Networked Journalism Education

Exploiting j-students?

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Steve Kolowich has a story in today’s Inside Higher Ed  (J-Schools to the Rescue?), that questions the practices of j-schools in keeping enrollment numbers up and providing free labor for newsrooms:

Some believe journalism schools are exploiting students by maintaining high enrollment levels despite the contraction of the market for professional journalists — a system that guarantees a large population of out-of-work, debt-addled graduates.

If the purpose of journalism schools is to provide trained reporters to fill empty slots in professional news organizations then Kolowich’s concerns have some merit. By this line of reasoning, as the number of reporters and editors declines then j-schools should shrink accordingly. This self-reinforcing cycle would insure that the number of people trained as journalists will decrease. Since universities can’t afford to maintain non-productive units, they will help j-schools to responsibly shrivel up and disappear.

If, on the other hand, j-schools recognize that journalism as a vital public activity is being practiced in a variety of places and ways, often by people who have college degrees in subjects besides journalism, they could find a wider mission for their work.

As a practical course in the power and functions of journalism, with training in ethical communication, clear writing, visual design and networking tools, a j-school could serve a much wider population of students/citizens. If we have a smaller class of specialized journalists, it would help to have a much wider group of citizens trained in evaluating information and reporting in their own areas of expertise.

The question is whether j-schools, often staffed by professional journalists, will have the vision and will to make this kind of change in focus and mission. Can we reinvent ourselves in the same way that news organizations are having to reinvent themselves? Neither one is ‘rescuing’ the other, but both have a lot to learn in this transition from mass media to personalized, portable, participatory media.

Written by Donica

March 1st, 2010 at 2:52 pm

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