Why journalism schools and students must continue to evolve

By Laura Davison
There has been lots of discussion in recent months by media thinkers and journalism funders about the relevance of getting a degree in journalism.

But not everyone agrees. Emory University announced earlier this fall that it plans to close its journalism program, saying it is a “pre-professional program” and therefore “not an easy fit” in a liberal arts environment. Poynter, on the other hand, has defended journalism education as a way to teach students to develop curiosity.

Important to note is that these thinkers aren't saying the skills learned in j-schools are irrelevant. Rather, they argue many journalism programs aren’t keeping up with the demands of a continuously changing industry.

For many schools, the industry is changing faster than the curriculum can. Meredith Artley, an MU alumna who is managing editor of CNN’s digital operations, says she looks for multimedia and coding skills when she hires young journalists. But she also wants to see specialization in a beat like business, science or education. Artley writes it's a much tougher market for journalism graduates than it was when she graduated in 1995.

Many journalism schools already have altered their curricula to churn out students with skills employers want. But some are lagging.

“Some educators said there was no need to talk of change: They’d already done it,” Knight Foundation adviser Eric Newton wrotein a column for Nieman Lab. “Those folks missed the point…Did you change last year? You’re a year behind.”

Newton and six other journalism project funders co-signed an open letter to university presidents, calling for universities to recreate themselves into “teaching hospitals” with “more top professionals in residence at universities and a focus on applied research.”

“Journalism funders agree that academia must be leading instead of resisting the reform effort,” the letter said. “Simply put, universities must become forceful partners in revitalizing an industry at the very core of democracy.”

Geneva Overholser, director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalismargues that journalism schools’ roles as research institutions is fundamental to the future of the industry. But she write in a post for Nieman Lab that focusing on technology is only one way schools need to change.

“We can easily focus on the new technologies, the new social media tools, and the new possibilities for financial support," she wrote. "Yet the far more interesting and promising change is the new way of working with the public to make journalism better than it has ever been — more inclusive, more democratic, and more focused on fostering civic engagement."

It's not just up to journalism schools to fix their curricula, though. USC professor Robert Hernandez says it's time for students to take initiative to learn the skills they will need for the job they want. We don't need to wait for administrators to decide what we need to know. Robert Hernandez encourages students to experiment with the abundant digital media resources out there to learn what we want to know.

Readers are actively participating in journalism. As students, we can actively participate in the formation of our education. Journalism education and institutions won’t change, unless we as journalists change how we approach our work and education.

Photo courtesy of the Missouri School of Journalism

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