Networked Journalism Education

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

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