journalism education

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While in Russia, two U.S. journalism teachers were hauled before a judge

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Veteran Boston TV investigative reporter Joe Bergantino spent several hours in Russian police custody Thursday after authorities barged in on a journalism training session he and the Newsplex’s Randy Covington were leading in St. Petersburg, Russia. The two were teaching investigative reporting skills to 14 Russian TV, print and online reporters at the time.

Bergantino said in a phone interview that he and Covington had been contracted by the U.S. State Department to teach how to interview, report and think critically.

“We had finished teaching a workshop in Moscow and were just starting a second session in St. Petersburg, Russia when agents from the immigration service walked in,” Bergantino said from Paris. “We were taken to an adjacent room and surrounded by people asking us questions for about an hour.”

He said the officials demanded the two Americans write and sign a statement saying what they were doing in Russia. After writing the statement, the two returned to teaching for five minutes, only to be interrupted a second time. This time the agents shut the workshop down and hauled Bergantino and Covington away.

“This time they took us to an immigration service office and showed us a document that they wanted us to sign saying we were guilty of immigration law violations. We refused to sign it,” Bergantino said. “Then we were taken to a district court. The judge had already determined we were guilty. They initially provided an interpreter who was translating about one-tenth of what was going on.”

Bergantino and Covington were using “targeted tourism visas,” as they said the U.S. State Department told them to do. But the Russians said they needed business visas. “Randy has been to Russia before to train journalists and used the same visa we were using this time,” Bergantino told me.

“The judge told us we were guilty of violating immigration law and issued us a warning.”

As far as they know, Bergantino said, they weren’t fined and they weren’t officially deported.

“She told us we could take our scheduled flight home, but not knowing what might happen next, we took an earlier flight to Paris,” Bergantino said.

Russian journalists interview Bergantino (photo provided by Joe Bergantino)

Russian journalists interview Bergantino (photo provided by Joe Bergantino)

Bergantino is still unsure what was behind the disruption and intimidation.

“What we did hear last night is this is not from the immigration service, it is a higher level. Putin is trying to send a message if you make the Russian life difficult, we will make it difficult for you. They don’t want people from the journalists outside to come in and teach investigative reporting and stir up Russians journalists.”

Bergantino has partnered with Poynter and me on several occasions training investigative reporters as part of his work with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which he heads. Before that he had a long career with WBZ-TV, WPLG-TV and has appeared on many national broadcasts including Nightline, World News Tonight and Good Morning America.

The judge did tell the Americans they could return to Russia if they get the “proper” paperwork.

“I would go back, I love the people there,” Bergantino said. “But something tells me I am not going to get the visa they say I need.” Read more

Journalism School

Arizona PBS station will become j-school’s ‘teaching hospital’

Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Arizona PBS will become part of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the university said in a press release Thursday. It had previously been part of ASU’s public-affairs office.

As part of the school, Arizona PBS (known as Eight) will become “journalistic ‘teaching hospital,’” the release says.

Like a teaching hospital in medical education, these immersive professional programs provide intensive learning environments for students, important services to the community and the ability to experiment and innovate. In this case, the community service is providing critically needed, in-depth journalistic content to readers and viewers.

The Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton in 2012 called for a teaching hospital approach to journalism education. Tom Rosenstiel wrote in 2013 that “as a central idea for modernizing journalism education, the teaching hospital concept is too limited.” But, Rosenstiel wrote, “It works far better under the careful tutelage of an extraordinary practitioner such as former Washington Post Editor Len Downie at Arizona State University than some others.”

Later in 2013, Lauren Klinger wrote about how the University of Alabama’s journalism department used a teaching-hospital model.

Related: Rebooting journalism education means constant state of change Read more

ergey Brin wears Google Glass glasses at an announcement for the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences at Genentech Hall on UCSF’s Mission Bay campus in San Francisco, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.

Live chat replay: Glass journalism and teaching when we don’t have all the answers

Robert Hernandez, one of Web journalism’s earliest, most influential innovators, joined us for a live chat Wednesday on Google Glass and a class he will be leading in the fall on “Glass journalism.”

Robert Hernandez

Hernandez teaches at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism as assistant professor of professional practice. He took questions on Google Glass as an emerging tool for newsgathering and storytelling. He also discussed how educators can grapple with a subject that generates more questions than answers — one of the challenges in teaching new technologies and evolving concepts.

This chat was a lead-up to Teachapalooza, Poynter’s college educator seminar scheduled for June 20-22 at our St. Petersburg institute. Hernandez will be among the teaching faculty. The deadline to register is Friday, May 16.

