. We have been talking about teaching a media literacy course at the Reynolds School, using the news literacy program unfolding at Stonybrook University in New York as one touchstone, so I was interested in what educators in Europe might have to say on the subject.

My impressions from this conference:

  • Media literacy is a much more established area of research and teaching in Europe, Canada and Australia than in the US, but the work is heavily focused on the education of children and their teachers.
  • Despite more than 20 years of development, there are few agreements on definitions. Are we educating children about media or with media? Are we talking about a process (media education), or an outcome (media literacy)? Does media literacy include media production? According to researchers at this conference, the answer to all of the questions is “yes.”
  • Media literacy nearly always involves some deconstruction of existing media messages so students can learn how to “read” and interpret an advertisement, video, TV show or news story. The underlying message is that children need to be taught how to filter and interpret the messages pushed relentlessly by big media. (A good introduction to media literacy in elementary schools can be found in this five minute YouTube video produced by the MediaEd Lab.)
  • Media literacy cannot be taught without content. I saw some excellent programs that focused on global understanding, for example. Watch this YouTube video of a project done with 3rd graders in a Philadelphia public school organized by Renee Hobbs, an education professor at Temple University and the MediaEd Lab.  My takeaway is that if you are going to teach a course on media literacy, it works best to also chose a subject focus through which you teach literacy.

What was missing from the conference (or at least, from the sessions I attended):

  • “Media” was undifferentiated. Journalism was not identified as a distinct activity. “Journalists” were lumped in as part of the media and often considered a significant source of misinformation.
  • Implied, but not explicitly addressed, were the significant ways audiences have changed from the days when media literacy was first developed. Projects seem to alternatively conceptualize audiences as either passive targets of big media or active creators of their own media.
  • Social media was mentioned frequently but little attention was given to how literacy programs might include social media. One speaker made a reference to “we don’t need to teach children how to use Facebook.” This is in sharp contrast to a report about an Internet safety conference written up by Anne Collier on NetFamilyNews.

In the end, two thoughts. First, teaching media literacy is teaching culture. The need to consider our media absorbed culture directly, deeply and creatively in school seems like a no-brainer.

Second, I think journalism schools have something else to offer. I struggle to avoid creating more “literacies” but it seems to me we don’t need to address students so much as consumers of media, but as creators and citizens. Despite the unfashionability of teaching civics and public engagement in universities, this is exactly what journalism is about.

I’m not worried that we are going to suffer from a lack of entertainment, sports, fashion, or weather news. I am worried that we are in danger of losing civic capacity in regards to knowledge and participation in public problem solving. We have some enormous problems in front of us and our civic capacity for addressing these problems seems constipated at best. If we identified this issue as the problem to be addressed, what kind of “literacy” course might we build in response?

Written by Donica

October 30th, 2009 at 10:41 am

Posted in curriculum,Literacy

Malcolm Gladwell’s advice to journalism students

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If you had a single piece of advice to offer young journalists, what would it be?
The issue is not writing. It’s what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and he broke it because he’s one of the very few mainstream journalists in America who really knows how to read a balance sheet. That means Jonathan Weil will always have a job, and will always be read, and will always have something interesting to say. He’s unique. Most accountants don’t write articles, and most journalists don’t know anything about accounting. Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master’s in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that’s the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter.

(Time, Q & A with Author Malcolm Gladwell, Alex Altman, Oct. 20, 2009.)

Two things strike me about his advice. First, absolutely, professors need to continually remind themselves about the wisdom of his first point — attention to what students write (or create visually) shouldn’t be overwhelmed by attention to how they write/produce. The ideas, the thinking, the content is what most matters. That’s far more subjective to evaluate than AP style, comma placement or transition techniques, but it’s critical to making smarter journalism.

Second, he believes that journalists should be subject experts because the age of the generalist is over. Yes! even as we expect journalists to produce journalism using all types of media simultaneously, the age of journalists producing all kinds of content (and maintain credibility) is over. This has critical implications for j-schools.

At the same time, if all journalists become specialists, there is great danger in journalists becoming even more tightly connected to a well-informed elite and losing touch entirely with everyone else. Subject matter experts are important, but we also have need for journalists who understand communities and groups and how to engage and participate with a variety of people, not just other expert professionals.

We need journalists who understand how to connect people with each other and with public issues — who understand how to tell a story, present a problem, create a database, provide a service — in ways that a community can understand and interact with. We need to think about connecting and creating journalism with a wide variety of communities, not just those who appreciate what can be learned from a balance sheet, as important as that is.

Written by Donica

October 23rd, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Posted in J-Students

A catalyst for change

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One of premises of this blog is the belief that journalism schools can and should contribute more directly and fully to creating better journalism. Here’s such an example:

A journalism program in the Netherlands requires senior level students to spend three weeks on a fact checking desk. They are assigned stories from the media to fact check, and if they find errors they have to do the research to correct them, contact the journalist who wrote the story and then write a blog post about it. Here’s one of the results:

The national Dutch news agency, ANP, received so many phone calls from the students that it eventually changed the way it reports on public opinion polls and research commissioned by companies. As in North America, Dersjant said companies constantly issue releases trumpeting findings from polls and studies in order to get their brand name in the news. The students did such a good job of revealing the bogus data behind these “news” items that ANP has stopped churning out this type of story.

“Our national press agency always published this research, and we showed them that it was nonsense,” Dersjant said. (Meet the Tilburg Checkers, Columbia Journalism Review)

Simple, but an excellent opportunity for students and journalists (those willing to be corrected by students) to create journalism that’s more accurate.

Written by Donica

October 21st, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Tom Curley’s advice to j-students

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Writing is a great skill. It helps you in any number of fields. And you really do have to know two things: It helps to be at least bilingual, and it certainly helps to do multimedia and be comfortable with the new cameras which are emerging and the production of multimedia content. So those are some pieces of advice i would give to young people.

(Neiman’s lab transcript of AP’s President, Tom Curley, on the “oversupply” of news and what he’s doing about it)

If we produce bilingual students who are versatile at using the latest cameras, we will have failed in our role as catalysts for a new future.

Written by Donica

October 19th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized