Journalism education cannot teach its way to the future

As we think about the changes whipping through the media industry, there is a nearby storm about to strike journalism education.

The future of journalism education will be a very different and difficult future, a future that is full of innovation and creative disruption. And, I believe, we will see an evolution and uncoupling between the value of a journalism education and a journalism degree.

When we think about the future, there’s not a single future. The future for a 20-year-old is clearly very different than the future of a 60-year-old. Each will bring a very different perspective.

The future of journalism education is linked to the future of journalism itself. Each is caught within the other’s vortex, both spinning within today’s turmoil of change.

The disruption in the economic models of news organizations, rippling out from the United States to Europe and elsewhere, is well documented.

The media industry missed the inflection point when things started to change more than 20 years ago. Media companies have been disrupted by innovation created by others, by new organizations and technology companies.

The media industry did not respond well to these disruptive technologies that took away the economic foundation upon which journalism depended. The industry, as a whole, did not innovate to serve its audiences and missed the opportunity to make important changes.

Journalism education is at its own inflection point.

Whether you are an educator, school administrator, run a training center or are just interested in journalism, this is a critical time for journalism education, as critical as it was for media industry 20 years ago.

Without a robust future for journalism education, it is harder to see a robust future for journalism. And that’s bad for democracy and for citizens who depend on fair and accurate information.

We have learned that media companies cannot cut their way out of the disruption in the economic models.

Journalism education cannot teach its way to the future.

Just as media companies needed to innovate, so must journalism education. We need to innovate inside the classroom with new forms of teaching.

Frankly, it is unfair to pick on just journalism education. The turmoil is underway across educational institutions, and that includes nonprofit and for-profit schools. It is happening at the grade school level, in high school and at colleges and universities.

Education is being disrupted by the same technology innovation that turned the media business upside down and inside out.

Of course, the academy has multiple purposes.

There’s research and scholarship.

There’s socialization, helping students operate independently.

And then there’s the formal education and training of students.

It is this student education and training where I see the potential for the biggest disruptions.

One possible future will see the unbundling of a journalism education from a journalism degree.

Think about the unbundling of news and information from the traditional mass media delivery methods, such as a newspaper or television broadcast.

In the past, the economic value these delivery methods provided was the distribution of a scarce product, the news.

In much the same way that there was an economic model based on scarcity in getting the news, there’s a societal and economic model based on the scarcity in getting an education and degree.

A college degree, because it is offered to a limited number of individuals, provides a means to differentiate applicants in the hiring process. While there was the assumption that a journalism degree meant a quality journalism education, there was no guarantee.

There was scarcity – not every school had a journalism program and fewer schools had an accredited program. These programs are based on a delivery method rooted in “custodial education,” which is teacher-focused.

If you are a teacher-focused institution, you are less likely to disrupt your core audience, which is the faculty. Eric Newton at the Knight Foundation refers to this as a “symphony of slowness.

This scarcity is also true for journalism training organizations that are forced to limit the amount of training based on costs or seats in a seminar room.

However, technology, mostly the Internet, is changing how we learn.

Technology is providing new forms of teaching and new ways of delivering an effective educational experience.

Technology will create a student-focused culture, in much the same way technology has created a more customer-focused media industry.

In much the same way that news became available whenever a reader/viewer/user wanted it via online and mobile devices, so will education.  Students can go to school — or go back to school — online without having to really go anywhere.

So why haven’t things changed already?

In recent years much has been written about the coming disruption in education. Today, those promises of change are starting to whip around universities and colleges the same way they started battering media companies 20 years ago.

The constraints of today’s journalism education system do not reward innovation.

They provide students with less opportunity to get the best education and instead force students to pick courses based on the available seats in “classrooms” and not from the best teachers in the world.

There are also economic challenges facing the academy: less funding from traditional sources and less public support.

There are academic challenges: the world is changing faster than the people who are supposed to teach students can learn themselves.

And while there’s always been a disconnect between the media industry and academic community, the fault lines, I believe, have widened.

How important is a journalism degree?

To look at this question I surveyed more than 1,975 professionals and professors.

