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How should journalism schools respond to the merging of media and technology companies?

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This image is from an advertisement for Seatwave, featured in an article in the Guardian in 2009, listing the “top 100 tech media companies”

Last week in a talk at the Reynolds School, David Cohn, director of news at Circa and founder of Spot.Us made the point that technology companies are becoming media companies: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook all started as technology companies — in Apple’s case, a hardware company — yet all have moved closer and closer to sponsoring, producing, aggregating and selling media.

Wired just published a thought provoking interview with Andrew DeVigal (thanks to Craig Silverman at Spundge for the tip!) in which DeVigal speaks to the question of whether media companies (in this case, The New York Times) should become a technology company:

…Part of the challenge there is that the New York Times, which is a media company would then become a software company. Not to say that isn’t the right thing to do, but is that what the  Times wants? It’d be a pretty major shift in mindset and operations, you know, to support customers and support the technology. Do we really want to see teams of journalists turned into teams of support technologists?

It makes me wonder if a team at Apple ever asked themselves: Do we really want to turn ourselves into a music company? Or whether the early team at Microsoft that decided to adapt an encyclopedia for the Web (remembering Encarta) worried about whether their engineers knew enough to create media. Will journalists lose their critical space in the network because they can’t imagine how to reconfigure themselves?

DeVigal goes on to describe the next frontier in interactive news, which to me reinforces one of the reasons why media and technology have to move closer together:

Trying to capture a narrative around data is still the missing link. How do we blend interactive story telling with information?

We’ve recently reconfigured our curriculum to include narrative, data and social journalism courses. But what I get from DeVigal is that after these foundational courses, we should be pushing ourselves to integrate these concepts and produce something new that marries media and technology. We can’t tell stories on one page and display data on another; these two forms of information need to be integrated in ways we’re just beginning to invent.

DeVigal emphasized the need to more deeply engage readers, and one way to do that is through games. Let the reader simulate driving a car while texting, or play different roles within a documentary of the Haitian earthquake. We have to experiment to understand how to arrest attention and help people focus on the message/the story/the issue we are presenting. Integrating narrative with data through the framework of a game may be the closest template we have at the moment for thinking through a new form of news.

DeVigal’s final advice on what we should be teaching:

    Strong Storytelling Skills (“Know Story” he said)
    Facility with Software (being able to whip out an idea is valuable)
    Ability to Collaborate (absolutely critical)

If journalism/media companies are to become tech companies, then journalism schools have to become much, much more tech saavy. We who prepare students: Are we preparing them to jump start new types of news, with the attitudes necessary to grok the merging of numbers, stories and social?

We can’t start the journalism curriculum by drilling AP style, the inverted pyramid and 1:30 second news packages and expect students to come out on the other end with new ideas. Maybe it’s on us to become Schools of Information, in all its forms, to make sure we stay in the game.

Written by Donica

April 6th, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Yes, we hear you!

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Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation, published another post in his series about journalism education this week: “Do universities hear the critics of journalism education?”  His post identifies important directions for where journalism education should go — but his prescription for how to get there is way off the mark.

His analysis includes this excellent graphic laying out the transition in journalism school curriculum; these markers reflect the evolving focus in the industry as well as in journalism education:

Urging schools to focus more on the Web, on community engagement, on creating new story forms and to respond more fully to other content creators makes perfect sense. Judging from the enthusiastic response to panels on these topics at recent conferences, many faculty members are in agreement.

The rub is in what to do about it.

Eric’s solutions are:

  • Make sure journalism programs remain independent from other academic units
  • Keep scholars away from running journalism programs
  • Hire professionals and make them equal with scholars
  • Create professional doctorates
  • Make journalism schools nimble
  • Connect with the rest of the university
  • Innovate with digital tools
  • Master more open, collaborative tools
  • Become teaching hospitals

I have three concerns about these recommendations:

(1) Hiring more professionals isn’t going to fix journalism education. There are probably more change-resistent professionals in j-schools than out-of-touch academics. Some of the biggest obstacles to change in journalism programs are professionals who defend old habits and socialize students into believing that ‘real’ journalists make fun of Twitter and would never ‘engage’ with the audience and taint their independence.

The truth is both scholars and professionals can be innovative or resistent to change — the difference has a lot more to do with attitude and mindset than training. My concern is that reviving the anti-intellectual thread in American journalism that has contributed in some measure to the current crisis doesn’t help journalism education or the industry and in fact could do a great deal of harm. Simply adding more professionals to journalism programs — absent other changes — will not make schools more nimble, open, or innovative and in many cases could slow these initiatives.

