What does j-school need to be?

There is lots of talk on what j-schools need to be, should be, shouldn’t be and could be. Take, for example, this new article: http://www.niemanlab.org/2013/08/do-journalism-schools-really-need-to-be-teaching-hospitals/ in response to articles like this: http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/8/3/journalism-funders-call-teaching-hospital-model-education/ No matter which school you are in, I believe we can all agree on this quote from the new Nieman Lab piece:

“The important thing for educators is to teach students how to assess the tools they have available, how to learn independently, how to understand their audience, and how to measure success.”

I’m of the school that j-students need to be 1. creative, motivated, adaptable learners 2. who care about the world 3. and the people of the world. 4. They need to want to make a difference. Those 5. overachieving, 6. work-a-holic individuals that 7. question everything and 8. look for answers in a 9. thoughtful and 10. ethical way and 11. adapt well to change will be good journalists in any model. Sure, not everyone may come into the school like this, but they can leave this way and they will be successful in any form of journalism.

murrow good news quote

Elements I see as important in a j-program are (in no particular order, as I find them pretty equal):

1. History – of the world and the profession of journalism

2. Current events – knowledge and understanding of the world we live in right now

3. Broad base of general knowledge

5. Modern research instruction

6. Ethics – personal and professional

7. Critical thinking

8. Writing instruction

9. Storytelling instruction

10. Multimedia technical tool instruction – from coding to cameras to social media

11. Understanding of law/political systems

12. Interviewing and other personal communication skills

13. Journalism foundations

14. News internship in an external news outlet <- someplace to see what it takes to be successful in the current field and see how you fit in there

15. PR strategies – Everyone needs to be able to reach their audience directly and promote their work and other quality work.

This list does leave out student media. I think student media is nice bonus material to work with. I enjoyed student media myself as an undergrad and have seen the value of it as a teacher. It has a lot to offer students that want to be a part of it and it can ignite passion and purpose… but the reason I leave it out is because I don’t honestly think it is necessary for success in the field and often students in student media seem to skip the critical professional news outlet internship because they feel they have enough “hands on” learning.

A note on skills instruction… Learning tape to tape video editing never limited any “old” journalist I know from excelling at nonlinear editing… because they knew the PRINCIPLES of EDITING… and had an APPRECIATION for CHANGE and didn’t worry about which system they learned so much because like all things in news/life change is coming. J-schools often get caught up in stuff like which editing system and cameras to buy instead of focusing on the importance of the basic skill as it pertains to storytelling. So when I read an argument that says learning a “skill” is not valuable, because the platform will change shortly, I disagree. You have to be able to hit the ground running. But it doesn’t matter if you use Final Cut Pro or Avid. It doesn’t matter if you interview using a hand recorder or a camera. What matters is learning to edit, learning to interview, learning to design, learning to write, learning to promote your work, learning to connect to people, learning to research, learning to learn, learning that you know nothing, learning to expose truths, learning to question your world and search for answers. Learning the principles of shooting and editing mean you can use any camera and platform. Learning how social media works now will inform your use of the next big social platform later. Because at the core of the then and the now, the past and the future, are basic principles of communication, ethics, and understanding of how people work. You need to learn the principle to be able to innovate the change. And change is coming.

For me, principles are a necessary tool for adapting to change and should be the heart of journalism education. I also think internships at professional news outlets are necessary and not optional for a journalist’s learning. I always felt internships were the “hospital” part of my education. They come after the principles/foundation is laid to give students a chance to really apply what they’ve learned and see how much harder ethical challenges are then in a classroom… and what real deadline under pressure is all about.


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