About 42 percent of the respondents were from the academic community.

About 34 percent were from media organizations and about 11% were independent or freelance workers. The rest were students.

When asked about how vital a journalism degree is in understanding the value of journalism, 95 percent of academics said it was “very to extremely important.”

Slightly more than half (56 percent) of professionals said “very to extremely important.”

This is a gap of almost 40 points.

When questioned about the value of a degree when it came to equipping students with the skills or abilities in news gathering, editing and presenting the news, the gap is just as wide:

  • 96 percent of academics said that a degree was “very to extremely important” to learning skills
  • 59 percent of professionals said “very to extremely important.”

We’ve known for a while there’s been a difference of opinion about the value of a journalism degree. Today, the gap looks more like a canyon.

What will it take for educational institutions to deal with the disruptive innovation that is here today and will get more challenging in the future?

We need to look for new ways to teach the values and skills of journalism so they are relevant to today’s media world.

What’s working

It is an opportunity and challenge for journalism training institutions to re-imagine the way the reach their audience, the way they teach their students and the way they measure success.

We need to encourage more ways of teaching, using all potential delivery means possible — lecture, video, online, self-study and guided learning.

One innovative example is the massive online courses being offered by Stanford. For example, when the university offered a Machine Learning online class, 104,000 participants registered, with 13,000 completing the course.

Sebastian Thrun, one of the pioneers in the “massive online course” movement, taught an artificial intelligence course for which more than 160,000 signed up, for free. It was so exciting that it created its own culture, including a Facebook group, online discussions and volunteer translators who made it available in 44 languages.

“Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again,” Thrun said at a digital conference in January, according to a story in The New York Times. “I feel like there’s a red pill and a blue pill, and you can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland.”

And this form of training works.

Poynter recently completed an “Introduction to Journalism” program at three U.S. schools. Each Poynter faculty member shared his or her expertise in this 16-week program.

While most of the program was online, one school, Missouri State University, provided mentoring or face-time to the students during the 16-week program. Missouri State also taught the same subjects via the traditional classroom method.

We tested both groups, the online and the classroom students, before the term began and after the course work was finished.

The e-learning group, with its hybrid approach, learned as well if not better than MSU classroom groups.

A new study by a nonprofit think tank, Ithaka S+R, compared two versions of an introductory statistics course, one taught face-to-face by professors and one mostly taught online. The online module had only an hour a week of face time.

Researchers found these students fared equally well in both formats on every measure of learning.

The only difference: The online group appeared to learn faster.

These new ways of teaching are disrupting the education industry.

The students raised online get it. The students raised on e-learning get it.  More than one-third of U.S. college students are currently enrolled in an e-learning course. That number will keep growing.

What’s next

A new report by the U.S. Department of Education showed about 53 percent of public school districts allowed high school students to enroll in distance learning courses. During this academic year, about 1.3 million of them used distance learning, compared to only 300,000 five years earlier.

Even students who haven’t taken a formal online course are using informal e-learning, such as the thousands of video tutorials on hundreds of subjects on YouTube.

There are even new businesses developing around innovative ways of teaching, such as the Khan Academy.

Today’s students and even young adults will come to expect education that is innovative.

These students will come to expect education that is not custodial.

The world is full of people who want to write better, who want to tell stories better, who want to share their experiences. These are potential journalists, whether they have a degree or not.

One innovation that might serve journalism education is the “digital badge” movement. Digital badges represent skills or other competences.

The MacArthur Foundation, a supporter of this educational concept, says a digital badge could be a “validated indicator of accomplishment, skill or interest.”

The University of California at Davis’ sustainable-agriculture program is built upon digital badges that measure core competencies rather than the standard three-credit courses.

Digital journalism education badges could not only show formal training but capture the informal learning, such as workshops attended, awards won, special projects completed.

This is about mastery of skills rather than specific classroom work. And it is goes beyond a portfolio of work.

This is a radical, disruptive, innovative concept.

The badge movement is based on the idea that people should have a way to gather useful, verifiable evidence of everything they have learned, not just show that they sat through a class at a college.