You can replay this chat at any time and visit to find an archive of all past chats.

Read more


The Pyramid of Journalism Competence: what journalists need to know

What does a journalist need to know?

What defines “competence” in journalism?

When you graduate from a journalism school, what should you know how to do?

In the digital age, the answers to those questions are more important than ever. For more than three decades now, they have been near the center of conversation and debate at Poynter. Before we could figure out what to teach, we needed to understand – in the public interest – what journalists needed to learn.

This process was energized in 1997 by a call to action from Tom Rosenstiel, one of the leaders of a group called the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Over the next two years, the committee conducted “21 public forums attended by 3,000 people and involving testimony from more than 300 journalists,” according to the book “The Elements of Journalism” by Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.

Poynter was asked to conduct one of those forums on a most challenging topic: What does it mean to be a competent journalist? And so we did.

In preparation for this conference on Feb. 26, 1998, the Poynter faculty, under my direction, built an edifice we came to call the Pyramid of Competence. This structure comprised 10 blocks. The cornerstones were news judgment and reporting. The foundation also included language and analysis. The central stone was technology, between audio-visual knowledge and numeracy. Closer to the top were civic and cultural literacy. At the apex was ethics.

The pyramid has had an interesting history, inside and outside the institute. Its most serious consideration came from the accrediting council of AEJMC. At a time when the standards for accreditation were under review, leaders such as Trevor Brown, dean at Indiana University, thought the ideas behind the pyramid would lead to a clearer articulation of educational “outcomes,” what students should expect to get out of a journalism education.

Much has changed in the world of journalism since the pyramid was constructed. New media platforms have been invented; business models have collapsed; arguments about who is a journalist abound. Pyramids may be tombs for dead kings, but they have a way of hanging around – for a long time.

What you are about to experience is the most up-to-date version of the Pyramid of Competence. It contains 10 sections, one for each of the competencies. It begins with a description and a definition, followed by a list of imagined courses that could impart that competency, topped off with an example of an essay that could be used to cultivate that area of journalistic knowledge.

You will find in these descriptions language that, we hope, is contemporary, including words such as “curation,” “aggregation,” and “data visualization,” language that was not part of journalism study when the pyramid was first created.

There were some key questions that were not resolved when the pyramid was built — and that remain unresolved. The big question is this: How many of these competencies should reside in any individual journalist? Or is it possible and desirable to imagine that these competencies can reside across a news organization, expressed in the work of specialists? In short, should the writer of the story also know how to develop an algorithm of data analysis and also be able to design a page?

Our tentative answer (perhaps I should restate that as “my” tentative answer) is that versatility is one of the most important virtues in contemporary journalism. That does not mean that the journalist need be an expert in all these areas. But it requires the journalist to be able to converse with colleagues in these areas across disciplines and “without an accent.” Competence is not a synonym for expertise.

We invite you to climb the Pyramid of Competence. Let us know how the world of journalism looks when you reach the top.

* * * * *

News Judgment

This competence resides in every academic discipline but is made manifest in powerful ways in the study and practice of journalism.

On any given day – or minute – the journalist (especially the editor) sorts through the events and concerns of the moment, hoping to determine which of them deserves the special attention of general and particular audiences.

Decisions on what to publish are based on two broad categories, expressed here in the form of questions:

• Is it important?

• Is it interesting?

There are, of course, important things that may not be interesting – a fluctuation in the money supply. Interesting things – celebrity divorces – may not be important. But on many days, the two categories will converge:

• The attacks of 9/11.

• The oil spill in the Gulf.

• The collapse of the economy in 2008.

• The election of the first African-American president.

• The rate of suicide of soldiers returned from war.

All these are terribly interesting and crucially important, relevant at some level to every person on the planet. Such stories deserve a standing at the top of the news ladder.

But these choices are obvious. The importance of news is relative. On some days news is slow so that an alligator attack across the state gets more attention than it may deserve. Then there are big news days when stories elbow each other for prominence. A significant tropical storm that hit Tampa Bay in 2001 got much less attention than usual because it happened the week of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

An editor with rich experience and refined news judgment will be able to see important news that is invisible to others. This is an invaluable civic, democratic, and commercial power. An expert is paying attention.

[News judgment describes the cognitive acts of understanding what matters: what is most important or most interesting. It is exercised in such practices as the generation of story ideas by reporters; by selection and play of stories by news editors; by the curation and aggregation of items on the Internet.]

