Networked Journalism Education

Archive for November, 2009

The Philosophy of Journalism as antidote to what ails us

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As educators struggle to cram more into the journalism curriculum, journalism history courses are easy targets for elimination or reduction. Yet Carlin Romano argues journalism history should be required of all journalism students, along with comparative journalism and philosophy of journalism courses. Despite the sure disagreement with this recommendation, I think he’s right. Here’s why:

(1) A lack of history leads journalists to believe that the current incarnation of journalism is the only one that has ever existed or has value. That thinking now makes it hard for journalists to be flexible about new ways of doing journalism.

(2) A lack of history leads journalists to believe that current practices are inviolate. It makes it difficult for them to question what they do critically.

(3) A lack of history about one’s own discipline or profession makes it less likely that the history of other professions and practices would be of interest. That knowledge enriches journalism work and makes it more valuable than work that lacks context.

The same could be said of comparative journalism (the American way is not the only way to do journalism) and the philosophy of journalism (giving journalism students an opportunity to explore in depth what truth is and what matters in a partisan-driven postmodern digital network.)

In other words, by failing to educate students deeply about the nature and history of journalism, we eventually left our entire profession vulnerable to obsolence like so many other types of industrial age “products.” If we saw our work as a historical process of community conversation, we might be far more ready to take advantage of the changes now hitting what appears to be a totally unprepared industry. We ignore these courses at the peril of long term survival.

What should we drop from the curriculum to make space for these courses? The first thing might be to question the old accrediting rule of requiring students to take 75% of their coursework outside of journalism. Rather than filling their schedules with liberal arts courses outside our own walls, we could be more sure about what our own discipline has to offer to the liberal arts.

Here’s Romano’s suggestion, as it appears in the Chronicle of HIgher Education:

Every journalism student should be required to take a course in journalism history. It’s essential for young journalists to understand how our peculiar institution developed, and that it is not a natural kind—it can be changed and reformed. Every journalism student should also be required to take a course in “Comparative Journalism,” a flagrant lacuna in the field, to understand that the American model and its issues, which predominate in all American journalism programs, is not the world.

Most important, every journalism student should be required to take a course in “Philosophy of Journalism,” to develop the intellectual instincts and reflexes that will make the approach to truth of both practices a permanent part of his or her intellectual makeup. Imagine a world in which every column about the Obama administration’s battle with Fox News came with profound context about the large issues involved. A sweet, rather than tweet, thought…

Universities and foundations could do their part to mine this rich tradition. Before directing more Knight and other grants to further repetitive Twitter and Internet “experiments,” they should support a core intellectual curriculum in journalism studies that would make a far greater difference to future excellence in the field.

We Need ‘Philosophy of Journalism,‘ Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 15 2009

Written by Donica

November 20th, 2009 at 10:47 am

What is higher education’s role in news media?

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This week the Chronicle for Higher Education asked 18 educators how “the decline of news media” would affect higher education. This interesting question follows a significant recommendation made recently by Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie that universities should play a much larger role in “keeping journalism alive” as part of their report on The Reconstruction of American Journalism for Columbia University.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Schudson and Downie argue:

Can university-based journalism enhance the quality of public information available to citizens and contribute to the intellectual life of the university at the same time? It needs to do the former to help serve the broader society; it needs to do the latter to justify itself in the university over the long haul. It can probably blend these purposes best if it focuses on the most ambitious and exploratory journalistic work­—the in-depth stories that make use of new and complex databases, investigative reporting, new ways to make good use of multimedia technologies, and experiments that link volunteers and amateurs to professional guidance and editing (what is known as pro-am journalism)..

Following up on that essay, Kathleen Hall Jamieson imagines how and why universities need to be engaged in doing journalism. She writes (from Academe and the Decline of News Media):

As partisan outlets proliferate, students raised on faux news will enter our classrooms cocooned in their own biases and conditioned to mistake ridicule for engaged contention. By creating an appetite for critical engagement, universities will challenge those insular tendencies. Drawing on their experiences in our classrooms, labs, and libraries, and mining the rich resources of the Web, our students will become citizen-journalists. In that role they will sort fact from fabulation and unmask abuses of power and the public trust.

Building on their talent for producing substance rather than sound bites, universities will host Web pages filled with accessible insight and argument about topics of national and international concern. Uncluttered by advertising and unbeholden to a commercial model, the nonprofit New York University Times and Wharton Journal will take their place alongside The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. At Berkeley and Princeton, political scientists will publicly parse politics and policy. At Swarthmore and Stanford, English majors and art historians will critique exhibits, films, novels, and television programming. And the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s, which debunks distortions in national political advertising and debate, will be joined by university-based sites monitoring state and local politics.

