|Sscornelius, via Flickr (CC license)|
|Maybe what journalism education really needs is to start over from a new foundation.|
Well, there’s been a ton of great discussion lately on the theme of what kind of education and preparation today’s journalists really need, given the changing landscape of opportunities they’re facing. (Thanks to Mindy McAdams, James Ball, Paul Canning, Andy Dickinson, eGrommet, the Ethical Martini, Innovate This, Monitorando, and JosÃ© Renato Salatiel for their contributions, to the many commenters on all these posts, and to Elana Centor who started it all. Here are my recent posts on this theme.)
I’ve heard from some journalism educators that the kind of preparation I’ve proposed is far beyond what most existing j-schools could offer. I understand that.
Really, I think what may be needed is to completely re-envision and rebuild j-school with today’s realities and tomorrow’s likelihoods in mind.
Here’s what that might look like…
At the undergraduate level:
- Keep the core basics: Training in reporting, writing, ethics, and editing skills. But make sure these are taught in the context of today’s media landscape. (For instance, the ethics course should cover the ethics of community management and comment moderation, as well as more traditional fare.)
- Minimize instruction focused solely on traditional roles and jobs. How many courses in magazine writing do these folks really need? Not much.
- Require at least two internships: One with a traditional news org (mainstream or alternative press), and the other with an independent or entrepreneurial venture or project. A good optional third would be internships that involve online advertising, search engine optimization, or community management. (Hey, I did four or five internships with my journalism degree.)
- Require at least one media business course on how the media landscape is changing — emphasizing the importance of entrepreneurialism, business skills, building a personal brand/network, and continuous self-education.
- Teach the right tools. Ditch Dreamweaver. Teach a real CMS (like WordPress or Typepad), a feed reader, media-sharing tools like Flickr, a key SEO tool like Wordtracker, using social media like Facebook, and basic mashup tools (like Yahoo Pipes or Google Maps). Experience with these tools provides a practical grasp of information architecture and why it matters. Of course, also teach the basics of capturing and editing photos, audio, and video — as well as GPS and geotagging. None of these tools needs to be in-depth. Just the basics will do for undergrads. No need to teach them separately — better to use them together in projects.
- Teach them to think on their feet and educate themselves. Have students create whatever content they can with whatever tools are available to them (including cell phones, digital cameras, text messaging, browser add-ons, Google Earth). Require them to figure out how to get mileage out of what they already have on hand. It’s more important to open undergrads’ minds to options, creativity, and resourcefulness than to impart detailed production skills that are quickly outdated. (Pro-level photo, video, audio, or design skills that journos are likely to use are better taught in workshops, IMHO.)
At the graduate level:
- Partner with a business school for an entrepreneurial journalism degree program. (Could be a specialized MBA.) This would cover all the business, marketing, management, and economics territory I discussed earlier. It would also involve running student team projects as businesses. (Like a mini startup incubator.)
- Open teaching to more practitioners. Let more people who actually DO today’s cutting-edge media projects do more of the teaching — either entire classes, or special seminars or team projects. Part of the problem with today’s j-schools, IMHO, is that too much of the teaching gets done by faculty who are out of touch, inexperienced, or in denial about media evolution. Students should get more exposure to practitioners than occasional guest lectures. Get rid of requirements that faculty have advanced degrees.
- Involve the students in evolving the curriculum. Require them to actively consider what opportunities they really face, and what they really need — and more importantly, what j-students will need next year, in five years, in 20 years. Keep in touch with grads, so they can be your radar screen.
- Let the undergrads in. If you have some promising undergrads, allow them to participate in grad-level activities and projects as time and resources permit, and according to their abilities. Feed the fire in the belly wherever it flares — don’t just ration knowledge and empowerment based on hierarchy.
- Let the geeks in. It’s vital to invite and engage technologists (programmers, search mavens, database gurus, mapping geniuses, etc.) in the field of journalism. We need each other. Offer these people additional training in journalism basics, and leverage their talents and perspective in planning and implementing projects.
- Continuing education. Offer options for mid-career journos and others with related experience or goals to take classes, participate in projects, etc. Don’t require people to commit to getting an expensive advanced degree in order to get value from — and contribute value to — this collective learning experience.
- Distance learning. To the greatest extent possible, make these llearning and collaboration experiences available online. After all, the teams behind many of today’s media ventures are widely distributed.
Seems to me this wouldn’t necessarily have to be a degree program or happen through a college/university to be useful. (IMHO, in journalism and media, advanced degrees are worth far less than experience — unless you’re specifically interested in academic research or a teaching career.) However, I’ve framed this in the context of higher education because that’s an existing institutional structure that might prove useful, as long as it doesn’t undermine the process with inertia and bureaucracy.
Whadya think? Could it be done? Would it help? What would you change? Please comment below.