Friday, December 5, 2008

Journalism education today

I was asked not so long ago "What areas do you believe journalism educators need to focus on when teaching students to be effective journalists?"

Here was my answer:

With the democratization of the media where anyone and everyone is suddenly a "journalist," what sets a trained journalist apart are the traditional disciplines that once gave these professionals their credibility and status as “trusted authorities:” double sourcing, impartiality, fact checking, objectivity, balanced representation of an issue, codes of conduct, ethics and so on. Traditional journalism schools taught about the role of the news gatherer and publisher in a democracy.

Today's student, however, often enters the Journalism program expecting to be a critic, columnist, celebrity watcher, blogger, or red carpet commentator more than a “news reporter.” We are teaching young people today who want to be “content creators” or “stars” without some narrow, prescribed version from us about what that career should look like.

In an age of overflowing information and proliferating media, students need to be able to distinguish between what's reliable and what isn't. It is still (or perhaps more) important that students know how to manage information, interpret it, validate it, and act on it.

Moreover, our journalism students need to be able to not only participate in knowledge and social communities, but make valuable, thoughtful contributions to them!

I see this, for example, as the difference between listening to a podcast, and making one that people want to listen to. Or, the difference between subscribing to RSS feeds from your favorite blogs, and becoming one of those bloggers that others subscribe to. Or, the difference between following a YouTube phenom and BEING one!

In any event, as I'm preparing to welcome another class of journalism and communication arts students at California Baptist University this Spring semester, the skill sets needed for young writers (journalists, corporate communicators, PR types, what-have-you) remain:

• Proficiency in the English language
• Competency in writing the “summary lead” and inverted pyramid
• Being observant of people, cultural nuances
• Being naturally curious (and maybe a little nosy!)
• A good listener
• A knack for picking up trends
• Critical analysis of news writing
• Excellent spelling, punctuation, capitalization skills
• Excellent interviewing skills, asking open-ended questions and follow-up probes
• Excellent secondary research capabilities and ability to interpret primary research
• The ability to critically review and correct one’s own work
• The ability to constructively accept critical review and editing of one’s own work by another
• Mastering “concise, scannable, objective” writing for the Web
• Ability to define, design and produce informing graphics, charts, illustrations, maps and other visual aids to illuminate and enhance the written subject
• Basic grammar proficiency, with especially rigorous attention to “active versus passive” voice, pronoun-antecedent problems, subject – verb agreement, plural noun versus plural possessive errors, and the other most common writing mistakes made by college students.
• Smart
• Professional and ethical, knowledgeable about media law and ethics, copyright and intellectual property issues
• Motivated, attentive, respectful of other professionals, and...oh, yes,
• Neat in appearance!