(2) Arguing for large stand alone journalism programs overlooks other models that might generate new ideas. Journalism programs have to connect with the rest of the university — on this we are in agreement. Whether that’s best done between colleges, or between colleagues within colleges, is an open question. For example, journalism faculty could play critical roles in interdisciplinary programs that combine computer science, art, business and other disciplines, regardless of how the journalism program is configured.

Eric argues that journalism schools should be both large and nimble, a difficult mix. Rather than dictating institutional structures, however, why not rigorously experiment with different types of programs, large and small, in various configurations? ASU, Missouri and Columbia are like The New York Times — institutions to aspire to but not applicable to every organization in every university.

(3) The teaching hospital metaphor is of limited usefulness in journalism education.                   A colleague and I are presenting a paper at ISOJ in April that explores this topic in much more depth. The primary component of our argument is that teaching hospitals focus on delivery of content — the same mindset as the professional news organizations that are imploding. They are all about supplying more and better journalism.

But as the demand for what we supply is radically shifting, we need fresh ways of working, not formal institutional structures with external obligations. We need flexibility and nimbleness to build one product one semester and something entirely different another semester. In an era of tight budgets, investing in year-round news making infrastructure works only for the largest, most well-funded journalism education programs.

The students and journalists who infiltrate the rest of the working news world need more flexible and entrepreneurial training.  More journalism programs should be about educating the future disruptors. We need more than ‘teaching hospitals’ to create new routines and practices and help students understand that journalism includes a wide array of important work that might not look anything like the front page of the Washington Post or the ABC Evening News.

The Knight Foundation has been the leading funder of innovation in journalism. The Knight News Challenge grants and Information Needs of Community program have kickstarted an explosion of  entrepreneurial initiatives. But the foundation’s message on journalism education has been much more mixed. More good work is going on than is apparent in the broadsides aimed at the academy.

We hear our critics — they are sitting in the front rows of our classes every day. What we need is the equivalent of News Challenge grants for educational initiatives. Empowering the kind of thinking that has gone on in that competition — encouraging educators, students and others to build on the disruptive transformation going on in education as well as journalism — could remake journalism programs from the slow moving creatures that Eric criticizes to truly transformational programs.

Written by Donica

March 22nd, 2013 at 10:26 am

Posted in curriculum,Education

An experiment in journalism education from France

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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?

Written by Donica

June 11th, 2012 at 4:43 am

Moving from “story” to “asset”

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Two enlightening posts over the past couple of weeks:
— Jonathan Stray’s “What is it that journalists do?
— Jeff Jarvis’s News articles as assets and paths
clarify an urgent need in journalism education — to move beyond writing basic AP stories as the focus of our early training and socialization of young journalists.

Stray expands Barbie Zelizer’s argument that we need to open up what ‘counts’ as journalism (see Taking Journalism Seriously, 2004). Educators would do much to help the cause of journalism if we didn’t drill into young students a definition of journalism that makes it hard for them to consider anything other than traditional news stories as legitimate.

Teaching students how to define news and what counts and doesn’t count as “journalism” can take up a lot of energy in high school and college journalism curriculums. Minimal attention to community management, math skills, databases, Facebook, Twitter, advocacy, writing with voice, aggregation, curation, post-publication editing, citizen journalism and a host of new practices strain our own credibility as well as constrain the imagination of ourselves and students.

Form does not define journalism nor does the author. As Stray says:

There are a lot of different roles to play in the digital public sphere. A journalist might step into any or all of these roles. So might anyone else, as we are gradually figuring out.

But this, this broad view of all of the various important things that a journalist might do, this is not how the profession sees itself. And it’s not how newsrooms are built. “I’ll do a story” is a marvelous hammer, but it often leads to enormous duplication of effort and doesn’t necessarily best serve the user.

It’s the “do a story” reflex that is the heart of most journalism education programs. We pride ourselves on teaching the news story and we honor the students who do it well. But if the story is only a small part of the many things journalists do now and in the future, then focusing so much on this one thing is the wrong approach for most of our classes.

What if we took as a starting point all the activities that Stray lists as important activities of journalists and added the collection of assets that Jarvis lists — what kind of curriculum might we develop then?

We’ve made a first round attempt at this in our undergraduate curriculum, distilling “what journalists do” to three core activities:

  • Tell stories
  • Use data
  • Be social

We are expanding on these and developing course syllabi now. Stray and Jarvis and many others are helping us enlarge our definition of journalism so that our students will be prepared to contribute and change their communities, not just the industry.

Written by Donica

June 8th, 2012 at 3:27 am

The reform should go farther than you reach

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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.

