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.

5 Comments on “Can journalism education rise to the challenge?

  1. Spot on.

    I agree across-the-board.

    I especially want to reiterate the need for students to develop a global perspective, a broad-base of knowledge to aid in providing context, and a strong sense of curiosity about the world. Contextual understanding is vital but so is the curiosity to go beneath the surface and look for the “why.”

  2. Our role in journalism schools should be to prepare students for the media of tomorrow, rather than simply the newsrooms of today.

    At the core of this is how we think about journalism. The biggest challenge facing j-schools is changing the mindset around journalism.

    Rather thank conceiving of journalism as a profession to be defended, j-schools need to acknowledge that media is developing into an open and shared space.

    This requires thinking of journalism as a space to be shared, where the voice of the professional journalist is one of many.

    J-schools need to help students figure out how their voice as a journalist makes a valuable contribution to this emerging shared media space, be it through traditional news organisations, non-profit start-ups or the media that the students themselves will create in the future.

  3. Pingback: Changing the way we think of journalism education |

  4. As a journalism educator who’s trying to “rise to the challenge,” I appreciate the advice offered in your post.

    My original name for our blogging and interactive journalism course was “connective journalism” – administration preferred something a little more reflective of technology (I get that – I’m lousy at PR thinking), but I still think the “connection” moniker makes sense.

    It’s also been difficult to get that idea across to my students. They seem to see blogs in particular as a place where they speak and others come to listen to them, rather than a voice that’s part of a community. I’m trying to teach that communication is a two-way affair now, but many of them seem to have a hard time grasping that they’re not just creating more one-way channels.

  5. Mcadams,

    I agree with your points. But things are quite different in Nepal,South Asia’s newest republic.

    Media have forgotten to connect to people. Those who get priority are people in power. The voices of communities are given less space. Media have become a mere business model.

    Hopefully media have played crucial role only in special occasions.

    Talking about J-schools in Nepal, they don’t provide enough technological support. Lack of enough funds might be one of the reasons. Though, it’s a good sign that students and young journalists learn through online.

    Thanks for the post. I really liked your points on uniqueness and authenticity. I say, its a must read article(for journalism students and teachers in Nepal).

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