….One of our goals as educators is increasing the disposition of our students to read widely and think and communicate critically. What better credentials for the citizen-journalist? And what better home for their journalistic work and for our own than in an institution dedicated both to free and open inquiry and to the generation and communication of knowledge?

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director, Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

As Schudson and Downie point out, journalism schools have long produced publications for local audiences. Some of these publications are spawning new experiments…Berkeley’s partnership with the Bay Area News Project, for example and the many online student publications developed by the Columbia School of Journalism. The long established Columbia Missourian has now been joined by My Missourian, Radio Adelante, and Vox magazine. The University of Montana has a number of publications including coverage of the 2009 State Legislature; most journalism schools in the country have some student-written publications intended for the general public.

Jamieson’s idea is different: She’s talking about a university-wide publishing project, or at least, a project that includes a variety of voices and authors acting as journalists–not just the work of journalism students. If a journalism school were to organize this kind of news production, it could provide plenty of experience for students in developing civic media (see Henry Jenkins at the end of Academe and the Decline of News Media), curating and producing in collaboration with, rather than for, a group of participants/producers.

On the other hand, Jill Lepore, Professor of American history, Harvard University, writing in the same series, thinks that this idea is “fanciful.” She writes:

…moving market-driven journalism into the academy is a dodgy proposition; it raises all sorts of issues relating to the freedom of the press and academic freedom, too. Second, the standards by which scholars achieve promotion are designed, quite frankly, to punish scholars who work or write like journalists; unless that changes, scholars who attempt it will be asked to pay a cost most are unwilling to bear. For junior faculty, that cost normally includes not getting tenure. Third, reporters holding teaching posts sounds good, but a professorship isn’t a day job, and, at least insofar as I’ve observed, it means that reporters who become teachers stop writing; it also leaves unanswered the question of what, in the age of new media, old-media reporters will be teaching, and who their students would be. The university, I fear, is not journalism’s Valhalla.

There is a significant difference, I think, between setting up universities to produce journalism as it has been done in the past, and using the current opportunity to experiment and innovate with new types of journalistic forms and organizations.

What do you think? Where might the Reynolds School take these ideas?

Written by Donica

November 20th, 2009 at 4:06 am

Understanding digital citizenship as another component of literacy

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Anne Collier writes about online safety for kids in her newsletter, NetFamilyNews. She’s written about media literacy as well as the value of developing relevant, practical notions of digital citizenship. In her latest newsletter she writes a description of digital citizenship that I think applies equally to citizenship in other contexts:

In a participatory media environment, focusing on citizenship helps everybody understand that: 1) they’re stakeholders in their own well-being online, 2) they’re stakeholders in their community’s well-being as well as that of fellow participants (because, in a user-driven environment, safety can’t logically be the sole responsibility of the community’s host), and 3) they have rights and responsibilities online…As my friends at Childnet International in London say at, digital citizenship is about “using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same.”

What does this have to do with journalism? If we believe our work is of value because we help people fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, then we need a full and relevant understanding of what citizenship means. As our students increasingly occupy digital worlds as well as physical, we can’t ignore the challenge of developing curriculum that makes citizenship a central concept across the spectrum of experience.

One example: Figuring out how to sponsor and participate in meaningful discussions online has been a vexing problem for many news sites. If our work as journalism educators helps to shape and promote a richer, more active sense of citizenship among our students and the journalism they produce, that will help invigorate the anemic and counter-productive conversations sponsored by many news sites.

Written by Donica

November 20th, 2009 at 3:22 am

J-education for problem solving

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At the RJI conference, Public Trust through Public Engagement, that was live streamed/twittered from Missouri today, Professor Lee Wilkins made this important point, as reported by Bill Densmore:

She [Wilkins] likes some of what medicine does — it is problem-based education. “I wish there were a way, and I have talked about it with some of my students, of putting students in communities ‘who aren’t very like you,’ and do that as an internship and gets you out of your comfort zone and causes you to experience life very much outside of your normal point of view.”

She recalls her earlier career as a police reporter. She covered a county jail, was realtively young and privileged, it sparked for her many important questions. “I wish we could embed it in our curriculum … the opportunity to go out and think about questions that you never thought about before . . . we don’t do nearly enough of that.”

Wilkins is so right about this. How do we help students confront uncomfortable questions they’ve never considered seriously before?

