Multiple Missions, Basic Skills
The relevancy and necessity of a journalism degree has been debated since the establishment of the earliest journalism schools. Today, the question continues to prompt a polarizing response that may reflect deeper concerns about change, quality and measurable outcomes, as well as the place of journalism schools within the academy.
Once among the “cash cows” of many campuses, journalism schools in recent years have experienced new challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified students. The annual analysis of trends in journalism education by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication reported in 2014 that enrollments were down 9 percent between 2011 and 2013 at the University of Missouri School of Journalism (established in 1908) until the university boosted financial aid to attract more students; down 33 percent over five years at Columbia College Chicago, and down 20 percent over five years at Indiana University-Bloomington (where the institution has merged journalism, communications, telecommunications and film studies into a single school).
While enrollment has declined at many undergraduate schools of journalism at a time of overall enrollment growth at their home institutions, graduate schools in journalism appear to be even harder hit. One dean described a program forced to increase its rate of admissions from 40 percent to 85 percent in a single year to fill a class; student profile, success rates, satisfaction and job placement all declined as a result. “This is the only place where people on Twitter are saying they can’t believe they are going to this famous journalism school five weeks before they arrive, and five weeks after, the same students are asking to meet with the dean as a cohort,” he said. “I said to the faculty that you cannot anger students like that in five weeks. It’s impossible. But it wasn’t.”
Lindsey Cook, a 2014 graduate of the University of Georgia and a former AP-Google scholar who is now working as a data reporter at U.S. News & World Report, would probably agree. “I considered going to Stanford and Columbia for their graduate programs, but I couldn’t see wasting those two years’ worth of income and life to get another journalism degree when I can get a similar job now that pays around the same.”
Philosophical Divides and Big Bets on Specialization
Iconic representations of the identity spectrum of graduate journalism education may be embodied most clearly in the high-profile journalism programs located in New York City: Columbia University, The New School, New York University and the City University of New York (CUNY).
Each of the New York institutions leverages its particular strengths and market niche, one administrator observed. “I think that people are starting to recognize that enrollments are going to be soft for some period of time, and we’d better be known for something,” she said. “So people are starting to really specialize: Columbia has placed a really large bet on computer science and big data and the intersection of those two things. New School is going to really focus on design, and game theory and interactivity. NYU has the verticals, and they do really well with that, I think they’ll stick with that. And CUNY is trying to carve out this entrepreneurial and social space—like USC Annenberg, which is doing a lot of very similar things.”
While each program enjoys its own strengths and high-profile programs, the contrast between Columbia and CUNY may be the most telling in terms of the academy’s varying perspectives on the role and mission of graduate journalism education.
To the north, at Broadway and 116th Street, sits esteemed and wealthy Columbia University (with an endowment of $8.2 billion in 2013), whose graduate school in journalism was established in 1912 with funds from newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer—though it took the institution a decade to agree to accept the funds, too late for the program’s namesake to see it enroll its first class of students. Columbia is home not just to the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which produces some of the best and most insightful analyses of the new media ecosystem, but also to a slate of deeply focused specialization programs (see table below), and a new, widely recognized dual-degree program in computer science and journalism whose grand goal is to “educate a new generation of people who can refine and create news gathering and digital media technologies to redefine journalism as we know it.”
Concurrently, Columbia is widely recognized as the institution most publicly determined to meld graduate journalism education with a rigorous program in the liberal arts. Under the direction of President Lee Bollinger and Nicholas Lemann, the dean at the time, the school in 2005 launched a Master of Arts degree program deeply embedded in the intellectual life of the university and open to experienced journalists who sought academic and theoretical depth rather than skills training. Today, the Master of Arts at Columbia operates in concert with its more traditional skills-based Master of Science degree, offering students the opportunity to study such subjects as science, economics, politics, health, and arts and culture.
