Friday, September 18, 2009

will all those who think journalism classes are about writing, please stand up... and then go away.

I just read this piece on Poynter by Ernest Wilson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at USC, decrying the absence of journalism schools in the public debate on the future of news, but more importantly, castigating them for not teaching for the future.

That makes me crazy. Unless of course -- and it happens -- those who know nothing about journalism consider courses in same to be writing (Or blogging. Or video. Fill in the blank) courses. Learn how to craft a lead. Learn the inverted pyramid. Shoot good video. Make sure you spell names right. All important, sure. But only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

If that is what people consider to be journalism education, well, no wonder we aren't taken seriously. Or asked to contribute to the larger debate. And if that's what you learn -- or teach -- you've got it so wrong.

From day one, students (at least in my class, and I would hope others) learn why journalism matters, how to do it responsibly and ethically, and most important, how to look creatively toward an unknown future. These students, the ones who walk into an intro class, will be the leaders of the industry some years down the line. They are the ones who will be equipped to direct tomorrow's newsrooms. That's what journalist education is -- and should be -- about: as Mitchell Stephens once suggested, to critically question journalism and envision how to make it better.

I see that. My students see that. Doesn't anyone else? Journalism education isn't writing. Or even, truly, craft. It's about much more more.

From Wilson's piece: Several years behind the times?

Finally, our profession needs to raise its sights much higher and link our teaching and research to broad issues of media, democracy and societal changes, and eschew the self-referential, inward-looking focus that marks too many academic exercises. The leadership of journalism and communications schools must step forward with a more coherent, sweeping vision of what our profession can become, and mobilize the non-stop vitality that the current crisis demands of us. Done properly, we can help our students and the public interest. If we fail, then like much of the media industry today, journalism schools will continue a long, slow descent into less and less relevance for addressing the major issues of our time. We must rise to the task of helping save journalism, and in the process saving ourselves. The stakes couldn't be higher.
Haven't many of us already been doing this? Just ask my students, aka "the architects of the change" who early on, are tasked with coming up with a blueprint for the newsroom of the future. Many of them have come up with forward-thinking ideas that far surpass anything many of those in the field have yet to propose. Get angry. bk

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