Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about journalism schools and what journalism students are not learning.
One of the problems is that there’s too much talk. Educators have known about the Internet, multimedia storytelling and convergence for years.
No more excuses.
I realize that this post constitutes talk, but I would like to think of it more as a call to action. To make sure change happens at J-schools, I propose hiring a Resident Butt-Kicker.
I plan to expand on these in future posts, but here’s where we need to start:
1. Online first, print second: Print is not dead, but the idea of a purely “print” major should be thrown out the window. Who wants to pay money to be taught in preparation for the last century?
Start with the essential concepts of writing, reporting, editing, critical thinking, law and ethics, but don’t limit it to merely one form of storytelling. Also, online journalism should not be some 400- or 500-level class that only some students take â€“ it should be drilled into everyone’s head early.
2. Think outside the classroom: How can you teach journalism without practical experience?
Ideas: Structure your class like a newsroom and provide an outlet for publication (e.g. class Web site); require students to work on campus media; require an internship and help place them; etc.
3. Old dogs, learn new tricks: There’s a disconnect among different classes, depending on the professor, as well as an even greater disconnect between professors who have been out of the newsroom for years and those who just came from the newsroom.
The journalism world is moving quickly and schools need to keep pace with their local news outlets so students may be viable job and internship candidates. Just like journalists in the professional world, professors need to be able to adapt and learn new concepts and skills.
Also, why are we being taught in a strict, limited mindset (i.e. print) that we will need to unlearn later? Don’t teach me for today, or even tomorrow.
A journalism school should look ahead, being innovative and proactive in its approach, not reactive. Professors need to be a part of that.
4. Selecting J-students: There should be a multi-dimensional, more personalized interview process for students applying to an academic journalism program. Program directors should ask students about their specific interests in the field, evaluating if the candidate is open minded and willing to evolve.
5. Grades are failing: The grading process needs to change. It seems as if more students worry about getting good grades than actually learning. Grades aren’t worthless, but learning – and getting good experience – matters more.
Unintended, entrepreneurial failure (i.e. not because of laziness) should be embraced and utilized as a teaching tool it is part of the learning process. Thus, students should be encouraged to go out and make mistakes while they are still in school.
6. Establish mentor programs: I hit on this general concept in my Top Ten List of Tips for Journalism Students (No. 7).
Upperclassmen should be paired with underclassmen in a formal, voluntary peer counseling system. Furthermore, every student should meet with a faculty adviser or mentor from time to time and not just to discuss next semester’s schedule.
SPJ recently started a mentor program for members, which is great. Nevertheless, it can’t replace the local insight of a student or professor at your own J-school.
Weigh in: What do you think of these ideas? Students, what else do you want to see done at your school?
Note: The original time stamp on this post was incorrect. It has since been corrected.