Little surprise, then, that Lemann joined journalism scholars and former administrators Jean Folkerts and John Maxwell Hamilton in October 2013 to publish an historical analysis and set of recommendations about the place and purpose of journalism graduate education within academia. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation as part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, the 84-page analysis opens with a well-known 1997 quotation from Carnegie President Vartan Gregorian:
Journalism schools are teaching journalistic techniques rather than subject matter. Journalists should be cultured people who know about history, economics, science. Instead they are learning what is called nuts and bolts. Like schools of education, journalism schools should either be reintegrated intellectually into the university or they should be abolished.
The authors point out that there are today 115 accredited schools of journalism and mass communication and more than twice as many unaccredited programs, most of which are dedicated to undergraduate education. But their report focuses firmly on graduate education and the need for the kind of reintegration into academia that Gregorian proposed 18 years ago:
Journalism schools have tended to orient themselves too much toward the profession and too little toward the university, and this is not the best way for them to realize their full potential or to live happily inside the institutions that house them.
… Research is crucial. Most journalism schools live inside research universities, so it is essential that journalism faculty members be engaged in ambitious research, as well as excellent teaching, throughout their careers. … The career paths for journalism faculty members, which in many programs need to be defined more carefully, should equip them to conduct ongoing research as well as to teach.
… Understanding the contexts in which journalism takes place should be just as important in professional education as is mastering the prevailing norms of journalistic practice at the moment a student happens to be in school; what many journalists have long derided as “media studies” and “theory” in fact should be an essential part of a working journalist’s education.1
In summary, the report argues that graduate journalism education should include gathering and processing information, writing well and conveying information accurately and quickly. But just as important, journalism students should develop expertise in media history and law, cultural competence, and substantive analysis through research-based methodologies. To claim their rightful place within the academic enterprise and in the eyes of their university administrations, journalism faculty must become more deeply engaged in contributing to the currency of the academy: traditional research that brings funding, visibility and prestige to the institution, that informs teaching, and that creates knowledge that illuminates and is of use to the profession.2
That notion of a more traditionally academic graduate degree program embedded deeply in the traditions of the university, whose curricula are informed and sustained through collaboration with its other world-class disciplinary programs, stands in stark contrast to the new graduate degree program located 60 blocks south at the City University of New York (CUNY, where the total 2013 reported endowment for the City College was $215.3 million). Just under a decade old, newly accredited by the ACEJMC (Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications), and settled into new spaces on two floors of a building just off Times Square and right next door to The New York Times, the CUNY program prides itself on its commitment to traditional journalistic values, dynamic journalistic skills training, and a diverse faculty and student body. Its mission is unabashedly pre-professional, the antithesis, perhaps, of the kind of master’s degree program envisioned by those who ascribe to the Lemann-Folkerts-Hamilton version of journalism education:
The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism prepares students from a broad range of economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds to produce high-quality journalism at a time of rapid change.
We are rooted in the core skills and ethics of journalism: strong reporting and writing, critical thinking, fairness and accuracy.
We teach new technologies and storytelling tools across media platforms to engage audiences and promote a broader democratic dialogue.
We serve our local and global news communities by sharing our reporting, research and facilities.
We serve our profession by graduating skilled journalists, diversifying the voices in the media and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship to help build a sustainable future for journalism.
Dean Sarah Bartlett, who came to CUNY by way of BusinessWeek, The New York Times, and Oxygen Media, in fact takes issue with many of the trappings of academia—from the institution of tenure to the accreditation standards that privilege tenured Ph.D. research faculty over working professionals in the field. Her perspective, clearly articulated in an essay included in the Appendices, challenges the academy’s assumption that academic credentials and full-time, tenured status are the metrics of quality for journalism faculty. In fact, Bartlett prides herself on the number of adjuncts who comprise her teaching faculty, all of whom work professionally and bring their experience in the industry into the classroom.
