Representatives from six foundations this summer wrote to the presidents at nearly 500 colleges in the United States, saying their journalism and mass communication education would get better if it could change faster. Together, we have invested hundreds of millions in programs at hundreds of campuses. We knew the digital age had turned our field upside down and inside out. But it had not done the same to journalism and communication education.
Schools that won’t change risk becoming irrelevant to private funders — and, more importantly, to the more than 200,000 students and the 300 million Americans they seek to serve. Without better-equipped graduates, how can we be sure future generations will have the news and information they need to run their communities and their lives?
We noted the digital age has disrupted traditional media economics, and that in America today there is a local journalism shortage. Thus, the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education — learning by doing in a teaching newsroom — seems promising. Students use digital media to inform and, hopefully, engage a community. This digital model requires top professionals in important positions in academia, treated equally with top scholars. Having more top professionals around would, for most schools, be a big change.
The funders didn’t think our letter was all that controversial. What’s the counterargument: that communication schools should ignore professionals, change slower, and get worse? Yet both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education covered the letter. The journalism educators’ convention and the listservs buzzed.
“Change? They don’t understand!”
Some educators said there was no need to talk of change: They’d already done it. Those folks missed the point. We’ve entered an era of continuous change. Did you change last year? You’re a year behind. Did you go digital in 2002? You’re a decade behind. The “we have changed” group includes those saying “our PhDs started out as professionals,” not realizing that folks from last century’s non-digital newsrooms are not the digital pros we’re talking about.
Others opined that we cared only about gizmos, not content. Yet smartphones are not a fad. Nor is social media or the World Wide Web. They are no more “gizmo” than the printing press was. They are driving a global revolution in digital content. For the first time in human history, billions of people are walking around with digital media devices linked into a common network.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.