Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The future of journalism education

I gave a workshop last Saturday at the JACC SoCal conference on how community college journalism programs could enhance their online publications by aggregating content from other sources.

At the end of the workshop one student in the audience asked me a philosophical question about the alienation of geographical communities that the Internet causes and whether the newspaper industry had a role in that.

I deferred answering the question directly because it doesn't matter, especially at the community college level. What matters is that
  1. Audiences the ages of our students typically do not read printed newspapers,
  2. The newspaper industry is experiencing a transition that many in the industry are not comfortable with, but are powerless to stem, and
  3. We in journalism education have a responsibility not only to serve our campuses with the printed publication they desire but train our students for this new world.

But how do we do that? What is the role of journalism education of the future? Despite all the negative news about layoffs in the industry and the deconstruction of venerable traditional media I remain optimistic for the future of journalism. Demand for news and information does not seem to be abating, just transforming. The question is what kind of product that transformation will lead to.

I believe it will involve some kind of electronic presentation, but it clearly will be more than that. It appears that traditional media outlets, long used to being dominiant content creators more and more will find content aggregation part and parcel of what they do.

Now, that's not a completely new concept. For almost 150 years newspapers, at least the bigger ones, have supplemented their locally produced content with wire service and syndicated content. What's different now is that these specialized media companies are being joined by micro-content providers, such as political or entertainment blogs. A column by Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub articulated it more clearly for me. He points out the growth of non-profit sector blogs and news sites. The future role of "newspapers" may be more steeped in aggregation of news than creation of news.

I find that exciting for journalism education, and a bit scary. It will be important to make sure we in journalism education do our part to train future journalists for this kind of role so that
  1. There are trained reporters who can provide the content, and
  2. The creation of news is not left solely to public relations operations who may give a biased look at the news.

How do we best prepare students for this new model of news? I wish more people had attended my workshop because far too many student publications still see their role as publishing only their own content. But even my workshop did not address the fundamental mindset changes that must take place. We need to unbundle our programs and encourage other groups on our campuses to help us tell stories, and we need to accept those stories. And we need to stop preparing our students solely to work for an odld-newspaper model and prepare them for entirely new careers in a new New Media model.