To keep our curriculum and teachers current, which is vital if we are to remain a useful source of newly minted journalists, we need to constantly add new courses, remove old ones and shuffle our teaching staff accordingly. At the CUNY J-School, in the heart of the nation’s media capital, that has led us to augment our full-time faculty by tapping New York’s reservoir of highly skilled professional adjuncts
Yet the world of academia devalues that approach: “Good” programs are deemed to have higher percentages of courses taught by full-time professors than professional adjuncts. Unfortunately, the tenure system can create a permanent class of teachers who may not feel much pressure to constantly refresh their skills or renew their curricula. In theory, university administrators can create a climate so stimulating and ambitious that they drive out slothfulness. But based on comments of professors and administrators far more experienced than I, vibrant academic cultures like that are rare.
Bartlett and her associate dean, digital media wonk Jeff Jarvis, have just pushed through New York state’s sometimes-Byzantine educational system the approval of a new master’s degree in social journalism, as that term is writ large. Beyond the application of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to news and information, the degree is designed to “recast journalism as a service that helps communities meet their goals and solve problems, using a wide range of new tools and skills involving relationship-building, data, social media, and business.” Bartlett sees the new degree as an innovative step toward a new kind of journalism education, one that responds effectively and quickly to a rapidly changing market environment and that focuses on journalism’s higher purposes: “Social journalism is about more than producing ‘content’ and filling space,” the program description reads. “It is also not just about social media, although we think it is vital for today’s journalists to understand and master these tools. Social journalism is first and foremost about listening.”
Rather than embracing the longstanding traditions of academia and the power politics of higher education, Bartlett says it’s time for journalism schools to free themselves of practices and policies that no longer serve students or communities well. “We have a very hands-on approach, we’re a professional school, we’re all about doing it. I feel like we need to get out of the academia of all of this. My responsibility as the dean of the only publicly supported graduate school of journalism in the entire Northeast is that our students can get jobs. We have to teach them whatever skill sets they need to be able to go out and be successful in the profession.”
Consider how these program descriptions reflect the differences between Columbia and CUNY in both mission and style:
|The Arts: Through a combination of extensive reading, case studies, site visits, and teaching collaborations with scholars, artists, and other leaders in the arts, students consider the formal and emotional force of the arts as well as the ways they function as commodities in a global marketplace.
|In the Arts and Culture Reporting Program, the five boroughs serve as our classroom. Students learn how cultural institutions work. They analyze the economics of the culture industry. They explore contemporary and historical issues such as copyright, censorship, and branding that provide context for reported stories. They write reviews and critical essays, study critics from Walter Benjamin to Anthony Lane, and explore the aesthetic and ethical considerations that make for fair and informed critiques.
|Business and Economics: The fall term stresses three attributes of excellent economics reporting: a firm grasp of basic economic theory and institutions; hands-on knowledge of data for measuring economic performance and assessing the validity of economic arguments; and the ability to find and report compelling stories. The spring term provides students with the analytical skills to conceive and execute stories about the business sector.
|Business and Economics Reporting: Money is at the center of every human endeavor and crucial to every area of journalism—whether politics, government, foreign affairs, social issues, the arts, or sports. The Business & Economics Reporting Program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism teaches journalists how to cover money no matter what their ultimate specialty.
|Science, Health and the Environment: Experts take the Science class on a whirlwind tour of some of science’s most compelling subjects, including contemporary physics, the ethics of public health, epigenetics, climate change, the history of industry, and trends in conservation biology. Students learn to deconstruct scientific studies, to retain skepticism, and to bolster health and science stories with context, history, and the careful use of data.
|Health & Science Reporting: Science journalists cut through jargon and hype to convey information that’s genuinely useful to the public. They concern themselves with food and nutrition, exercise, acupuncture and meditation, and psychology. They cover toxins that we unknowingly ingest, through lipstick, water bottles, and the ink on microwave popcorn bags. They cover controversies, such as athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs and the theory that vaccines cause autism. They cover trends, such as medical marijuana use and the high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Iraq War veterans.
