J-school education: Confused and concerned
I just spent a week at the annual confab for we journalism educators, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and I came away with as many questions as answers. The conference tended to spark other blog posts, such as this one: J-schools must teach multimedia and a good post on Inside Higher Education (pay special attention to the comments)
Some quick observations:
- Good to see the education establishment finally embrace the wide range of questions and issues raised by the digital shift. Previous meetings have kind of stuck a toe in the water, but found it a little chilly. This conference was studded with good panels and papers.
- Having said that, I detect the first signs of panic among some of my colleagues, akin to the panic that has hit may newspaper newsrooms. In short: We know we have to do something, but we aren't sure what to do. So let's throw a bunch of Jell-o against the wall and see what sticks. If you listened closely in the sessions and the halls (and exclude the evangelists), there is a begrudging acceptance but still some serious doubt.
- That doubt is aggravated by some serious traditional and institutional factors that work against any quick transition. Not the least of these are the lead times needed for course changes and technology purchases. And then there are tenure and promotion guidelines, often at odds with the quick morphing that appear necessary to survive and thrive in this phase of things. Especially of note: The insistence on Ph.D.'s when many of the cutting-edge skills are not being learned in graduate school but in the school of hard knocks. Add to that:
- The too-often (but not always, please) disconnect between the demands of research and those of teaching.
- And the industry's anti-intellectual bent that helps to devalue the research it says it wants and needs inside academic institutions in favor of the esoterica the industry then uses to say j-school education can irrelevant, etc.
One of the things that struck me as I came away from the conference and a session at API going over the Newspaper Next report was an uneasiness that our standard is shifting in the journalism business to "good enough."
Sure, we're always known we were doing good enough -- you don't get a paper out the door if you do only perfection. But I get this sense that before, while we shot for perfection and settled for good enough, now we are willing to shoot for good enough and settle for ...
I fear we are taking Clayton Christensen's explication of "good enough" as disruptive technology and using it as a de facto standard, instead of understanding what he really means.
And when I view all the newspapers' separate online sites for entertainment, and busy mommies and sports teams, I come away going, "So what is the connection to the ideal of a free press in promoting democracy?" (When I asked that question at API, I got the verbal equivalent of a blank stare.) On none of those sites I saw do you find, say, a small box that might point users, for instance, to recent stories about child-care tax credits, etc. -- the kinds of policy things that if they are not talked about tend to make people wake up one day and go "why didn't you tell us?"
In the process, of course, those things might get people to click back to the main news site where they might find some other stuff of interest (you know,that old serendipity thing). Instead, we seem to be running away from the "newspaper" (a term I use because we don't have a better one right now for the evolving large newsroom). I think there has to be a happy medium somewhere.
Lots to think about and work through. Will probably turn it into a column down the road soon and cross-post here. Meantime, input appreciated.