With the Pulitzer journalism winners announced on Monday and Tumblr shutting down Storyboard, its successful editorial project, last week, now is as good time as ever to talk about the future and evolution of journalism. The recent appointment of Steve Coll as the new dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism has also spurred a somewhat heated conversation about how journalism education is adapting in the “age of disruption.”
Coll’s impressive accomplishments/titles include former managing editor of The Washington Post, staff writer at The New Yorker, and two-time Pulitzer winner. However, as David Carr wrote in his March 31 article in The New York Times, “not everyone was impressed with the new wizard. In USA Today, Michael Wolff was very underwhelmed. Mr. Coll’s sin? He ‘has never tweeted in his life.'”
Carr disagreed with Wolff’s assessment that Coll may not be the best candidate for the job, listing his merits and praising Coll for continuously doing “serious, deeply reported work.”
I agree with Mr. Wolff and others who have suggested that given the state of the industry and the paucity of opportunities, journalism education is something of a confidence game. Having seen many journalism programs up close, I can say that most are escalators to nowhere. […]
Even in a shrinking industry, journalism schools may become more important — becoming sources of actual journalism and not just pedagogy.
Carr also quotes Coll who of course has a vision of bringing journalism into the future:
We are in the second phase of disruption, and I think this job is a great place to think about and participate in some of the ways we go forward… I think the great digital journalism of our age has yet to be created. The cohort that is at Columbia now is the one that will be making the journalism that is going to shape our democracy: working on mining data sets, creating video that is not 2012, coming up with much more powerful ways of accruing and displaying information.
Wolff’s and Carr’s comments had resulted in Tom Rosenstiel’s article aptly titled, “Why we need a better conversation about the future of journalism education.” “”We should have that conversation, only a better one,” wrote Rosenstiel, calling the “misfire” between Carr and Wolff “misdirected.”
This is a critical juncture in the history of how we teach the next generation of journalists — whether they work in conventional newsrooms or elsewhere. Some schools, including the University of Colorado, Indiana University and Emory University, have made the decision to do away with their standalone journalism programs. The reason, oversimplified, is that the trade school model of teaching journalism, which has never fit comfortably in research universities, falters when the jobs supporting it are shrinking.
The universities, however, are walking away at exactly the wrong moment. The trade school model is giving way to something better, a change many of us have been advocating for years. In the process, research universities now have a larger responsibility and role to play in helping rethink and revive civic discourse and ensuring journalism has a sustainable and ethical role in that. The opportunity will require new approaches. But it is not the time to leave the field because it doesn’t ring the cash register the way it used to.
Rosenstiel offers his own take on what the news and communication curriculum should include (emphasis ours):
- 1. Teaching of technical skills (how to use different platforms and technology).
- 2. Journalistic responsibility (including history, values, ethics, community, material that always made journalists better).
- 3. Understanding of business (how to understand audience metrics, revenue, entrepreneurship).
- 4. The intellectual discipline of verification, what some call evidence and inference, or what might better be understood as social empiricism.
“Does that sound a bit academic for journalism education?” Rosenstiel asks. “It should.”
Image by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.