I believe the digital badge movement needs to be nurtured and promoted.

More important and immediate, journalism training organizations should come together and embrace this new way of rewarding participation in quality education, regardless of how and where it is received.

I hope that all of the world’s journalism training organizations can find a way to help participants share their accomplishments, regardless of who provided the training.

We need more people “schooled” in journalism, not fewer.

We need more ways to instill the values of good journalism regardless of the platform or medium. It shouldn’t matter whether you work for a company or for yourself.

Journalism education is at an inflection point.  We are at the point at which we need true educational innovation. Some will do this. Others will be left behind.

It is time to seize the future.

This article is adapted from a speech given the the European Journalism Centre’s 20th Anniversary conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands. The full text of the speech is available at Access, the blog for Poynter’s News University.

You can watch the video of Howard Finberg’s speech about the future of journalism education to the European Journalism Centre 20th Anniversary conference.

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  • http://twitter.com/Hif Hif

     Before the Web:  MercCenter on AOL and the ChiTribune efforts (even SF papers on CompuServ) provided a vision — economic and content — of the potential disruption. Of course, the Web made it all possible. 

  • Anonymous

     Thanks for the reply. I don’t think you can wind anything into the Web before Mosaic in 1994. The services you mention were mainly dial-up for email and some content, without the ability to actually construct anything meaningful in multimedia for the professional or the consumer. All the best.

  • http://twitter.com/Hif Hif

     I’m sorry that you didn’t understand that I was addressing
    the issue of the future journalism education, especially in-person.  I
    agree that multimedia is very difficult to teach online, but places like
    Lynda.com do a good job, as a starting point.  I do not think we should
    give up classroom teaching.  Rather, I’m suggesting new ways of teaching
    within the classroom that take advantage of other sources/methods.

    I selected the early 1990s because of the development of the online service
    such as AOL, CompuServe.  From AOL’s history on Wikipedida: “In February 1991 AOL for DOS was launched using a GeoWorks interface followed a year later by AOL for Windows. This coincided with growth in pay-based online services, like Prodigy, CompuServe, and GEnie.”

    Thanks for asking about the timeline.  I should have been more
    specific. 

    –@twitter-14990437:disqus

     

  • http://twitter.com/newsu NewsU E-Learning

    I’m sorry that you didn’t understand that I was addressing the issue of the future journalism education, especially in-person.  I agree that multimedia is very difficult to teach online, but places like Lynda.com do a good job, as a starting point.  I do not think we should give up classroom teaching.  Rather, I’m suggesting new ways of teaching within the classroom that take advantage of other sources/methods.

    I selected the early 1990s because of the development of the online service such as AOL, CompuServe.  From AOL’s history on Wikipedida: In February 1991 AOL for DOS was launched using a GeoWorks interface followed a year later by AOL for Windows. This coincided with growth in pay-based online services, like Prodigy, CompuServe, and GEnie.

    Thanks for asking about the timeframe.  I should have been more specific. 

  • Anonymous

    This speech/article lacks a nut graph or topic sentence that makes sense. It is unclear to me whether the author is focusing on online education or journalism education online or something else entirely.  I have taught multimedia journalism for about 15 years and online courses for about 10.
    Multimedia courses don’t lend themselves particularly well to online only, primarily because of the inability to provide precise guidance without seeing a student’s work on say Final Cut Pro. That’s a lot easier to do in person than via screen shots and email. Courses like research and even discussion/lecture classes like history and law work relatively well.
    I also don’t understand why the author has chosen 1992, or 20 years ago, as some key time frame. Mosaic had not been invented. Therefore, there was little public interest in the Web until two to three years later.
    I think that one certain way to doom journalism education is to tie its future to mainstream media. Also, if a journalism program is trying to reinvent itself now, the boat has left the dock.

  • Clayton Burns

    Journalism MAs go digital

    Master’s students learn to meet the needs of the internet age

    Simon Midgley
    guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 June 2012 15.15 BST   

    ClaytonBurns

    18 June 2012 6:39PM

    A POND TOO FAR: poynter.org :

    Journalism education cannot teach its way to the future

    Howard Finberg by Howard Finberg Published June 15, 2012 8:56 am

    I tend to read four Internet sites quite carefully, and comment at
    them occasionally:

    Guardian, Telegraph, CJR, Poynter.

