Wick Communications

Teaching this journalism thing

In Business on March 6, 2014 at 5:08 pm

mission local

Last week was a rough one for college journalism programs. First, because it seems ever more of them are deciding the very word “journalism” is anathema to their survival. I see you, West Virginia University! And secondly, because of the reconsideration of journalistic “teaching hospitals.”

In their struggle to remain relevant, J schools are doing what we newspaper types are doing: Namely, changing a lot and sometimes in ways that make no sense. More than five years ago, smart J school administrators at places like the University of California, Berkeley, started websites to give their students real-world opportunities to learn the craft by doing. These were equated to teaching hospitals and medical schools. It makes perfect sense. Kid smart young students the keys to a new website, social media tools, video, audio and print and let them learn as they go. Well, the cost of running those operations is giving administrators heartburn.

Cal Dean Edward Wasserman said last week that the arrangement no longer works for the nation’s premier public university, at least not at Mission Local, which the school has run for years. He notes that the university pays for the site year round even though its students only really benefit for a fraction of that time. He points out that the site is based in San Francisco while the university is across the bridge in Berkeley. And so forth. But as Lance Knobel points out on the Nieman Lab site, Wasserman misspoke when he suggested that marketing and audience building and branding are ancillary to what a journalism school does. In fact, these are the new skills our best journalism schools must teach. I won’t simply repeat Knobel’s excellent post, but I think he is absolutely correct. …

Look, there are some very smart teenagers who very much want to be reporters. That may surprise you, but I’m telling you, it’s true. I meet them all the time. Forget anecdotal evidence, at least some journalism school administrators say their enrollment numbers are up. We owe it to them to give them real-world experience and build upon their entrepreneurial spirit. We can’t just teach the inverted pyramid. We need sites like Mission Local. End of sermon.

Clay

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