Teaching journalism not journalists – and 7 other ways we can change journalism education

As an addendum to my 3 part series on how journalism education is changing I wanted to round up some practical steps and examples.

To recap: in the first part I talked about how changes in the news industry were reflected in changing journalism education. In the second I looked at how education itself is reacting to changes in information. The third looked at the relationship between the two.

But how are journalism schools and courses reacting to these changes?

What next?

I’ve outlined a lot of issues and ideas in the previous posts, so here is a more concise list of ways that education is adapting to the new information environment, changes in the news industry, and in the relationship with news organisations:

  1. Taking a lead in identifying best practice in new journalism skills – and transmitting that back to the news industry
  2. Reshaping its perception of what the ‘journalism industry’ is – and making connections with the new players
  3. Moving from platform-based teaching to multiplatform working throughout the curriculum. In some cases this is through a shift from single-tutor modules to team-teaching until enough individuals have the mix of skills required; in others it’s through creating project-based modules where students opt to take skills workshops.
  4. Working with industry to identify problems facing that industry, and providing the infrastructure for students to research those problems and experiment with solutions.
  5. Providing the infrastructure for students to establish new media businesses
  6. Moving from transmitting information to students to teaching the skills to find and filter the information most relevant to their objectives
  7. Moving from acting as a gatekeeper to the industry to teaching students how to establish their own contacts through networks and through building their online reputation
  8. Teaching journalism, rather than ‘how to be a journalist’

The final point bears some further explanation. At the EJC event that prompted me to write this series of posts, the panel I was part of was asked: how can you teach journalism when the concept of what a ‘journalist’ is has become so contested?

The question was revealing. In platform-based journalism teaching, students are often taught how to work within particular production workflows. For example, they might be trained by taking a press release and rewriting it into something that fits into a newspaper or magazine. Or they might attend a mock (or real) press conference and write up the results.

In other words, they are trained to take the existing or historical position of ‘journalist’.

These all reflect common practices in mainstream journalism – but they do not prepare students for how it might change in the next decade, nor for emerging forms.

As journalists have to work across an increasing number of platforms, to differing audiences, and to deal with information which is also coming from more and more sources, teaching a particular ‘content factory line’ process is likely to become less relevant.

Employers will be (and are) frustrated at graduates who can spot a story in a press release but not a tweet, forum thread, or dataset; at those who can write a 300 word print piece but cannot adapt their style for the latest web platform; who will buy one source a drink but not invest the same time in building trust with dozens on social networks.

Workflow experience is still key, but workflow systems have already changed a number of times in the past 10 years, and will continue to change.

In the absence of certainty around what those will be, journalism educators are focusing on core skills and the flexibility to adapt those to new situations; or indeed, to invent them themselves.

Do you find the same factors playing out in your own experience?

I’m collecting examples of all of these and similar processes so if you know of examples or changes I’ve missed please let me know.

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16 thoughts on “Teaching journalism not journalists – and 7 other ways we can change journalism education

  1. Andy

    I think the idea of journalism not journalists is a good one but perhaps it’s just as beset with the kind of identity problems and general agreement on form that you attribute to journalist.

    We have a tricky path to tread in journalism education between what is “right now” and what is “right for the industry” and what will be new areas for journalists to explore ‘outside’ of industry.

    The “right now” is the legacy stuff. Training the students to get the “existing or historical” jobs. That’s the entry point for many and that’s what the industry needs right now. That’s not going anywhere whether thats a good thing or not.

    What’s “right for the industry” is the future stuff. Equipping them to take the debate to the industry and challenging them. What the industry thinks is ‘right’ may not be what they need and j-school is about the only place we have the time and resources to able to show them that in a safe way. But you could argue that we are in danger of training for jobs yet to be invented. Or that we are equipping the students with skills to define their own jobs.

    Outside of industry is a growing area – an opportunity for j-students. You’re right in saying that we need skills to identify and grow these opportunities. But it’s just part of the media landscape.

    In truth I don’t think you can have any of these things without the other in a course at the moment (unless you make that specific). That’s hard and some of your suggestions for making it happen make perfect sense.

    So I do agree that it’s about changing the mindset (staff and student) as we expose them to the processes – historical or not. The key is to expose them to all the aspects of the industry and hope they use that mindset to make sense of it.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Yes, just to clarify: I’m saying keep those workflow experiences, but also make sure that they are not the only things taught.

      Reply
  2. Carole

    I worked as a freelance (specialist sport) reporter for a while before I took a formal course. Having finished it and performed the compulsory, yet voluntary, internship, I found that all agencies and job specifications asked for graduates who also have NCTJ. Universities justify not including it within their timetables as ‘not academically rigorous’ enough. By all means try to anticipate future possibilities, but all the time that the NUJ [and in their minor roles the CIoJ, SJA, BECTU and BAJ] members allow HR departments to frame job descriptions historically you will be fighting a losing battle. Your best bet to radically alter the training would be to target school careers advisors, librarians and UCAS preparation. Undergraduate students will only apply for degrees which match skills acquired with their own expectations. In the wake of Leveson evidence, it seems much less relevant to sign up to the PCC code – http://www.pcc.org.uk/assets/111/Code_of_Practice_2011_A4.pdf!

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      The NCTJ is curious – careers advisers seem to have swallowed the line that it’s needed but in reality only the local newspapers give it any real importance. Magazines, broadcast and nationals rarely insist on it, and even local newspapers – judging by some research I’ve seen – actually hire around half of new journalists without it.

      But you’re right – it depends enormously on who’s hiring and whether they want someone in their own image.

      Reply
  3. Botez Cipriana

    Journalism students entering university now already have the advantage of being familiar with web platforms and social networks. They will also master, more or less, the appropriate language and style for this domains. The course will, of course, have to guide them towards using the web in a professional manner, but the former, basic journalistic skills are as needed as always. I think that keeping the high standards of this industry depends on it.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      That familiarity can be a help as much as a hindrance, though. When they come to class already using Twitter in a personal capacity it means having to persuade them to either switch to a professional ‘mode’ (rather than getting them to use it that way from the start), or use another account (which means extra effort and doesn’t tend to be used as much). In some cases having to ‘unlearn’ what they think they have already learned about those platforms can take longer than if they have no experience at all. Interesting.

      Reply
  4. Liz Hannaford

    The job of a Journalist is becoming more and more technology-dependent and that technology changes constantly. So J-schools need to encourage students to explore and experiment and gain confidence in their digital skills. It comes naturally to some, not to others. I think students should at least be offered courses in basic computer programming and encouraged to work on collaborative journalism projects that incorporate these skills. That will be their USP in the big wide world.
    Oh, and they should learn grammar too!!

    Reply
    1. Linda Lautrec

      I could not agree more. I like your add-on comment about grammar! It has become that “dirty word” punishable by death. I have literally had to walk out of rooms where the consensus was that grammar was inconsequential. Perhaps grunting would be better? As a filmmaker first, and professor second, I have understood the need for digital skills. It is, however, a different mindset, and some people really are not that astute about acquiring those skills. There is, however, always the “producer” role for them!

      Reply
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