Undergraduate Journalism Education
The Grady School’s annual survey reported that about 198,000 undergraduate students were enrolled in the nation’s 480 journalism and mass communication programs in the fall of 2013; of those, about 27 percent were studying journalism. Roughly 7,000 faculty and 5,000 adjuncts and part-timers made up the teaching force. While curricula across programs inevitably varies, educators and professionals seem to agree that the basics remain relevant: Journalists still need to be able to tell compelling and accurate stories, to ask insightful questions, to understand the values and principles of the craft and its place in the history of a democracy, and to use the tool kit of the profession, however one defines or describes that.
In hopes of capturing the insights of the educators responsible for journalism education in our nation’s colleges and universities, I worked with Jennifer McGill, executive director at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, to send an online survey to its entire membership. It arrived in May 2014, just as the spring semester was ending, and it asked respondents to answer a short set of open-ended questions about what journalism is today and will be in 2025, and what journalism schools should do to produce graduates prepared for that new media environment. It was, in other words, not a quick-response kind of instrument. While 44 respondents started the survey, only 20 completed it; of those, three asked that I report their views only in the aggregate. A hard-copy letter went out to all of the member institutions of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication in July; I received three additional survey responses from that effort. I attended the AEJMC convention in Montreal in August, where I had the opportunity to interview several faculty and administrators. While this was never intended to be a representative or statistically valid sample of the country’s journalism educators, it has turned out to be little more than a random smattering of the opinions of a small fraction of educators willing to take the time to share their perspectives—even in brief. From those respondents emerged a general consensus that the fundamentals of journalism haven’t and won’t change, though students are now expected to master a more complicated set of technology skills.
A subset of their responses (printed here with their permission) includes the following:
Jon Bekken, Albright College:
The key qualities [of a journalist] are an ability to listen, a sense of empathy, careful observation, curiosity, and the determination not simply to accept things as they seem to be but to pierce the veil, ask the difficult questions, reflect upon what voices are not being heard and whose interests are being ignored. In short, to pay attention. The key skill set revolves around making sense of the information. The journalist needs to not be afraid to ask questions, to work with the information until she understands it, and to present it to the public in ways that are not only coherent but interesting, that make the connections between public life and the reader clear, that activate and engage.
All else is technique. A software program can be learned in a day or two, if one has a message to tell that needs that technique. Editing video or audio is simply a matter of practice, once one knows the story one burns to tell. Writing, which is the paramount skill but which is fundamentally about observing and thinking about the material and one’s audience, too, is learned through doing, and through actively engaging with one’s publics.
Dane Claussen, former faculty member at Point Park University and visiting professor at Shanghai International Studies University’s School of International Journalism:
I will say here that journalism programs need to be much more selective about who they admit, much more intellectually rigorous, and much more difficult to get a degree from. Probably half of the 475 or so journalism programs in the US could be shut down without damaging either the media industry or higher education (universities would still get those students’ tuition dollars, but through other majors) … Contrary to the new Indiana study concluding that U.S. journalists are “overeducated,” the fact is that most of them are as dumb as a brick. Many of them are lazy. Some are dumb and lazy. …It worries me that ACEJMC is permitting more journalism technical courses and fewer liberal arts courses to make a better-rounded person. So are we turning out technicians and reflecting more of what trade schools do instead of providing a true university education with all its implications?
Huntly Collins, La Salle University:
Journalists need: 1. Insatiable curiosity about everything; 2. Specialized knowledge in at least one thing; 3. Ability to interview everyone from saints to whackos; 4. Ability to closely observe people and scenes; 5. Ability to plumb public documents; 6. Ability to report and write accurately, fairly and completely; 7. Ability to tell a story in a powerful way; 8. Understanding of how to use technology to tell stories; 9. An understanding of technology’s limits as well as its potential; 10. An ability to make the case for public funding of a public good—fair, accurate and complete stories about issues of public importance.