    Despite the focus on digital journalism, the coordination from the UK
    to America is not good. Despite the potential.

    Canada and Australia are somewhat insular, so I do not expect very
    much from them. Or perhaps they do not expect very much from
    themselves.

    I think that CJR, Poynter, Telegraph, and Guardian should attempt to
    overcome the insularity of journalism. Despite the talk, provincialism
    and parochialism rule. How could there have been such a flood of
    education reporting in the UK media over the past six months with so
    little impact in America?

    At CJR, at Finberg’s piece, there should already have been a post
    about this Guardian article.

    What is not really mentioned here is raw design skill. If Creative
    Suite 6 would be powerful for journalism students, just do it. The
    separation into Internet journalist and IT guy just does not cut it.

    claytonburns@gmail.com
     

  • http://twitter.com/mututemple Mu Lin

    In my ongoing survey of “fully integrated” multimedia journalism degree programs in U.S., I found two courses are commonly listed as core courses: news reporting and writing, and some form of multimedia journalism. This means journalism schools know what matters most to students. I prepared a map showing journalism schools that offer multimedia journalism education in U.S.: http://goo.gl/maps/vNHF

  • http://twitter.com/Hif Hif

     Thank you for the comment and for suggestion about finding innovations in education.  Perhaps that might be a follow-up article.

  • Anonymous

    I like the article and agree with most. I would say though that there was a much more significant inflection point that uncoupled the public from what is now called the mainstream media. It was not one based on technology but truth. I could give you a thousand examples, from massive media companies who tried to cover for a President only to get kneecapped by a kid on a page that favors content over redesigns, to insiders who tried to look the other way at lies. The media chose to continue favoring themselves over their mission until the atrophy of trust ate through the floorboards. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/KyLuxury Ky Luxuri

    Not to sound cocky, but it’s not quite as easy to pull off something
    like my course. It has taken every ounce of my understanding of
    teaching, of journalism and of technology to put it together and to
    maintain it, and it has taken countless hours. With the media
    revolution, the business disruption came about because people did it for
    free, which pulled the rug out from those of us who got paid to find
    and deliver news. Who would want to do the work of this class for free?
    Who could? The free Stanford example is interesting, but hundreds of
    thousands of people took the online (introductory) course. Is there
    value in the personal interaction the students get with me? 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for a really thought-provoking article.  In the last 12 months, I’ve left the journalism industry (BBC) and started some lecturing in journalism here in the UK, so I still feel like an outsider looking in.  Having received all my journalism training “on the job” after a degree in Russian, I do sometimes struggle to decide where the balance should be between skills development (and I include the basics as well as the more innovative stuff) and encouraging critical thinking of the journalism process/future/innovation.  

    Newsrooms are busy places – too busy to stop and think seriously about how to do things differently and, possibly, better.  J-schools should be much more pro-active and high-profile in researching and promoting innovation and feeding that back to the industry.  I don’t see too much of that happening but would love to hear of examples.

  • Anonymous

    “Just give me the facts” is not a very good formula for investigative journalism.

    I am sure that you do not mean it in quite that way, but the point in improved education for young journalists would be to widen their perspectives considerably.

    I have had some contact with journalists on education stories, but their performance has been uniformly terrible, not because they could not conduct interviews and write up what someone said, but because they could not see anything.

    One of my students was accused of plagiarism, no doubt to some degree because of his own carelessness, but also because a very limited teacher panicked over seeing some references to linguistics.

    Robert Frost was the issue, and phonetics and phonology in describing the sound patterns in his poetry.

    Although a columnist and reporter worked on this story, they could not understand it at all, even though we were dealing with relatively simple issues in English.

    I did meet briefly with another reporter who was visibly upset, and told me that if there was any need to talk to me, he “knew where to find me.”

    It takes more than the facts, because you can’t even see the facts if you have no sensitivity to them.