There’s a lot about journalism education that does not resemble medical education. But using problem solving and one-on-one practice as a model of journalism education could do much to help journalism students understand their connection and obligation to others outside of their immediate circle. Without intimate face-to-face attention to a world unlike their own, students (heck, all of us) are liable to conceive of the ‘public’ as a group of people just like ourselves, with everyone else an abstract gray ‘mass.’

Making space for students to think hard about what constitutes a public problem to a specific group of people, and what their journalism could do to make a difference in that context, could invigorate and bring meaning to a classroom in a way that writing copy from recycled press releases will never do.

Written by Donica

November 17th, 2009 at 9:20 am

Maybe the idea is “civic literacy”

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Jay Rosen addressed a media conference in Australia today over Skype and the headline quote was:

“If you don’t have a democratic heart, you don’t belong in journalism in the first place.”

I don’t have the book with me, but I remember an argument by Herbert Gans in “Democracy and the News” that in essence said if journalists were serious about contributing to democracy they would do their work very differently. The argument for journalism serving democratic functions is easy to make in the abstract but nearly impossible to justify in close examination across a range of news.

What if this was the moment to change that? What if journalism schools made democratic action a serious pledge instead of an assumed byproduct?  Instead of gearing up to teach media literacy or news literacy, we decided “civic literacy” was a course that would most closely address the needs of our country.  Not a sales job or a snow job, but a critical fire-in-the-belly context-driven passionate course on democracy open to all students at the university. Once students understood the essentially political act of journalism in this context they could decide their relationship to it: passive observer, occassional participant, active creator (presumably all three at different times on different subjects).

Every course in the j-school could then relate to the primary course in some fashion, expanding on some aspect of journalism that had a discernible thread back to purpose. The j-school could provide specializations in watchdog journalism, community journalism, environmental journalism. Courses could be part of ‘centers’ of engagement with live projects and subjects, ongoing experiments in active public life.

For some vivid examples, watch the videos on “Song of a Citizen,” such as this one of Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenburg School of Communication at the University of Pennsyvlania or this one by Michael Sandel. Is this central link between self, citizen, institutions and journalism not a critical element of a journalism education?

We constantly make connections between journalism and democracy (despite derision from many political scientists) and we are about to conduct a giant experiment with live subjects on what happens to a society that makes a sudden downshift in journalistic output. New journalistic forms are springing up all around us but they will only flourish to the extent that a sizeable group of citizens support them.

As Cole Campbell used to remind us, it’s not journalism that’s struggling as much as public life. Rosen reminded us today of the strong link between them. Why not make that connection the core of our curriculum?

Written by Donica

November 6th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Reconceptualizing the j-student

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As many have mentioned (see Cody Brown’s essay on direct news organizations for one) the term “citizen journalism” is a bridge term, something to get us from where we are now to what we will be. At some point it will be as odd to refer to “citizen journalists” as it would be to call a radio the “wireless telegraph” or television a “radio with pictures.”

If we assume that even some small part of the news gathering structure that’s been lost from traditional newsrooms  will be replaced by people who have other full-time jobs besides journalism, it is clear that a LOT of people will be participating in some way in acts of journalism.

Plenty of people are doing this work perfectly well without any journalism education or training whatsoever. But based on my observations and that of others, many more people are:

  1. Intimidated by the tools or the writing or the act of identifying an issue for attention
  2. Unaware as to why investigating, observing, reporting and sharing issues of public concern might be an act of citizenship
  3. Alienated or separated from any form of public deliberation about issues that affect them

We also know that the people most likely to contribute to the journalistic conversation are similar to each other: better educated, wealthier and more wired. If we want to broaden and deepen the journalism contributed by a larger group of us, we must think about how to make journalism a more accessible act, valued by others and guided by community norms for public discourse: respect, honesty, and fairness.

What would this mean in a university context?

  1. That we open up, or offer specific courses for, the entire university population, not just students who want to be full-time professional journalists.
  2. We think of ourselves as part of the Cooperative Extension program of land grant colleges, offering practical advice and training to the ‘gardeners and farmers’ of journalism in our communities
  3. We offer workshops and more flexible programs in addition to set courses and semester long schedules.

We may still see our purpose as graduating students certified for full-time professional employment in institutional journalism organizations, but in addition, we have an obligation to nurture and shape the journalistic capabilities of all university graduates if we want to insure a more vibrant, capable and energetic future for public life.

Written by Donica

November 1st, 2009 at 4:31 pm