Comments by Eric Newton to journalism educators in Denver to open the Aug. 3, 2010 pre-conference workshop, “Journalism Schools as News Providers: Challenges and Opportunities”
“In journalism school they taught me the story was the only thing that mattered.
Make a story good enough, it will change the world.
A great story can change the world, under the right circumstances.
But an equally great story will change absolutely nothing, if conditions aren’t right.
Because the stories we love so much are not the only things that matter.
Not just reaching but engaging communities matters.
Portable, personal, participatory technology matters.
Business models that support quality journalism matter.
The whole media ecosystem matters.
The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities warns us that news and information are so essential to democratic life that we need get over the impulse to save yesterday’s journalism and get on with the business of creating today’s and tomorrow’s.
That’s why an expanded role for journalism schools in creating content is a timely topic.
I see this topic as one of four transformational trends emerging in journalism education.
Alas, and this is a bad group to confess this to, I have brought with me not a scintilla of data to back up this contention that these are emerging trends.
My defense is that it is all your fault. Years of working closely with you, people who hope to lead journalism to a better, 21st century future have put me on to these ideas of trends.
I think these meta-trends are crystallizing around the four basic components of traditional journalism — the journalist, the story, the medium and the audience – all of which are changing fast.
So here they are:
- Transformational Trend Number One: Journalism and communication schools better connecting to the intellectual life of the entire university.
When you teach students to produce professional quality work while in school, when you teach entrepreneurial journalism, when you teach the specialties of health, business, environmental or other advanced forms of journalism, when you teach it to computer programmers or citizen journalists, you are expanding the definition of who a journalist is and what a journalist can do. This is too big a job for journalism schools to do by themselves. So we see the best of you connecting with other parts of your universities.
- Transformational Trend Number Two: Journalism and communication schools as content and technology innovators.
Since even our top industry leaders admit no one knows what the future of news will be, you have just as good a chance of inventing it as anyone. We see the early adopters among you experimenting with new story forms, teaching everything from data visualization, web scraping and computational journalism, even developing new software. Some are experimenting with new tools as fast as they come out. You aspire to be not the caboose of the news community but its engine of change. To do this, more of you are learning how to innovate.
- Transformational Trend Number Three: Journalism and communication schools as the master teachers of open, collaborative approaches.
We see stories done by multiple newsrooms in partnership, different campuses working together, campuses working with news outlets, pro-am work with bloggers. We see the sharing of teaching methods and tools and more e-learning. An increasing use of open source software as a teaching tool. We see the teaching of students to work harmoniously in teams and small groups. When a story can be told in 30 different ways in 30 different technological forms, we need new ways of seeing the essence of the message and hooking it up with the right media. The leaders among you are showing how open, collaborative approaches make these choices easier.
- Transformational Trend Number Four: Journalism and communication schools as digital news providers who understand the media ecosystems of their communities.
Teaching journalism without producing real news is about as useful as holding target practice without real bullets. That’s why many of you do it already. But in the digital age we are seeing trend-setting universities going further. We see them trying to more deeply understand and engage with the people we once called the audience. We see engagement metrics, not just usage metrics. We see news organizations hoping to increase story impact by trying to figure out why some stories change the world and others don’t. This places them in the role not only of news providers, but of those who hope to understand the media ecosystems of their communities.
So there you have them:
— Connecting with the whole university
— Innovating content and technology
— Teaching open, collaborative models
— Providing digital news in new engaging ways
My hypothesis is that these transformational trends are keys to the success of journalism schools from this day forward.
My assumption here is that these new approaches are built on top of your existing programs to teach quality journalism, the fair, accurate, contextual search for truth, the idea being that how we do journalism is changing, but why we do it is not.
Now, are these emerging meta-trends, the very best practices of a few or just wishful thinking? You tell me.
If you don’t like these trends, go out and make up some of your own.
But while you are at it, let’s get the scholars in our field to do a lot better job in studying journalism education itself so we can understand if and how it’s actually changing.
If you agree these are indeed emerging trends, what should we do next?
Exactly what you are doing today.
Talk about and hopefully change your rules and tools, standards and practices, laws and statues – the institutional things, accreditation requirements, make shield laws that protect students, all of those other things the Knight Commission and other reports have called for.
Change it all until the day comes when these are no longer emerging trends but the new traditions.”