    Reporters should have courses that would inculcate such sensitivity. Texts such as “Encounters with the Archdruid,” “The Turn of the Screw,” “The Brotherhoods,” and “The Hunger Games” would be valuable.

    I am having students formulate 100 challenges for Suzanne Collins’s novel–”Was the reaping drawing fixed, given that the Capitol would have known that selecting Prim would be tantamount to setting Katniss and Peeta together in a genuinely exciting Games, unlike many of the previous ones?”

    I am also asking them to answer 100 challenges that I have devised.

    Reporters tend to be wooden and unimaginative unless they are dealing with the expected, something in their own range of vision.

    The performance of American reporters on education is atrocious, except for some useful work by Winerip.

    There is no excuse for not having a mind. Being able to orient to information will become increasingly important. I agree that getting the facts straight is critically important. That is why minute attention to high quality text is ESSENTIAL.

    If you are going to be a good writer, you need to master clusters of adverbial subordination. (“The Secret Garden,” similar to “The Scarlet Letter,” contains many Result-Manner clusters). Realism would mean fully exploiting the 20-year-old corpus revolution in linguistics, through the COBUILD English Grammar and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. How anyone could imagine that they could learn these patterns from a style guide is a mystery.

    claytonburns@gmail.com

  • http://twitter.com/robquig Robert Quigley

    Thanks, Howard. I will take you up on your offer to talk about what works for NewsU (which is a great thing). Despite my reservations about all this, I realize we must push forward. Whether we want disruptions to happen or not, they happen.

     I did take some cues from the Stanford course and made my class pretty open. The modules are public on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/UTjournos and everyone is welcome to see what my students are doing at http://twitter.com/socialnn and http://facebook.com/socialnn http://socialnn.tumblr.com and http://pinterest.com/socialnn

  • Anonymous

     Robert Quigley made some excellent points, and to shoehorn them into your context with a comment like “The revolution is never easy” does not do them justice. One point he raises concerns the real cost of good online instruction–how can instructors afford to take the time to teach good online courses? To do that on a broad scale would require structural changes in the academic journalism world far greater than those you discuss. Indeed, it’s probably fair to say that world has been moving in the opposite direction. Professional instructors are being assigned heavier and heavier courseloads these days at many universities, adjuncts are being used extensively, and typically neither group is being paid well enough to spend the time needed to do what you say needs to be done. He also points out that he still wishes he had students in class. That is not a trivial consideration. Education has always been more than the delivery of content and the development of skills, badges or not. To dismiss the current approach as “custodial” strikes me much as the equally inaccurate term of art used to denigrate traditional J curricula, “silos,” has always struck me. It generates heat but little light.

  • http://twitter.com/Hif Hif

     I agree that basic skills are ESSENTIAL and I don’t argue that we need more digital skills teaching.  However, I think we need new ways to teaching basic skills [and some digital skills] to more students so they’ll be better equipped to tells stories and find facts.  Not in the article, but in the remarks I made at the European Journalism Centre, I argued that EVERY student should take a news/media literacy course.  Learn how to understand the value of journalism — not to create more journalists, but to create citizens who understand the value of good storytelling with facts.

    In the survey I did of professionals and professors, I saw a numbers that showed that on the job training is still important.  I hope to publish that information later.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • http://twitter.com/Hif Hif

     Robert, thanks for sharing your experiences.  I agree that the Stanford model is not engaging enough for many participants.  However, what I liked about the project was how open it was. 

    My hopes are with the hybrid or blended approach to online learning.  Although Poynter NewsU’s online group seminar model with its one-hour ‘virtual seminar session’ has been successful.  Granted, the folks who signed up for those modules are highly motivated. I’m happy to share how that works with you via e-mail or on the phone.

    Many folks think online teaching is easy or the same amount of work as classroom teaching.  However, it is hard, maybe harder, as you wrote: “It has taken every ounce of my understanding of teaching, of journalism
    and of technology to put it together and to maintain it, and it has
    taken countless hours.”