Audrey Wagstaff Cunningham, Hiram College:
Students need hands-on, real-world experience. Instead of having every student write the same story for a journalism class, each student should have to chase down his/her own story and have the opportunity to see it in “print.” Many journalism classes (at the secondary level) are no longer producing newspapers and the like. Their programs have been cut because of budgeting concerns or because of administrative censorship. This is detrimental to the educational process because students are not able to see their work in print. The editing, publishing, and distribution process is central to a journalism education. Thus, students’ work needs an outlet.
Students also need a deep understanding of media law and ethics. They should understand major legal principles and how to apply them to their work. In addition, they should know about administrative censorship of the student press and the law(s) that guide it (e.g., Hazelwood). And, just as students should know what they can and cannot do in terms of journalism, they also should know about the ethical principles guiding the craft. This may be done in concert with legal instruction, but should include deep discussion of case studies and real-world examples of ethical pitfalls and the like.
Don Heider, Dean of the Journalism School at Loyola University:
Writing, reporting, copy editing, photography, video shooting and editing, gathering and synthesizing information, verifying facts, communicating ethically, using social media to find and disseminate stories, coding, Web design, page layout, headline writing, search engine optimization. That’s a start.
Karen Houppert, Morgan State University:**
A journalist in 2025, like journalists today, should know how to collect news and information through interviews and research, critically assess the value and reliability of the material gathered, know how to consolidate, condense, organize, and artfully present it to the public. Those are the basic skills needed for successful journalism today—and they will also be needed in 2025.
Jeff McCall, DePauw University:
A journalist must be a civic-minded person who wants to serve the public interest by informing citizens about matters that affect those citizens’ lives. The key understanding a journalist at any time in history must have is to be able to define what is news. Then, that journalist must be able to use the language and channels of communication in ways that effectively distribute that information. The main skill sets are the ability to reason and effectiveness in using the language.
It seems to me that too much emphasis in journalism education is being put on new technologies. Understanding of technology is important, of course, but at a certain point technology becomes incidental to content. Plenty of students can easily become tech competent, but still not understand what news is, how to find it, or how to express it.
Lawrence Pintak, founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University:
In my view, a journalist is someone dedicated first and foremost to reporting facts accurately and fairly. S/he is not someone who is—first and foremost—using media to selectively present information for the purpose of advancing a political agenda. By that definition, some of the Arab bloggers who emerged in the first decade of this century made the transition to the status of journalist while the rest remained digital activists adept at using the tools of the media to advance their cause. That became vividly apparent during the so-called Arab Spring, when many of those bloggers were leaders of the opposition.
For [Jeff] Jarvis and those who have drunk his Kool-Aid, everyone is a journalist “now that anyone can perform an act of journalism.” I don’t buy that. A 12-year-old girl with an iPhone can “perform an act of journalism” by shooting a car crash, but that does not make her eligible for legislative press credentials. And while the Iranian president’s blog might arguably “serve the end[s] of an informed community” (or, at least, elements of the Iranian political community), it sure as hell isn’t journalism.
As I wrote in a 2009 article for CJR [Columbia Journalism Review]: “[J]ust because you put words on paper—or a computer screen—does not make you a journalist. After all, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of an estimated 100,000 Iranian and Arab bloggers. For journalism rights groups to defend anyone with a keyboard or cell phone camera on the basis of press freedom dangerously muddies the waters. …” It is unlikely that in this evolving media landscape an ironclad definition satisfactory to all can ever be created. Journalists spend much of their careers trusting their instincts, and at the end of the day, defining who is a journalist likely comes down to that. Personally, I like the definition offered by my 19-year-old daughter: “A journalist puts information in context.”
David Pritchard, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:
If I were hiring journalists, I’d favor those who (a) understood the difference between the public interest and various private interests, (b) were relentlessly curious about how the world works, and (c) had a passion to share information with the rest of the world. I would also favor those who spoke at least one second language comfortably, who had a solid grasp of how to develop stories out of quantitative data, and who could write clear, concise English prose. Some of those things can’t be taught at the university level, and others are not taught by most journalism programs in the United States.
