Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Should Journalism Schools Teach?

Prof. Cindy Royal at Texas State University School of Journalism has written an interesting piece on why journalism schools should consider themselves to be in the business of teaching technology.

As I looked through the list of Professor Royal's required apps, I was surprised that I knew as many as I did, and annoyed at myself that I didn't know more.

Some of this is generational. My students have an instinct for what works and what's exciting about apps. I take their recommendations seriously.

But Professor Royal's tech enthusiasm is, I fear, misplaced. Will more apps lead to better journalism? I have my doubts. I'm more certain that Professor Royal's approach will only encourage media organizations to keep on downsizing, replacing older workers with younger and more media literate journalists. Sure, it will save money but will it deepen the public's sense of trust? I doubt that too.

In the meantime, media organizations keep trying new strategies and new apps with the hope of attracting that elusive demographic (and that is now what?...18 to 25? 25 to 40?) which, like some Holy Grail is supposed to lead legacy media into a new age of monetized grace.

NPR has designed a new way of "expanding its digital thinking" by analyzing the content and which part of the journalistic offerings audience finds most compelling.

Don't get me wrong: news organizations need more young people with fresh ideas and new skills. But they also need journalists with institutional memory and that ethical compass in order to deepen the public's sense of trust in what journalism must do.

Journalism schools have an obligation to graduate people who know how to do both and who understand the limits of each.

Yet Professor Royal's approach and NPR's new venture have other dangers: too often, journalism schools can act as enablers of bad practices by not pointing out the flaws. I was told by a senior journalism educator that our job as teachers is not to criticize media organizations. I was stunned by that remark and asked her, then what is our role?

"To get jobs for our graduates," she said.

That must mean in the race for ratings and circulation, we must be unquestioning good soldiers in the media wars and ensuring that journalism is "click bait" on news websites.

I'm told that one Toronto newspaper is promising bonuses for those reporters who stories get the most re-tweets and online comments.

Getting to a deeper, more meaningful place with our audiences is fine. But training future journalists to pander for paychecks and bottom line dollars seems downright antithetical to good journalism.



1 comment:

  1. I said this on Facebook but will add it here too. It is an absolute disgrace that journalism programs don't require students to take a statistics course given the huge amount of material which is presented to them in a statistical fashion and given the rise of data driven journalism. One reason in my mind as I have said to you before is that journalism schools think that "story" is the most important element in reporting. It isn't: The truth, no matter how messy and non-story-ful is.

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