Brave New World of Journalism Schools

I think it's long since time Colorado's J-school radically reorganized. I'm optimistic about a plan for an interdisciplinary approach to teaching budding journalists the skills they need.
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Last Thursday, Jessica Corry (CU J-school alum, libertarian Republican political analyst and pro-pot cheerleader) took the time out of her day to take a few well-aimed shots via the Huffington Post at the faculty and curriculum of her alma mater.

Talk about kicking 'em while they're down.

"Fluffy" journalism schools with their pinko-lefty-sissy proclivities and utter failure to teach students anything worthwhile just have no business remaining open, she writes. Good riddance. Ciao. Thanks for nothing.

I'm not going to sit here and defend every faculty member at CU. I'm certainly not going to argue that all of my fellow students are the next Edward Murrow or Ida Wells. But I must protest Jessica's grim and vindictive characterization of the school I am scheduled to graduate from in just a few months.

But, malicious portrayals of the CU journalism program and demonizations of academics and educators aside, Corry is, well, right on a few points.

"Journalism isn't rocket science. You've got it or you don't."

That's right on the money. Anthony Bourdain has famously characterized professional kitchens as attracting society's rebels and outlaws; intelligent, talented but severely maladjusted. I've always thought that the newsroom is akin to the restaurant kitchen in this respect. We too are refugees from the island of misfit toys. It's why we're good at what we do.

Take quasi-Gonzo reporter and all-around badass Michael Hastings. There's a journalist who personifies the reality of journalism at the dawn of a new decade. Fiercely independent, adrenaline junky, committed to an ideal, a little fucking crazy, genuinely a good human being, and putting in some serious work.

But, I'm not so sure you can teach someone to have that sort of commitment and that personality. Because being a journalist does require a certain personality (questioning, critical, curious, ardent devotion to truth), before you're even accepted into a journalism school. A journalistic education should be about collecting these types of people and teaching them a skill set (killer writing skills, tech savvyness, web expertise, journalistic ethics, an eye for detail, media literacy, critical thinking, bullshit detection, differentiating fact from opinion, research methodology, information gathering, data analysis, etc.) that allows them to succeed as journalists, however they choose to pursue that role.

Because what the hell does it mean to be a journalist anymore?

Journalism in 1909, when CU began offering journalism courses, was vastly different from journalism in the 60s, when the school of journalism was established at CU which was just as different from journalism in the 90s which was just as different from journalism today and whatever it is we will call journalism tomorrow.

There really isn't a manual that says what you have to do and where you have to go to be a journalist. And that's the problem with journalism schools. That is the problem with SJMC. For all its successes in moving toward a curriculum rooted in new media and new technology, it still works in a career-based model that is severely outmoded.

Journalism school shouldn't be about training students for a certain career track that may not exist 10 to 20 years down the road. A career in traditional media just isn't viable anymore for most people. Most newsrooms are looking to the future and they're changing rapidly (and not hiring too often). Most are unrecognizable from where they were just 10 years ago.

That's why I kinda agree with Jessica Corry's general assumption about the potential "discontinuance" of the CU journalism school. It is, or could be, a good thing.

At SJMC's annual scholarship reception Sunday night, the mood was a little forlorn. Students and parents are uncertain. They're worried.

But I'm not. I think it's long since time the J-school radically reorganized. I'm optimistic about Dean Paul Voakes' plan for an interdisciplinary approach to teaching budding journalists the skills they need to be successful in the ever-changing, modern media world. At least, I'm optimistic about the potential of such a transformation.

Of course, there are core tenets of a journalism school education that must not be lost in the transition ethics being the most important. What above all else makes a journalist (no matter what career path said journalist is undertaking) is a commitment to journalistic ethics (compassion, accuracy, accountability, honesty, truth).

And Jessica Corry is wrong if she thinks there's no place for a journalistic education. It is not a journalistic education that is the failure; it's the type of education that is provided and the mode of education that needs to be updated.

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