Networked Journalism Education

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

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