Tear up the tracks and the business cards

Paul Conley goes to a confab of college media advisers (which, unfortunately, I couldn’t attend) and writes a frightening report on the attitude of some journalism students today who want to maintain the old and obsolete distinctions among media. I have been arguing that people in newsrooms must tear up their business cards, getting rid of their job descriptions as print or broadcast or new media. All media are new today. Conley makes it apparent that the same thing must happen in schools; we have to tear up the tracks:

Perhaps the strangest thing I’ve run into is what I’ve come to think of as the silo student. Kids keep handing me resumes that look like they were written 20 years ago. They mention the student newspaper, the yearbook and the college literary magazine. But they don’t mention Web sites, blogs, email newsletters, podcasts, html skills, citizen journalism projects, video, etc. And when I ask the students about their online experience, I get these weird responses. Lots of them tell me “I only want to work for a newspaper.” Lots of them say things like “I’m going to be a writer, not anything else.” Some seem genuinely perplexed and ask me if I think “most newspapers have Web sites?” or if “reporters need to do things on the Web?”

When I asked teachers what they thought about this, I found that they were as upset as I was by their students’ disconnect from the realities of media today. Teachers told me over and over again that their students were adamantly opposed to converging news operations at their schools. The print kids don’t like the TV kids; the Web kids don’t like the print kids, etc. The “cultures” don’t mix, so the products don’t mix and the students don’t develop multimedia skills. Remarkably, as one teacher pointed out, few print students actually “lived” in the world of old media. They all owned iPods. They snap photos with cell phones, communicate with Instant Messenger and join social-networking sites. Yet they expect to work in some sort of old-fashioned land of ink and paper. A number of teachers blamed the disconnect on their peers in college journalism programs. Many programs are dominated by older, established teachers who haven’t worked in the press for decades and have an open contempt for newer forms of media. And no doubt such elitist dinosaurs are helping to create a new generation of unemployable followers.

  • mark singer

    Maybe these students are simply reticent about exposure to the range of views on various subjects that the web provides…

  • I will say that this has not been my experience. Perhaps it’s a question of which University. Regardless, I have found just the opposite where I wander, so I’m a bit more hopeful about tomorrow.

  • Oh, Buzzy, you had no idea what you were walking into at CUNY, did ya?
    I onced edited a campus paper there; beef up your MetroCard, and get ready to ride the rails if you want to get your message out, and then take a deep breath, because the GRAD School lives in its own universe
    If you wana win…don’t bother talking to any instructer that isn’t an adjunct.

  • I’m on the reader’s advisory board for my local newspaper, and most of their reporters are fresh out of J-school. They know very little about the internet and frankly hate blogs.

    If the editor wasn’t one of the first people who went online back in the ’90s, they wouldn’t have any website or blogs at all, I think.

    So this revelation is nothing new to me!

  • I recently was an intern at a news magazine, working on the online department. Most of the other interns were trained to be newspaper type journalist and didn’t get blogs either (beyond maybe the personal ones they saw or the political blogs). I think that’s changing now though with more school publications coming out with blogs, though.

  • Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for the link and the support.
    I’ve met a lot of students in recent weeks, and “frightening” is the right word for the experience.
    I hope you’re finding a different situation at CUNY.

  • i was an ad design major at syracuse for undergrad, but not advertising at newhouse; i was advertising design at vpa. the difference? we had the art directors of the future, they had the copywriters and account execs. please tell me how much sense that makes.

  • According Spherion, by 2007 half the US working population will be freelance. Whether this is the case or not, we are moving inexorabaly towards ‘fractional work’. The future of work will take most of these students by surprise.

    “The internet has caused a fundamental change in attitude towards work and the realisation that a ‘career’ has ceased to be a feasible way to organise working life. I now view work as an instrument of self-development and personal autonomy and entrepreneurship not as a status symbol, but as an attitude – an attitude that everyone is going to need.” Léon Benjamin

  • EB

    if you told a news director at a tv station about your blog in a job interview, they would laugh at you and make you run teleprompter on the 5 o’clock news. for a long time.

    blogs aren’t seen as “real” writing, they’re mere typing, to many in the hiring realms it seems to me.

  • This was somewhat true when I went to school, and it was quite true when I was a student advisor at an Ivy League university. There’s something socially about being the Top Dog at a student media outlet — think Paris on Gilmore Girls. For kids that have been taught since grade school that *sanctioned* actvities are what counts, this is totally natural. Why bother developing your writing skills on a blog when a hiring officer doesn’t know what a blog is? And if you’re the tribal head of Print at your school, it’s natural to be competitve against the Radio and TV tribes because you’re playing a zero-sum game for funding and attention.

    And yet, when I hire folks for my business, I’d rather see a blog than a resume, anyway. But that’s just me (apparently).

  • “If you wana win…don’t bother talking to any instructer that isn’t an adjunct.”

    Bingo. None of the other instructors have had to look for a job since the 80s. The reason those kids keep coming up with resumes that look like they were written 20 years ago, is because they were written by instructors that haven’t had to look for a job in 20 years.

    The bottom line is, if you go into your average college tomorrow and ask their instructors if they know what the words firefox, RSS, podcasting, and even weblogs mean, you are going to get plenty of confused stares. This isn’t a problem at the top schools, but then again the majority of the college students aren’t going to those top schools.

  • I don’t know why anyone would presume that journalism schools are going to provide the next generation of pundits.

    Having a graduate degree is not going to generate more web traffic or credibility. What J-Schools did Drudge and Markos Moulitsas go to again?

    In fact, undergraduate degrees are almost worthless these days thanks to the politics and cronyism infecting the entire educational sphere.

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  • Lecturers and adjuncts and lower-level faculty have the best chance to affect change in students’ attitudes about blogs, online, etc, because they teach the intro-level journalism classes.

    The undergrads I deal with every day think blogs are unreliable because every time tenured profs says the word Internet, they preface it with “hard-to-confirm sources on the” or follow it with “writers without the same level of responsibility as at a newspaper.”

    It goes on like this, day in, day out, no matter what they say in faculty meetings about teaching convergence, or online design, or html, or whatever.

    It takes a few younger profs without 15 years at a newspaper starting 35 years ago to get the Internet into students’ heads.

    We’ve got a few undergrad class-and-prof blogs going now at the school where I’m a grad student, but we’re still way behind the times.

    Oh, and by the way, undergrads seem to ignore guest speakers, no matter how informed or interesting they are. Not sure how to get through that barrier.