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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Journalism Courses Still Hot

You would think that with all of the dire news about the future of journalism and journalists flying around that journalism schools would be feeling the pinch.


Not so.


In fact, demand for journalism courses has never been higher. According to a recent survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education, enrollments are up in almost all of the nation's journalism schools.


I am not surprised by this finding. For one thing, most journalism schools have adapted to the changing media landscape and are offering courses that combine the fundamentals of good journalistic practice with new and emerging delivery platforms: blogs, twitter, online broadcasting, etc.


While I was dean of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, I watched our student population double from 550 to more than 1,100 in less than two years once we moved from a two-year to a four-year program. Demand was so great for our courses that we had to turn away students.


That reflects a national trend. During the past 10 years enrollment in undergraduate journalism programs has increased 35 percent, to 201,477, according to The Chronicle. This is a time when some 30,000 journalists were either laid off or bought out since 2008.


One reason students are flocking to journalism schools at a time when the industry is undergoing such severe changes is a desire to learn the basics of writing. Knowing the basic skills of journalism will provide students with openings into many careers--not just classic newsroom journalism.


In fact, of some 90 programs, six of 10 graduates had jobs in the industry. The rest were engaged in some other form of communication--public relations, corporate communications, blogging, etc.


As I have often said in these blogs, journalism schools cannot nor should not emphasize technology and all new communications gadgetry currently available over fundamental journalistic skills. Teaching students the importance of accuracy, fairness, clear writing, as well as compelling storytelling and presentation are still critical elements to any journalism education.


Or as I always emphasized in my classes: "Kontent is still King." Just look at some of the horrendous blogs out there today. It doesn't take long to see how insipid so many are. You still need to provide substance in addition to the technological bling if you are going to hold reader or viewer attention.


Journalism, in the final analysis, is a "people" business. It is not a job you can do sitting in the comfort of your home in front of a computer screen. Journalists are not poets.


You need to get out and talk to people. You need to be, as I often say, a "professional intruder"--someone who is not afraid to ask tough or embarrassing questions, who can "see" a story and track down the necessary sources for it.


While traditional mainstream media changes and adapts to the new delivery platforms and business models, many new graduates are coming together to create their own news organizations. These are entities that are smaller, more nimble and flexible and more targeted than the old lumbering dailies or classic broadcast organizations. These are media that are linking up with advertisers in ways that are beneficial to both. They are finding readers and viewers that have abandoned traditional media and are looking for a more interactive media experience.


In short, today's journalism graduates have an opportunity I never had when I joined the Chicago Tribune right of college back in 1970. They can remake and reinvent journalism in ways that make it relevant to new audiences.


They will be successful doing this as long as they don't forget the most fundamental lessons that good journalism programs should be teaching: make sure content drives technology and not the other way around.

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