    The revolution is never easy :)

  • http://twitter.com/Hif Hif

     Robert, thanks for sharing your experiences.  I agree that the Stanford model is not engaging enough for many participants.  However, what I liked about the project was how open it was. 

    My hopes are with the hybrid or blended approach to online learning.  Although Poynter NewsU’s online group seminar model with its one-hour ‘virtual seminar session’ has been successful.  Granted, the folks who signed up for those modules are highly motivated. I’m happy to share how that works with you via e-mail or on the phone.

    Many folks think online teaching is easy or the same amount of work as classroom teaching.  However, it is hard, maybe harder, as you wrote: “It has taken every ounce of my understanding of teaching, of journalism
    and of technology to put it together and to maintain it, and it has
    taken countless hours.”

    The revolution is never easy :)

  • http://twitter.com/robquig Robert Quigley

    I worked in the media industry, and I watched and took part in the disruption that the Internet caused it. Now it appears I get a front-row seat as the Internet disrupts education as an instructor at the University of Texas School of Journalism. I am teaching an online course with 94 students right now. The course is a perfect example of what Finberg is talking about when it comes to teaching classes in new ways, using the Internet’s power. I don’t think it’s as neat of a parallel as the Finberg posits. Professional journalists suddenly found out that anyone could write a blog post, share a photo or video and be a “journalist.”

    Not to sound cocky, but it’s not quite as easy to pull off something like my course. It has taken every ounce of my understanding of teaching, of journalism and of technology to put it together and to maintain it. With the media revolution, the business disruption came about because people did it for free, which pulled the rug out from those of us who got paid to find and deliver news. Who would want to do the work of this class for free? Who could?The Stanford example is interesting, but hundreds of thousands of people took the online (introductory) course. Is there value in the personal interaction the students get with me?

    The Stanford courses consist of watching video modules and taking the quizzes. I think for a modern, distance education to be useful to anyone, it needs more than that, especially for a coursethat isn’t a basic, introductory course. I fear that jumping into the future is just going to mean giving you all boring online courses with little interaction with the instructors. Most online courses I’ve seen and taken part in have been like that. 

    Even with all I put into my course, including live chats, online forums, Twitter chats, etc., I often wish I had all of my students in a classroom so we could have more in-depth discussions. Online forums are great, but nothing beats a good classroom interaction. All that being said, teaching my course a great experiment. It will be on us (the faculty) to make online courses worth students’ time.

  • Billy Budd

    What blather. My problem with journalism schools is how ill-equipped their students are to do basic writing and reporting. Digital training is appropriate, but it is in no way a replacement for the most basic skills. I’d rather that journalism schools concentrate on the basics. I’ll hire someone good and train them on the job — give me people with integrity and good b.s. detectors who can tell stories and find facts. I’m sick and tired of Poynter and Knight distracting us from our real problems. They’re hurting the profession.

  • Anonymous

    mm

  • Anonymous

    mm

  • Anonymous

    Cool paragraphing. A bit short. But “addictive.”

    I have a grade two student who fought his way through 9 stories in “The Jungle Books.” He is now reading “The Wind in the Willows” out loud with me with confidence.

    I have a grade nine student who is quite Internet-distracted. But if you ask him to solve an IT issue–pdf-formatting a 60 verb element of the past system so that it can be easily e-mailed without degenerating–he will get it done.

    Even if it takes him a while to get oriented.

    I have a grade 11 student who is learning how to write about “The Hunger Games.” He is a sharp reader of the text. In a year, his writing has improved dramatically because he has been able to listen.

    The people who just can’t listen are academics, teachers, and adults generally.

    What I like is to meet someone who can grasp rapidly that science project documentation should be formatted originally with Creative Suite 6 and then migrated to print posters if necessary.

    What reporters do is throw the unreadable posters at you without focusing the IT matters at all.

    Poynter should set out to have the best training for education journalists in the world.

    Poynter Education Reporting. Two years minimum. So that a reporter would be able to pick up the COBUILD English Grammar and realize how superior it is to AP style guides or SAT English.

    Poynter could also provide leadership in the infertile “On Language” terrain. Apparently nobody got the message when The NYT’s On Language failed.