Networked Journalism Education

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

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