It’s easy for anyone to get into a rut.  It happens to me all the time – it likely happens to you somewhat regularly unless you are one of those incredibly annoying people who somehow glide through life with flawless execution – credit card bills paid off monthly and your silverware always glistening.  Where getting into a rut ISN’T acceptable is in the education field.   As educators (and notice I am using THIS term instead of academics to describe our role in society) our responsibility is to always remain more knowledgeable than our students, ensure we are relevant and topical regardless of our own personal opinions and trappings, and provide the best quality education possible to those who sit in our classes.

As journalism educators, never has there been a more challenging time than now to do our jobs.  Yes, many of us can sit in our proverbial ivory towers as academics and pontificate about journalistic integrity and standards.  But the reality is that despite how hard we may rail over the shifting landscape in our field, it is evolving and morphing into something almost unrecognizable.  

As the head of a post-graduate Journalism program that embraces the Internet and the concepts of participatory journalism, I have the fortunate opportunity to spend time learning from those who aren’t journalists but rather understand the impact of the Internet on communication.  For over two years I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what needs to change in journalism education in order to prepare our students for this career path and to help them succeed.  Journalism isn’t dead, as I’ve heard many critics announce, it’s just evolving into a field for the business savvy and self-employed, ironically as it used to be when it first emerged in the British colonies of the early 1700s.

The Inevitable Medium

Here is a list of the top six ways I believe journalism education has to change:

  1. Journalism programs need to adopt an “Internet first” mentality.  As one of my most memorable students made a presentation to his New Media Theory class several years ago, he referred to the Internet as the “inevitable medium.”  It struck a cord with all of us and his words continue to ring loudly throughout the hallways at Sheridan College.
  2. Branding has to become part of the curriculum.  Journalists will be and are becoming entrepreneurs.  As independent media startups begin to proliferate the “inevitable medium,” and independent journalists break the big stories online, those who are able to create strong brand recognition for themselves and/or their content will have the largest followings and therefore the ability to monetize their work more effectively.   We need to eliminate a culture of “job” expectation within our students and encourage and nurture a culture and excitement for “self-employment.”
  3. We need to teach specialties, not generalities.  Once fundamental journalism skills are taught, we need to help our students develop a specialty (business, global affairs, technology, environment?) in areas they may already have an expertise or strong interest in.  Yes, the return of “beat” reporting.  It will help with the branding.
  4. We need to teach journalism as a service, not as a commodity.  We are no longer creating a unique product because everyone can now create that same product.   But we can provide a service.  In some cases, an essential service – to democracy, advocacy, etc.
  5. We need to teach students to teach themselves – there’s too much focus on specific software technologies – not enough on training students to train themselves.  No one can keep up any other way!
  6. We need to acknowledge the merging of journalism, public relations (formally known as corporate journalism) and advertising….as more and more organizations realize the value of an “in house” journalist.. or “content czar” as part of their overall messaging, marketing and media strategy… (all together now…cringe!)

Journalism used to be known as the “first rough draft of history.”  Today, it’s more accurate to think of journalism as a public conversation of many voices, mixing fact, opinion, rhetoric and, well, thinly disguised public relations marketing.   Fortunately, those voices with the most integrity, accuracy and professionalism will be the ones we will most value.