Posted on January 26, 2011
Can journalism education rise to the challenge?
Most journalism programs face the same challenges:
- How to find, employ and retain faculty who are comfortable teaching new skills and techniques.
- How to provide equipment and software to students (especially with shrinking budgets).
- How to keep up with a rapidly changing field.
- Perhaps most important: How to determine the best ways to prepare the journalists of tomorrow—our students.
Overall, considering programs of every size and at every kind of four-year college and university, I would say that just about everyone needs to do better. Yet the core issue really is that final point on my list—and I think every journalism program can address that and come up with satisfying answers.
Seek out new exemplars
The first step in determining the best ways to prepare the journalists of tomorrow is to go beyond traditional journalism organizations. Don’t look only at what newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news organizations are doing.
Look at the not-for-profit journalism ventures such as ProPublica, MinnPost and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Look at for-profit ventures that produce multimedia such as MediaStorm and Bombay Flying Club. Ask how students can learn to be players in a field that includes these organizations.
Then go beyond story and traditional reporting of events. Talk about how journalism serves a community, and what’s missing in the communities near the college or university. How can people in those communities be better served? Is there a need that student journalists and their teachers might help to meet?
How can the students gain connections within the communities to discover what is needed there? Often this requires old-fashioned shoe-leather meeting and greeting rather than social media.
Third, it’s necessary to face the business of money. If neither traditional advertising nor subscriptions are likely to support journalism in the community, then how will journalists get paid to do their work? If students and faculty are not discussing ideas to answer this question, then those students are not being well served by their journalism program.
Dealing with data; thinking global
Two final concerns that are, I think, too often ignored in many journalism programs are data and the world.
Using and understanding large sets of data, such as the U.S. Census information, is no longer a specialization reserved for one or two people in a news organization. The better a journalist is able to investigate datasets and find stories in them, the better he or she is able to provide something unique to the information marketplace. In a media environment where everyone echoes everyone else at lightning speed, uniqueness is one of the keys to providing value. Adding analysis and context to stories that everyone has already heard is vital. Do your students know how to do this?
Many U.S. students have little understanding of or interest in the world outside our national borders, and journalism students are no exception. How many journalism programs address this in a meaningful way? The narrow view of journalism students extends to working journalists, and from them, it extends throughout the American public.
If Americans are to be well-informed citizens in a globalized economy and political sphere, they need to better understand the connections that link us all, across all borders. Analysis and context cannot be provided by journalists who lack a firm foundation. Are our journalism programs preparing students to draw meaningful connections between events and issues in the U.S. and the rest of the world?
By discussing these questions, journalism educators can re-evaluate traditional curriculums. Too many faculties get stuck talking about the trees (software, equipment, code, technology) and forget the forest.