Wick Communications

I need a reporter, stat!

In journalism on 9 Aug 2012 at 3:33 pm

Should journalism school be more like medical school? That is, should journalism instruction at the university level require practical work on real-life media products, in much the way that a teaching hospital trains medical students?

This is a raging debate among journalism educators and the private funders who provide grants for such instruction. Given the widespread changes in the industry in recent years, virtually everyone agrees that the journalism instruction of 20 years ago is no longer adequate. That doesn’t mean everyone agrees on the direction journalism schools should take in the future.

A half dozen private foundations conspired to write a letter to university presidents last week, asking that they revamp their J-school programs. “In this new digital age, we believe the ‘teaching hospital’ model offers great potential,” the letter states.

That amounts to a call for more programs like Arizona State University’s News21, a privately funded initiative that puts students in touch with notable professionals and results in groundbreaking journalism that is too good to contain in the classroom. Through News21, The Washington Post, msnbc.com and other news outlets have published what might otherwise be classroom assignments.

The foundations suggest that too few schools are running their own boutique media operations as a way of teaching the practical skills journalists need. But there are now dozens of university-related news operations, including MissionLoc@l at the University of California, Berkeley, and The Bronx Beat, at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Stanford University journalism instructor R.B. Brenner told the Half Moon Bay Review staff on Thursday that he thinks the teaching hospital model is important today partly because there are fewer mentors available at newspapers like ours. (Brenner spoke to the staff as part of a brown-bag session that brings interesting people to the newspaper each week.) …

I think the call for practical experience dovetails with a renewed emphasis on giving students of all kinds job skills rather than theoretical knowledge. But that’s a topic for another day.

I understand the need for updating curriculum and approach. But I do have some concerns:

  • Are professional outfits laying off paid staffers because they are getting free, student-produced content? And, if so, are these outfits undermining the chances for students to get jobs later?
  • Are the students missing something important by spending less time on the theory and history of journalism?
  • Wither student newspapers? Are these teaching hospitals stealing the talent that used to be dedicated to terrific student-run newspapers?
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