James Scotton, Marquette University:
A journalist 1) gathers information, 2) synthesizes/analyzes that information and 3) distributes it to a wide/mass audience on various media platforms. Journalism is a collection of individuals who do that. Journalism will be the same in 2025.
We have a struggle going on between those who believe we should spend more time on 1 or 2 or 3 above. Newer/younger teachers want to spend more time on No. 3. Older teachers want to spend more time on No. 2, with an emphasis on writing but not much on real analysis. Professionals have always complained that journalism graduates from both schools are weak on No. 1.
The best practitioners at the most prestigious outlets seem to lack journalism degrees. The best education for a potential journalist is probably a liberal arts degree with a semester internship with a tough editor. A law degree is not a good idea for a journalist—it makes her/him too cautious. To find the ideal journalists, we perhaps should do what basketball coaches do: send scouts to inner-city neighborhood schools, find bright prospects and bring them to our programs with industry scholarships.
Bruce Swain, University of West Florida:
[A journalist is] someone who gathers and reports news, through any medium, to any number of people. By 2025 it will be the same definition, although the methods of distribution and research may have evolved considerably. … Familiarity with the nuances of the English language will continue to lie at the heart of news writing, whether it be print, broadcast or multimedia. And the style rules peculiar to our trade cannot be neglected in our teaching or eventual practice, either.
The shifting tides of journalism
Other members of the journalism academic community are somewhat less convinced that the sea change washing over the industry isn’t altering the landscape of journalism education as well. Daxton “Chip” Stewart, associate dean of the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, talks in terms of action rather than status: “A journalist is anyone who commits acts of journalism, gathering and sharing original pieces of information with an emphasis on truth and verification in the interest of serving social justice and transparent democracy,” he says. By 2025, much of that activity will be programmed or automated, with bots or drones collecting the information that journalists will use to inform the public. And the reporting enterprise—once fiercely individualized and independent—is likely to become a team effort that draws on the talents and expertise of multiple players: “I could foresee a journalism team being built around a photo/video person, a graphic artist, a hacker, a programmer, a lawyer/advocate, a boots-on-the-ground reporter, and a storyteller. Some people may share those roles, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect one person to do all of those things at a high level. Think of it as ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ but instead of breaking into a casino vault, they’re uncovering corruption or corporate malfeasance, one mission at a time.”
Those teams are far more likely to include practitioners who have never studied or even practiced journalism before, says Michael Marcotte of the University of New Mexico. As a result, common parlance is likely to shift away from professional status to describe activities and outcomes:
It seems clear that journalism and practitioners of journalism are finding themselves among a much broader cohort of people doing something journalistic, and this changing identity is likely to continue. The result is that we will develop more exact terms for the roles performed under the vague heading of journalism. We will be more likely to refer to acts of journalism and products of journalism than we will label people as journalists—though I suspect the heart of that term will continue to refer to reporters. Reporters, themselves, would seem to require more specific titling as the general assignment reporter is likely to give way to specialty roles as required by topic focus, platform focus, curation versus production versus distribution roles, etc. So, yes, it’s likely to be quite different because of the many new forms information will take.
Journalists will also need to be better able to communicate to and about much more diverse audiences, says Maureen Croteau of the University of Connecticut:
Students will need to be able to recognize and tell the stories of people who are unlike themselves. Those are skills that must be learned. As our population becomes more diverse, the skills will be even more important. Diversity, in this sense, includes not only ethnicity, race and gender, but social identifiers such as age, economic status, education, political affiliations, physical impairments, emotional health, mental abilities, appearance, citizenship status, living conditions, criminal history, etc. Journalism educators need to make sure that students get outside their comfortable social milieus. With all of the wonderful things that technology provides journalists today, this remains an area that is best learned through human interaction.
