Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Journalism education is dated February 9, 2009

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 2:45 pm
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Math in the afternoon
Image by indoloony via Flickr

Some colleagues and I sat on a panel last week at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  We were there ostensibly to talk about online reporting, but we spent a lot of time talking about how journalism is changing on a large scale.

Instructor Jane Nesmith and her students were most welcoming, but I suspect that I got  more out of the hour than they did. Here’s why.

I faced up to the fact that formal journalism programs are even farther behind the innovation curve than newspapers and media companies, and that’s a huge disservice to the next generation of journalists.

The media companies that make it will need skill sets that today’s journalism graduates aren’t getting, and while companies will train current staff to adapt, new hires will be expected to bring requisite skills to the table. And the journalism grads that stick with this business need skill sets that no one is advising them to pick up. So let me be one of the first.

As I told the students at Coe, would-be journalists should be blogging. If it’s not required for school, do it on your own. Take some business and marketing classes, to help you manage your career like the entrepreneurial business that it will be some day.  Does your college of choice have a formal journalism program? If so, take a hard look at it. Does it have photography, videography, multimedia classes in addition to the writing courses? How about those marketing and business courses, especially change management? How about graphic design? How about basic web coding? If it doesn’t have those things in the core curriculum, is the program flexible enough that you could pick up the classes in other departments? If it’s not that flexible, is there an all-purpose liberal arts degree that you could get instead and shape the appropriate program for yourself?

I’m serious about this. Classes on the inverted pyramid don’t cut it anymore (not that they did when I was in school, either), and Hunter S. Thompson‘s style of writing hasn’t been cutting edge for  a long time.

Yes, this stuff is being talked about in academia. There may even be J-schools that are thinking, “Gosh, we have to change, too.” The problem is that schools change reactively, not proactively. Don’t I and my colleagues wish that our educations included business courses?

In the meantime, current journalism students are flailing, and they shouldn’t bank on the fleeting advantages of youth. Once more grown-ups figure out it takes only 5 minutes to set up a Facebook account or learn to use nearly any social network, they’ll be less likely to hand over the keys to the kingdom merely because a new hire is younger than 30.

Coe, a small, private liberal arts college, doesn’t have a formal journalism program. Students can, however, craft their education to fit their needs. If I were Coe, I’d put together a “suggested” curriculum for journalists. Then I’d market Coe to would-be journos everywhere.  “See all the courses we have to prep you better than the big guys’ J-schools can? Survive the journalism revolution. Craft yourself a degree that will carry you through the 21st century of journalism.”

Yep, that’s what today’s students need, because that’s what media companies need, too.

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