Saturday, February 16, 2008

From the mouths of students (Carnival of Journalism)

We're into another carnival of journalism weekend (Bryan Murley hosting this round), which (along with a rather vigorous recent faculty meeting dealing the same issues of j-education and its future) set me off thinking about some of the recent posts on blogs created by journalism classes around the country.

I love reading these for the insight -- sometimes delightful and sometimes dreadfully scary -- they give about the students we teach. There has been a good discussion going at one of our class-related blogs, River City Times, in reaction to Jay Rosen's statement that was part of a thought-provoking post at Mark Glaser's Mediashift about helping journalism students learn entrepreneurship.

"It seems to me that for a great many journalists, the old model will continue. That is, there will still be jobs with Big Media companies that do not really require the journalist to think entrepreneurially but simply to “do the job.” The economic survival of the franchise will continue to be someone else’s concern, primarily. However, this will be a smaller percentage of the total and those journalists will have less exciting work.

What’s different today is not that every journalist has to be an entrepreneur or think about striking out on her own; to say that would be hype, an overreaction and inaccurate. Rather, it’s that some of the best opportunities lie in that direction. And for young people there is less of a need to wait for your shot at glory and high achievement. So for those who are extremely talented, ambitious and focused on succeeding in journalism, you “have” to be entrepreneurial in the sense that you would be foolish not to think that way."

What follows are all heartfelt, serious responses. None should be open to ridicule, but some should give us pause (I've highlighted the first few words of each so that you can read the whole thing, if you want. I've commented on a few of them):

  • But the bigger issue here, I think, is that upcoming journalists need to change their expectations about where they are going to work. Everyone wants to work for the big papers or news outlets, but the reality is that there are only a few positions in those kind of places, especially for young journalists. We, the newcomers to this business need to recognize that we should expect to work for a small, probably very specialized news organization.
  • However, working for a newspaper, for an editor, is an experience that cannot be taught in a classroom, despite what some professors may think. Deadlines in school are not taken seriously, and most editors do not hand back corrections; they publish your content the way they want to. I wish I could have my own blog and write the stories I choose, but, let’s be realistic here, who would read it? ... The problem with writing a successful blog (meaning you could live off of its profits) is that it takes time and experience, something most students would admit to not having. ... [With Google ads] Google pays the blogger every time a user clicks a link. In order to make a sustainable amount of money, though, a blog or website must have upwards of 200-300 pages at a minimum.
    • [I wonder if we are giving students an adequate grasp of niche media, what their place in it might be, and the idea of starting early to build audience and credibility. A dose of Chris Anderson's long tail would help, too, as would clarifying some of the misconceptions that a blog must have 200+ "pages" to be successful. I assume the student means posts, and as we know, it is fairly easy to get to that level just by doing a handful a week. And all it takes is one solid post to draw traffic and links. I fear many students still do not have a good idea of Web dynamics. The use of URLs in some posts without turning them into live links is more evidence of that.]
  • I think the entrepreneurial state of mind that captivates many young journalists is taking away from their focus on the common good. Instead, we get "rock star" journalists like Anderson Cooper whose names are bigger draws than their headlines. Instead, we get the junkyard dog (not watchdog) media that buys into McCarthy's proposal that big stories are on page A1 and retractions are on page B7. Entrepreneurship invites -- no -- requires self-promotion, which can only get in the way of truth, a journalist's preferred ideal. If Rosen is right, the best way to prepare students for such an environment is to create and foster ambitious student media. ...
    • [I couldn't agree more with that last sentence. (The poster also goes on -- "Require some sort of practical experience for graduation, such as an internship or freelancing, student media experience or a senior semester-type program."), but the first part concerns me. Some of the most respected journalists over the decades have been entrepreneurs: I.F. Stone comes to mind. Jack Anderson. Even Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, though they had jobs with McClure's Magazine and later formed American Magazine,were largely entrepreneurs in the sense of going her own way, breaking new journalistic ground and advancing the craft (while making some money at it). They might take umbrage at the idea that entrepreneurship "can only get in the way of truth." I'm reading among these posts what I think are views shaped by a conflating of entertainment (which really is code for TV) and journalism. Maybe that's not all bad if the public evaluates us that way, but it gives me pause if journalism students are having trouble distinguishing.]
  • Colleges need to not just encourage us to be tech savvy but should require us to be so. ... It’s not enough these days to just be good at your job. You have to be good in everything if not at least have a hand in all aspects of the newsroom. With the Internet at our disposal, we have limitless options almost to be as creative as we want. It should be the schools’ job to show us how to do that.
  • But as every field is more and more segmented and specialized, I think journalism students also need to learn specific knowledge in a particular field where they want to report in the future. ... Having said that, I think J-school needs to provide more flexible curriculum in which journalism students can more freely choose courses according to their career path.
    • [Boy, doesn't that summarize the conundrum almost every j-school faculty faces these days? Be flexibly specialized. Hmmmm....]

Anyhow, just a sampling. What surprised me was the amount of what I'll call, for lack of a better term, "hardness" in many of the posts. Make people "sink or swim"; force people to take internships or work on campus media; make us take the tech courses we need.

What I'm hearing -- and not just here but on other student blogs I read -- is that they are as confused as most j-schools and newsrooms are right now. But they are expecting us to lead them. Are we ready? Do they need to embrace the idea of becoming more educational entrepreneurs? What do you see here? What do you think?

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