Going beyond the core skills
Given the widespread consensus that journalism graduates need “basic skills-plus,” it’s probably no surprise that at least one journalism school has decided to let students choose what that “plus” experience is going to look like. The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University has a new curriculum that requires four basic courses—The Future of Media, Multiplatform Reporting and Writing, Communication Law, and Ethics, Mass Media and Society—and leaves the rest of the journalism coursework to student choice. Robert Stewart, director of the Scripps school, calls it a “boutique degree.” Some students make choices that produce the same kind of traditional journalism degree the school offered a decade ago, he says; others combine news-and-information courses with strategic communication to create a journalism degree grounded in audience analytics and engagement. “What I really love about our program as it is currently structured is that students take the classes that make the most sense to them,” Stewart says. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s the menu, it’s a la carte, you’ve got four years, and you pick what you want to do.’”
Many of the students at Scripps College are choosing to work with professor Michelle Ferrier, who says she is building “an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation.” Through a network of laboratories, competitions and courses, Scripps is offering students the opportunity to learn to think like entrepreneurs, she says. “Pitching ideas, teamwork, being able to do an environmental scan to see where opportunities are … these are the kinds of skills our students need. I don’t think most programs set out to teach those kinds of skills to students,” she says. “When students learn the entrepreneurial way of thinking, they are able to analyze content in front of them, they are able to look forward to see opportunities and are able to position themselves, their companies or a startup in a place so it can be successful. That’s really lacking in our current journalism school curricula.”
I think that a key skill entrepreneurs develop is the constant scanning mode where they are looking for potential for growth and development. Another key skill is environmental scanning: Is your idea viable? How do you test an idea and continue to iterate? It’s not just about having an idea, but about evolving an idea. … I would say that entrepreneurial environments teach things that our students don’t get in the classroom and that’s how to fail gracefully and get back up and do it again. … In the startup and entrepreneurship environment, failure is seen as learning, from which you change your idea and pivot.
Programs can make room for entrepreneurship by eliminating some of their skills courses, she suggests. Students need to learn how to learn, and that should begin with software self-instruction. “Students need to learn how to learn it on their own, because they’ll be doing that for the rest of their lives. Whether it’s a new camera, new software, new design software or analytics, they will have to learn how to learn it.”
In programs without faculty expertise in entrepreneurship, outside expertise can deliver modules on specialized topics without disrupting a course or a curriculum. Ferrier created a two-week module on mobile apps and asked faculty members to build the time into their syllabi; she brought in a mobile-app expert to deliver the modules. “This was my sell to the faculty: If you implement the mobile module in your class, this two-week module, I would have an expert come in and teach that module in your classroom. I am not delivering PowerPoint slides to [faculty] and asking them to deliver this new content. I’m going to …. let you sit back and be a student and learn from the expert so you are able to teach it the next semester.”
That’s the kind of flexible delivery and focus on market skills that Ferrier says will be essential for journalists in 2025: “I think we are going to see more and more smaller, geographically or niche-located media that are serving the long tail in the marketplace,” she says. “They are not going to be the big blockbusters that serve millions of eyeballs and going to attract the online audiences. I think we have already seen those and are now seeing the proliferation of the long tail. You can survive and thrive with a very small fan base. However, I think we have not taught our students the skill sets to operate in that space.”
Students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University may have more of a prescribed curriculum, but their choices within that curriculum include a network of what Dean Chris Callahan calls “teaching clinics” that—with the program’s recent acquisition of the state’s largest public broadcasting entity—are growing into a system of working newsrooms and laboratories that he says comprise a genuine “teaching hospital.”
“We talk all the time about this, and I realize that it has become a sort of an inflammatory phrase with some people, but we talk about the analogy of the teaching hospital,” he says. “… Now, for the first time, we have a critical mass of these programs where we are going to make it a requirement for all of our undergraduates [it is already a requirement for graduate students]. You know, we’ve talked and talked about a teaching hospital, but we didn’t have a hospital, we had small clinics. The acquisition of Arizona PBS has given us a hospital, taking all these professional programs all under a single umbrella and making one news organization.”
