Posts about jschool

Change 101

Reading Vin Crosbie’s piece about the resistance to change and general obstructionism he has found teaching at journalism school (he doesn’t say it, but he has spent the year at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University), it makes me triply glad I am teaching at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. This will come off as blatant self-promotion for the school but so be it.

Vin said: “What I found were faculties resistant to change and students whose insights and mastery of new media were being eroded by the authoritative resistance to change of so many professors. . . I’ve also discovered that media academics follow, rather than lead, their industries.”

When I arrived at CUNY, I feared I would find what Vin did. But I haven’t, not at all. I thought I might be marginalized as the crazy guy. But that hasn’t happened.

Instead, in the last few months, I’ve been teaching the faculty itself in all the tools of online: blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and on and on. The best part of this has not been my colleagues’ receptivity to, curiosity about, and eagerness to adapt the tools themselves in their classes but the discussion we have shared about the impact of these tools on journalism and education. We’ve had rich back and forth on the new architecture of media and news that the impact of this change on journalism education.

I don’t mean to say that my colleagues immediately drink my Kool-Aid; there is disagreement and debate, as I’d hope there would be. At last week’s session, for example, I showed Twitter, predicting that a few of my fellow profs would shake their heads at the tchotchkefication of the world into 140 characters’ worth of words. Heads did shake. One of the professors said she gets the impact on journalism of other technologies we’ve discussed — indeed, she is using them, creating class blogs and more. But she challenged me to demonstrate the journalistic relevance of this one. Fair enough. I showed news organizations using Twitter to distribute headlines and bulletins. I talked about other news organizations, like Sky.com, using Twitter to report on breaking news live. I told them that I’d just seen the BBC and Reuters using Twitter to extract news (by, for example, searching for big-event tripwords like “explosion” and “earthquake”); the thought is that Twitter could be the canary in the news coal mine and that similar use of Flickr, YouTube, Technorati, and other services will surface witnesses’ pictures, video, and accounts. I passed that quiz.

Here’s the Keynote we’ve been using as notes for this discussion.

At CUNY, we are teaching the tools of all media to all students and requiring them to make stories in various media throughout their time there. The faculty are learning the tools as well (I say “are learning” instead of “have learned” because it’s a neverending process). At the same time, we are trying to plan how to pull down the walls between old media tracks — print, broadcast, interactive — while still preparing students for specialized jobs. We believe we have to be careful not to be overeager with this because we risk getting ahead of the job market. But there is no resistance at all to the idea that all journalists must work in all media.

More important, we realize that we are teaching change. Rich Gordon at Northwestern has said this, too: We have to get our students ready to adapt as the tools inevitably evolve. But, of course, more than the tools change. The structure of the craft changes and with it the relationship of journaliasts with the public and with newsmakers. The structure of the industry changes and with it their jobs. And the structure of narrative changes as we have new ways to tell stories. So we are also teaching our students choice. They no longer pick a medium at the beginning of their careers and stick with it. Now, every time they tell a story, they have to make choices about the best ways to do that for their audience and for the story itself. Not all students like this much choice at first; some wish we’d just tell them how to do it. But we agree that choice is one of the key skills we have to teach. That was the discussion we had at our faculty tools session last week.

How am I so lucky? I think it helps that we are a new school without a legacy to protect; instead, we are building one. It also helps that the deans recruited a great faculty and that we both get along well and, as it has turned out, agree about the need to teach change while we also teach what we love to call the eternal verities of journalism: accuracy, fairness, reporting. . . . And it helps that we are drawing students who know they are part of a new school in an industry undergoing upheaval; they are daring and they demand that we are as well. They are the ones who are going to change journalism and that’s why I took this job.

We also see that helping and leading the industry in change is part of our mission. That’s why we got a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to hold meetings in networked journalism last fall and in new business models for news this fall. We got a grant from McCormick Tribune for my entrepreneurial journalism course. We got one from Knight to help bloggers learn what the needed about media law. We are about to announce something else along these lines.

We’re far, far from perfect. Every term, we learn — from listening to our students — how to better teach our courses, adjusting syllabi as well as the curriculum. In the videos here, I describe the interactive courses to new students just admitted and we are now trying to do a better job of telling them just what tools and skills they will learn at what level. That’s an improvement. I am also constantly struggling with finding ways to teach interactivity when student journalists don’t have a public with whom to interact (any ideas, please share them). So we must change, too.

Here are the relevant slides about the interactive program.

I can’t speak for any other journalism school anywhere. And I think that Vin said what needs to be said to the academy and the industry. All I can say is that I shared Vin’s fears but I have seen that it is possible for journalism education to change and — only time will tell — lead.

In the meantime, Vin, come on by for coffee.

: ALSO: We’ve just announced our 100,000-mile warranty for students, enabling them to keep up on and brush up on new tools and skills after they graduate.

Me at CUNY

Not that I expect a soul to watch but if you’re curious, here was my spiel about the interactive journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism open house for our accepted students a week ago (this is where we convince them to come to use and not to go elsewhere).

