The J-School Flaw

Journalism is a constantly evolving field, this is nothing new. In the past 10 years, the journalism industry has changed so immensely that giants like Murrow or Cronkite might not even recognize it. The long-form 20 inch stories have been reduced to a couple of grafs, and the 2-hour special TV interview is now a two minute clip on Youtube.

But that’s not the issue, that’s just the way of the world; industries evolve and if the players don’t evolve with it, they die. We’re not the gatekeepers anymore. That key has been tossed out and the gates are shattered. Journalists need to be a conveyor of the most important information, an aggregator of sorts. Taking the hundreds of different sources, sifting through fact and fiction and delivering the content that will affect peoples lives, for good or bad.

The issue here is with the root of journalism. The education of it. Journalism Accelerator hosted a forum yesterday on this very topic; the journalism education.  Current journalists, students and professors sounded off to voice their opinion on the current standing for a secondary education in journalism. This is where it stood:

  1. Is education even necessary? Do the “journalists” of tomorrow need to know what the inverted pyramid is, or is that just a natural instinct now due to a reduced forum?
  2. If education is necessary for journalists, what needs to be done in the university curriculums to properly prepare its students?

To start, the answer to the first question is a definitive yes. The writing skills I’ve developed in the past three years, the tricks and resources, and most importantly the contacts and internships, have been invaluable to me. There is no way that without the Cronkite school at Arizona State I would be able to be the writer and journalist I am today. While there are people who are capable of going out on their own, like Brian Stelter for the New York Times, a majority of students need to hone their skills and refine their writing.

But like I said the most important tool that journalism school has provided me is the internships and contacts. Granted, it would be possible to get an internship outside of college, but going through the university gives merit to those looking to hire. The internship I initially received was through a direct program with the Cronkite school. It wouldn’t be possible without college.

The Curriculum

Now, just because formal education is needed to be a successful journalist doesn’t mean that the current curriculum being taught around journalism schools is on point. College is extremely expensive, nearly unnecessarily expensive (a topic for tomorrow), but it is a business nonetheless and with every business there is a desire to gain profit. The problem is, students are being forced to attend four year colleges to obtain degrees that theoretically could have been earned in 2 or 3 years.

I spent the first year and a half of college taking classes like chemistry 101 and geology. Give me one good reason why a student based in journalism needs to take those classes, and I’ll take you out to dinner. Don’t give me the whole “it’s to give you a rounded knowledge of the world around you” crap either, because that’s a load. Do you remember which rocks break down easier than others? Thought so.

College needs to be focused more on the skills I need to know. Writing, communication, technology etc. The other thing, is that students entering j-school can’t be a one-tier media member.

Cronkite divides its students into three main paths: Public Relations/Print journalism (later divided more), Broadcast/video journalism and multi-media. The issue here is that this division prevents students from learning all the tools necessary to be successful. Multimedia journalists, i.e. the journalist who can write, take photos and shoot video is the type of journalist every one needs to be. If you walk into a news room and say, ‘well I can write really well,’ you won’t be getting a job.

More and more frequently, newspapers are updating their websites to produce video (we are at the Phoenix Business Journal), TV stations are adding print elements, and the news is becoming a mesh of visual and written accounts of what happened. 


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About joemartin2014

J-student at Arizona State University, and pursing a minor in business as well.

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