That system will draw students in the school’s television, radio and multimedia advanced classes into a single newsroom, with shared news meetings and collaborative outcomes. “From a learning environment perspective, they’re not just producing journalism on multiple platforms, they’re working with other students who are working across platforms, and they’re learning how it’s different, how the thinking from one platform to another is different,” Callahan says. “They’re doing that by being all in one news entity. It will be much more robust an educational experience and, quite frankly, we think they’ll be producing better, deeper, more engaging content.”
That experience provides challenging preparation for today’s marketplace, but Callahan says the school also sees itself as a site of experimentation and innovation. It’s preparing to hire a “chief of disruption”—he’s not sure about the exact title—responsible for developing new partnerships across the campus that produce new synergies and opportunities within the “teaching hospital.”
Callahan has been in academia long enough to understand the challenges of attracting his colleagues into his program, but he’s optimistic that the partnership has something to offer them: public profile. “These are people doing fascinating work, but they all believe the same thing: They have fantastic people, great students, innovative programs, and they all think that they are not nearly as well-known as they should be, both internally and externally, and we can bring that to them. That’s a real, actual, tangible benefit.”
In the face of massive investment and growth, Callahan says the core values of journalism still drive the school’s mission: “Forget the forms, forget the technology, forget everything else,” he says. “I think the core values of journalism need to be held and held firm. We can come up with a media model that I’m sure will be successful, but if it’s not performing those primary functions of journalism in a democracy, then to what end?”
Lindsey Cook, the U.S. News & World Report data reporter, agreed that “the whole concept of a journalism school being separate from the rest of the university is very antiquated and is terrible for us. … If you are going to hire someone to teach your students computer science, you should hire a computer scientist. If you are going to hire someone to teach your students about politics, you should hire a Ph.D. in political science, an expert.”
That said, Cook would not try to get everyone into the “hospital” but would send students out across campus to study at the feet of the masters. Asked what she would do if she could start a journalism school from scratch, she challenged the premise that journalism schools are relevant or necessary. “I would knock down the barriers across campus that keep students from accessing the faculty experts in the areas they’re interested in studying,” she says. “I would never start a journalism school.”
The demands of an evolving model
As it has since the turn of the 20th century, the debate over journalism education rages on—from no J-schools to the teaching hospital, from the next version of a liberal arts degree to the cutting edge of technology. Jay Rosen, media critic and director of the Studio 20 graduate journalism program at New York University, says that the symbiotic relationship among journalism schools, universities and newsrooms worked well for 50 years, but it isn’t working anymore.
“For the last four or fives decades at least, what the news industry wanted from the J-school was simple: “Send us people we can plug into our production routine tomorrow,” he says. “That was the contract that governed journalism education. And when I say ‘tomorrow,’ I mean that literally. The industry and the journalism professionals who did the hiring wanted people who could sign the forms from HR and learn where the bathrooms are today, get put on an assignment tomorrow, and return with a finished story that could run.”
Newsrooms loved it because the university was doing their training for them. Universities loved it because it established positive relationships with the local media and enrollments were strong. Parents loved it because their kids were studying a practical skill. Professional faculty loved it because they could retire from the newsroom and impart the wisdom of their experience to eager students. Scholarly faculty loved it because they were left alone to focus on the sociology of mass media. And students loved it because they got jobs.
But, says Rosen, “what happens when all of a sudden the production routine has to change because technology is changing the way people get news? What happens if, suddenly, research and development becomes a big priority because the news industry needs new products, new business models, and new work flows? What if a thin and underdeveloped learning culture suddenly becomes a massive liability in a craft struggling to adapt? What if people for whom innovation meant a new food section have to reinvent their workplace? Are they going to be able to turn to the J-school for help? That, to me, is the challenge in journalism education right now.”
Folkerts, Jean, John Maxwell Hamilton, and Nicholas Lemann, “Educating Journalists: A New Plea for the University Tradition,” Columbia Journalism School, 2013, p. 4. https://www.journalism.columbia.edu/system/documents/785/original/75881_JSchool_Educating_Journalists-PPG_V2-16.pdf. ↩
Ibid., pp. 65-70. ↩