Networked Journalism Education

Why we have to change our approach

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I read two pieces today — a cover story from Columbia Journalism Review and a 2009 academic paper from AEJMC — and am convinced [once again] how deeply we have to change the way we teach journalism. The journalism idealized in the halls of most journalism schools and the messy, chaotic and unpredictable ecology of journalism ‘out there’ is creating an intellectual disconnect so sharp it hurts.

We say we want students with curiosity, passion and commitment. But we often fail to select or nurture those qualities. We tolerate courses that focus on punctuation, style and formulaic writing and require a curriculum that stipulates a smattering of survey courses across the university. We bring in guest lecturers who can’t wait to leave the profession and wonder why our students aren’t picking up the paper copy of The New York Times when they enter the building texting on cell phones.

Today’s cover story in the Columbia Journalism Review describes one reality our students face when they so cheerfully graduate (or don’t graduate, as in the case of this writer). After describing the typically disjointed career path of a ‘today’s urban writer’ and a series of (sometimes) appalling experiences from WSJ to Gawker, the author makes this point: we have to ‘humanize journalism.’ I agree, as I do with the argument about objectivity, both of which have echoes across the landscape. But Tkacik’s fundamental assessment that journalism is floundering because it became part of an empty and unsustainable enterprise is to me a far more insightful analysis of the problem than the endless search for new business models that assume what we do and how we support it have nothing to do with each other.

Look at me!
A writer’s search for journalism in the age of branding
by Maureen Tkacik

…Maybe the best policy for our beaten-down population of journalists just naturally involves letting down the old guard of objectivity and letting go of illusions of unimpeachability. Rather than train journalists to dismiss their own experiences, what if we trained them to use those experiences to help them explain the news to their audience? Allow their humanity to shape their journalism? This isn’t some radically profound notion—it only seems that way in the context of the ridiculous zero-sum debate over the relative merits of “straight” news versus the self-absorbed nature of blogs. Maybe there is a way to combine the best of both.

If journalism’s more vital traditions of investigating corruption and synthesizing complex topics are going to be restored, it will never be at the expense of the personal, the sexual, the venal, or the sensational, but rather through mastering the kind of storytelling that understands that none of those things exists in a vacuum. For instance, perhaps the latest political sex scandal is not simply another installment of the unrelenting narcissism and sense of invincibility of people in power. Most of the journalists writing about it have—as we all do—some understanding of the internal conflicts that lead to personal failure. By humanizing journalism, we maybe can begin to develop a mutual trust between reader and writer that would benefit both.

Written by Donica

May 18th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

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