Thursday, November 20, 2014

Journalism as 'Gateway Degree'

FROM the PBS MediaShift Blog

This essay is about journalism education but its conceptualization of journalism education as a gateway degree along with the how and the why of implementing that vision makes it a useful read for those of us in liberal arts regardless of our relationship to journalism.  

The author notes along the way that we already know that (1) journalism is known to be good prep for professional schools, and that (2) most journalism and communications majors do not become practicing journalists.  These should sound familiar to those of us who teach in SLACs, mutatis mutandis.

Schaffer's prescriptive response is for j-schools to think through what else they are good for: identify the constellations of skills that can be included in the j-school education and identify where they can take a graduate (hints of "you need to be a bit more concrete than just lauding 'critical thinking'").

She suggests incorporating into the curriculum the capacity to scan the environment for opportunity (what Christensen calls “jobs [that need] to be done,” to develop a business plan, to build prototypes, to test audiences, and to assess markets.  This is a good business proposition not just because students might get jobs but because there is an entire ecosystem of small businesses, startups, and non-profits that need people like the ones we are training but we need to outfit them with the skill sets that will get them hired and make them capable of turning their ideas into going concerns that can actually make a difference.

Today's students, she argues, want to do more than "speak truth to power" or offer a blistering critique of the status quo.  Like Marx, perhaps, they realize that the point is to be effective and actually change the world by solving problems.


Reimagining Journalism School as a ‘Gateway Degree’ to Anything

J-Lab director Jan Schaffer is wrapping up 20 years of raising money to give it away to fund news startups, innovations and pilot projects. She is pivoting J-Lab to do discrete projects and custom training and advising that build on her expertise. After two decades of work at the forefront of journalism innovations, interactive journalism and news startups, she weighs in with some observations and lessons learned. This post addresses journalism education and first appeared here.
If I were to lead a journalism school today, I’d want its mission to be: We make the media we need for the world we want.
Not: We are an assembly line for journalism wannabes.
The media we need could encompass investigative journalism, restorative narrativessoft-advocacy journalismknowledge-based journalismartisanal journalismsolutions journalism,civic journalism, entrepreneurial journalism, explanatory journalism, and maybe a little activist journalism to boot. That’s in addition to the what-happened-today and accountability journalism.
Journalism is changing all around us. It’s no longer the one-size-fits-all conventions and rules I grew up with. Not what I was taught at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Not what I practiced for 20 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Yet, as someone who consumes a lot of media, I find I like journalism that has some transparent civic impulses, some sensibilities about possible solutions, and some acknowledged aspirations toward the public good. Even though I realize that might make some traditional journalists squirm.
And I’d assert that — if the journalism industry really wants to engage its audiences and woo new ones, and if the academy wants its journalism schools to flourish — it’s time for journalism schools to embrace a larger mission and to construct a different narrative about the merits of a journalism education.
There is some urgency here. Colleges and universities are cascading toward the disruptive chaos that has upended legacy news outlets. Many, like newspapers, will likely shut their doors in the next decade or two, victims of skyrocketing tuitions, unimaginative responses and questionable usefulness.
Adding to this imperative are indications that some J-School enrollments have declined in the last few years, according to the University of Georgia’s latest enrollment survey released in July. Industry retrenchment is partly blamed for making prospective students and their parents nervous about future jobs.


How do you quell that nervousness? One way is to articulate a new value proposition for journalism education; next, of course, is to implement it.
It’s time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station.
Sure, you might land at your local news outlet. But, armed with a journalism degree, infused with liberal arts courses and overlaid with digital media skills, you are also attractive to information startups, non-profits, the diplomatic corps, commercial enterprises, the political arena and tech giants seeking to build out journalism portfolios, among others.
We already know that a journalism education — leavened with liberal arts courses and sharpened with interviewing, research, writing, digital production and social media competencies — is an excellent gateway to law school or an MBA. And we already know that journalism education has moved away from primarily teaching students how to be journalists. Indeed, seven out of 10 journalism and mass communication students are studying advertising and public relations, according to the UGA study.