How Newhouse can become relevant again

Newhouse School of Communications

This post is in part a response to Lauren Rabaino’s post on how to change the Cal Poly journalism program in part an answer to the #collegejourn call for posts on how to improve college journalism education.

Lauren’s analysis of the way to overhaul the her journalism program seems to go down the right path. I would take it just a set or two further though and stop the broadcast concentration. I'm looking at:

  • writing track: teaches reporting as any old print/newspaper prof would typically teach it, but with a strong emphasis on writing for the web. This naturally includes social networking, blogging, and audio production.
  • visual-content track These are are photogs, broadcast people, & designers. Teach a little bit of print design, but go 40-60% with web design. Photogs and video folk ought to know most of what each other does. Photogs may get some studio and photoshop time that the video folk won't and the video people ought to focus a little more on how to produce BJ style stories.
  • tech track: We need to be teaching/recruiting coders as journalists. Now that we’re on the web, we need people who are capable of running that infrastructure. We ought to be training people in web site design, database management and display, data-mining, website development, etc

I mostly agree with Lauren’s idea of scrapping the print track, as I’ve said, teaching print design is a bit like teaching someone esperanto. It’s not like print design is going to go away, but it is far less important that teaching web design to those in the journalism field.

Video

I’ll go ahead and cautiously agree with Lauren, video should be taught in some form or another to all the majors. I say again: cautiously.

Newhouse has a the ‘kid in the candy store’ syndrome when it comes to video. Soundslides are taught in beginning writing and photo classes, video/multimedia has become an integral part of nearly every lesson plan. The thinking is, ‘new media’ involves heavy use of multimedia and video, and therefore every student should be indoctrinated into the ways of ‘new media.’

This thinking is just … flawed. Beginning photo students just don’t need to know how to shoot video … it’s advanced skill that just doesn’t need to be taught to beginning students.

Besides, the video that Newhouse emphasizes is short-form, heavily edited video segments that last 1:30. I’m not at all convinced that the ROI is there.

Instead, Newhouse ought to focus on the basics of shooting video (composition, lighting, uploading, etc) for those not in the visual track and long form video (10 min) for the visual folk.

Social Media

Every program should heavily emphasis social media. How to leverage it for reporting, maintaining a personal and professional blog, twitter, podcasting, etc…

One nice thing about Newhouse is it is home to a lot of up-to-date, high-end equipment. This

makes the job of learning and reporting much easier, but it’s all for nought if we’re not learning applicable information.

An active blog ought to be viewed in the same light as getting an internship – a requirement.

Old media

Just like the mainstream media industry, journalism academia is run by Baby Boomers and a select few in Generation X. Generally, these folk just don’t ‘get’ social media in the same way that us Generation Y kids do. How can they be expect to teach the value of something that they don’t value?

Every class I’ve been in that attempts to even deal with social media leaves me confident that I know more than the professor trying to teach the subject. One possible solution to the problem is to let us students, that actually ‘get,’ social media teach a class.

This doesn’t mean just assigning various class sessions to different students and having them do a presentation on one particular social media site. That’s the sort of high school lesson plan that is designed to just lessen the lesson load on teachers. It should entail hiring willing students as a TA.

Forcing students to come up with a lesson plan for a topic that they think they already know, and then teach it will not only force them to learn more, but will get a qualified person teaching the students.

This is not to imply that all Baby Boomers and Generation Xs don’t understand social media. However, generally speaking, this critical component of any journo’s tool kit ought to be taught by someone who does.

Business

In many respects, we might very well be entering the golden age of journalism. We are reaching a larger audience than ever before, have more tools for telling stories, and more data at our disposal to report on.

The big problem: how to make money off of it.

What we need more than anything else is a business model for our industry that is sustainable. That's why need students not only to be aware of the problem, but contributing to the brainstorming that will eventually lead to a solution.

Coming at it from another tack: It’s increasingly likely that the new paradigm of employed journalists will see many independent freelancers. It’s critical that we train these upcoming journalists on how to manage their own business issues.

Journalism education is … not working

To end on a depressing thought: If you enter a four year college program, and the college is teaching the most up-to-date journalism technology, culture, and thinking, by the time you graduate, the information that you learned freshman year will be 4 years out of date.

Seems to me that journalism schools, instead of following industry trends, should be setting the curve. Experimentation, which is the name of the game in the mainstream industry should be reintroduced into the academic setting.

How Newhouse can become relevant again

Joey Baker

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I write code most days. Prevously: photojournalist, EMT. Somewhat obsessed with jouralism.