Watch CUNY today

We’re having an open house for accepted students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism today and you can watch it live here. The dean starts things off at 10:30a ET; I’m on describing the interactive program at 2p ET. Here’s the rest of the schedule.

Lemann links

Some followup links reacting to Nick Lemann’s j-school memo.

Charlie Beckett:

The future of journalism (cue plug: “as I write in my new book, SuperMedia”) is about how paid journalists work with unpaid citizen journalists, professionals and public sharing the process. We will need fewer hacks churning out the basics and more expert editorial entrepreneurs and ‘enablers’ working with the citizen and consumer. That’s where we should focus our thinking and our investment in journalism studies.

Charlie continues in the comments here:

I agree with most of what Lemann says as I think you do too, Jeff. (Now there’s a first!). But what I think we have to be careful of is framing this problem as elite versus vocational.
Yes, we will need much more citizen-friendly, networked journalism in places that do media education (and all schools should be j-schools to an extent).
But we also need thought-leadership education for the editorial innovation, enterprise and strategic planning that will enable the grass-roots changes.
Here at Polis we are lucky to have both: a high-powered intellectual research capacity at the London School of Economics plus a state-of-the-art vocational department at the London College of Communications.
One answer is more interaction between us all.

Matt Storrin, former ME of the NY Daily News (and a colleague of mine there), also in the comments:

Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, because at Notre Dame we have no journalism major, but only a minor or “concentration.” It’s a small program. Many courses are open to students outside the program. In my current media ethics class, at least half have no interest in a professional journalism career. (Two probably dream of careers in the NBA and NFL.) In my fall course, a modern history of journalism, two thirds said they had no intention of pursuing a journalism career. I would think there must be other schools where this is true. I think you are right, given the media landscape today, there is reason to believe that these “non-journalist” students may actually find practical benefit from these courses not only as consumers (the default rationale) but as practitioners.

And here’s Mindy McAdams.

A good oops

Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, accidentally sent his class his self-evaluation intended for the university provost. No harm done, though. It’s an impressive document — it helps to hire New Yorker writers to pen memos — that sets out Lemman’s accomplishments and worldview. Here’s the bit, toward the end, that interested me:

I cannot be sure how long our school can continue to thrive if the profession it serves is not thriving. We have many advantages, including our financial resources, our location, our worldwide reputation, our strong relationships with employers, and the quality of our faculty and curriculum. We do not have the advantages almost all other journalism schools have: a large and not very job market-sensitive undergraduate student body and low tuition. In the short run, we are benefiting from journalism’s replacing older reporters with younger ones, but in the long run we must be as attentive to recruiting and to placement as possible, and we must teach our students to be journalists in ways that are as broadly applicable as possible geographically and across the different media.

I certainly agree that students must learn to apply journalism broadly — across all media, in other words.

But the larger question raised here is whether journalism schools should serve just professional journalists (that is, those who work, full-time, for journalistic institutions) — and, for that matter, whether schools can afford to do just that.

I haven’t blogged about this yet but I am coming to think that if, as I believe, N percent of journalistic effort will be undertaken by amateurs, then shouldn’t it be the mission of journalism schools to devote N percent of their education to helping those new practitioners do what they want to do better?

This is just my opinion — I’m by no means speaking for my school — and I haven’t thought through what this means. But I believe that like every other institution and industry in the Google Age, education will become more distributed, more open, less of a product and more of a process. More on that soon.

Lemann continues:

I don’t think I have been nearly effective enough in persuading either our own Journalism School community, or other journalism schools, or the wider world of the profession, that the professional education of a journalist should include intellectual content. The primary orientation of journalism schools, including ours, is toward conferring skills associated with entry-level practice; almost the entire discourse in journalism education is internal to journalism and concerned with professional norms and practices, rather than with how to understand the world we are supposed to cover.

This has been Lemann’s crusade: to bring professionalism — which I now read more as intellectualism — to the craft. I don’t disagree that this can be a worthy goal. What’s fascinating about Lemann’s memo is the glimpse it provides into his ambition: He wishes he could have transformed the Columbia program along these lines — changing the existing master of science program rather than adding a master of arts program — and that he could do likewise to America’s journalism schools.

It’s a proper question that I’ll oversimply, as is my blogger’s habit: How do we make reporters smarter about what they cover? Putting aside debates about which should dominate journalism education — skills or intellectual rigor — here, too, I wonder whether the coming distributed architecture of education will make a difference for journalism students and practicing journalists. What should specialized and continuing education look like in a period of more rapid change and broader opportunity? What should our ethic of education be? Should we expect that reporters covering, say, business learn the fundamentals of accounting and make it easy for them to do so?

These are the sorts of issues raised in Lemman’s memo and so I’m glad he sent the wrong file.

: Lemann and I had a distributed dialogue about some of this, which started with his New Yorker essay, about which I blogged; he and I then wrote about this at Comment is Free (links to both here).