Written by Donica

May 27th, 2012 at 12:08 am

Engaging the unengaged

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Woman in Sardinia reading obituary notices

Woman in Sardinia reading obituary notices

I just finished reading 75 Journalism 101 essays detailing student news consumption over a 24-hour period. Not one student asked for more news or more news sources. One student proudly reported her news sources: our weekly college newspaper and Jon Stewart. Another detailed her daily four hours spent with Perez Hilton and Entertainment Tonight. Two students out of 75 mentioned the local newspaper. Several watch local TV news. A number of students said they actively avoided contact with news because it is: “depressing…stressful…confusing…boring.”

Expanding the number of news sources that plug into existing journalism spaces isn’t going to change much for these students, or add significantly to the information capacity of our communities, unless we do a more radical redesign of what journalism is and how people get it.

Reading curated tweets is one great news model for some people in some circumstances. News apps for specific information is another great model under other circumstances. Telling more stories from more sources will humanize and expand some conversations. But how will more news sources engage the unengaged?

Some thoughts:

(1) Transmitting information is only the first step. No matter how accurate, well told, or hard hitting, stories alone aren’t enough to engage those who rarely see or hear or read the stories. Transmission doesn’t mean much where there’s no receiver.

(2) The critical step has to be organizing people around the stories, or better, organizing stories around the people in a group, a community, a place, an interest. We need to connect in far more fundamental ways with the people who have a stake in a particular issue/story, etc. We have to close the loop and pay as much attention to the receivers as the senders.

Involving people in telling their own stories, reporting and distributing their own news, will certainly engage those who choose to participate. But even more importantly is organizing people around the problems that journalism attempts to address.

In a networked communication structure (as opposed to a mass media structure) participation comes most naturally from within communities. Journalism produced from within networked communities can more easily incorporate multiple sources and distribution points because the journalist is transparently connected rather than being a detached observer.

This, of course, requires new practices. From the journalist as independent investigator to journalist as community organizer is a large leap.

Writing in response to this same question today, Dan Fenster wrote:

Jason Barnett wrote in the last carnival that “the most overlooked and generally dismissed skill (of journalists) is that of community organizer.” I would suggest that journalism—journalism schools in particular—learn to become community information organizers. Students should serve as the catalyst and curator of this new world of content.

It seems likely that journalism schools will begin to distinguish themselves by stressing different types of journalism. That’s a good thing. The emerging media ecosystem has plenty of room for species differentiation and unique conditions.

So the answer to the question of what will I do to increase the number of news sources in my community? I will commit to figuring out how to make my classes, and maybe even our j-school, a place where students learn to become “community information organizers.” We will spend as much time engaging with the receivers as we do crafting what we transmit. And that, no doubt, will fundamentally alter what we transmit and how.

Stay tuned!

With many thanks to David Cohn for initiating a great example of expanding news sources in a particular community and to everyone who wrote such smart and inspiring responses to the question (follow them on Twitter #jcarn).

Written by Donica

February 18th, 2011 at 2:25 am

The Carnival of Journalism lives again

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carnival_of_journalismDavid 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 Thornburg, Journalism at Universities: Research Should Lead, a Journ.D. Would Raise the Ante)

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.

Written by Donica

January 21st, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Six reasons to study journalism today

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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:


Photo courtesy of Franco Folini, Flickr

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.]

Written by Donica

December 11th, 2010 at 8:03 pm

My post-faculty meeting manifesto

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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.

Written by Donica

October 15th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

What online presence do face-to-face journalism courses need?

without comments

Teaching a course without providing some online component makes as much sense as a business or campaign that lacks an online presence. It’s a necessary part of most work that we do at the university.

Our campus provides WebCT/Blackboard software for augmenting or teaching online. I’ve used it and while it works very well for certain tasks, it feels clunky, requires unreasonable maintenance of java, browsers and compatible software levels, and works against an ethos of public accountability on the part of faculty and students.

This semester I’m experimenting with a Ning site and a wiki for a freshman course of 75 students studying news literacy. So far (fourth week of the semester) they seem to be working well. Students post assignments and engage in discussions (even without earning credit) on the Ning site, and are keeping notes on course material and reading assignments on the wiki. We’ve started a project with NewsTrust this week, which requires them to sign up for that site as well.

I’ve tried WordPress blogs which work well for pushing material out, but haven’t been as interactive as I hoped. I’m curious what other journalism professors are doing in this area. What online software are you using with your courses and why?

Written by Donica

September 21st, 2010 at 10:40 am

Posted in curriculum,Education