Courses that would enrich news judgment

• Reporting I & II

• Advanced Reporting

• Editing I & II

• Investigative Reporting

• Computer-Assisted Reporting

• Work on School Publications

• Internships at News Organizations

• Media & Society

• News & Media Literacy

• Understanding Social Networks

An essay to read that would enhance news judgment

“From Politics to Human Interest,” by Helen MacGill Hughes

Reporting and Evidence

If news judgment sits as one cornerstone of the pyramid of competence, reporting serves as the other. In an academic context, reporting represents the gathering, verification, and distribution of evidence.

• Why is the price of gasoline so high?

• Where is the balance between personal privacy and national security?

• What were the root causes for the attacks on America on 9/11?

• Is Apple exploiting Chinese workers?

The answers to these questions cannot be simply asserted. Reporters and other news researchers must go out, gather evidence from reliable sources, check it out, and present it in the public interest.

Journalists of various types learn different methods of hunting and gathering information: documents (such as court records), minutes or notes taken at meetings, chronologies, interviews, public records, direct observation, participant observation, immersion reporting, data analysis, participation in social networks – these are just some of the methods journalists use to gain a meaningful picture of the world.

Science, law, economics, ethnography – each discipline offers a distinctive perspective on what constitutes good evidence. The big word for this in philosophy is “epistemology,” the philosophy of knowing. In journalism the questions might go simply, “How do reporters know?”

Academic study takes this to another level, “How do they KNOW what they know?”

[Reporting and Evidence represent the process and products of research.

The traditional methods of reporting all involve finding things out and checking them out, what Kovach and Rosenstiel describe as a discipline of verification, not assertion. Evidence involves tests of reliability, often based on knowledge of the sources. Reporters gather evidence, which is then tested against the standards of editors. Investigations, often to expose wrongdoing, require different standards of evidence than traditional reporting. Forms of evidence are gathered by photographers and documentary videographers, and, most recently, by computer-assisted and data-management efforts. Since standards of evidence differ in various disciplines, knowledge of a field outside of journalism – law, economics, biology – enrich all acts of reporting.]

Courses that would enrich reporting and evidence

• Reporting I & II

• Public Service Reporting

• Fact-Checking and Verification

• Computer-Assisted Reporting

• Scientific Method

• Ethnography

• Rules of Evidence

• Philosophy of Knowledge

• Quantitative Methods

An essay to read that would enhance reporting and evidence

“Getting the Story in Vietnam,” by David Halberstam

Language and Storytelling

The pyramid of journalism competence is built upon a foundation. One of its blocks is the effective use of language to express reports, stories, and other appropriate forms of communication.

Canadian scholar Stuart Adam argues that, at heart, journalists are a type of author, the work existing on a spectrum that extends from the civic to the literary. Competent journalists exhibit versatility in this area, demonstrating the capacity to write in different genres and for different media – long or short, fast or slow – for a variety of audiences and platforms.

A key distinction is between reports and stories. At the heart of journalism remains the neutral, unbiased report, still grounded in the traditional questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Using what semanticist S.I. Hayakawa termed “unloaded” language, the reporter sorts through the evidence to provide audiences with good information in the public interest.

The yang to the yin of the report is the story. The product of story is not information, but experience, and the effect is not just actionable knowledge, but empathy. This is created by the transformation of elements of reporting into narrative, so that who becomes character, what becomes scenic action, when becomes chronology, where becomes setting, why (always the most difficult) becomes motive, and how becomes how it happened.

There are forms of reportage and narrative that are expressed via other media and methods (we’ll get to these). But the written word on the page is the basis for all others.

[Language and Storytelling come to the journalist through normal intellectual development, but are enhanced by the practice of authorship, the study of language (including a foreign language), experimentation with a variety of narrative strategies in multiple genres across media platforms.]

Courses that would enrich language and storytelling

• Elements of Language

• Latin

• Composition I & II

• Surveys of English and American Literature

• Poetry

• Advanced Reporting

• Nonfiction Narrative

• Theories of Narrative

• Foreign Language

An essay to read that would enhance language and storytelling

“Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell

Analysis and Interpretation

To quote the 1947 Hutchins Commission report, “It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.” Context, meaning, trends, relationships, tensions all must appear on the radar screen of the discerning journalist. Some scoops are conceptual.

“Critical thinking” has become too vague a concept to describe this capacity. This form of literacy falls somewhere between analysis and interpretation and is often conveyed in arguments, commentary, opinion, and investigative reporting.

• How does a sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University resemble the one inside the Catholic Church?

• In what sense has global economics given us a “flat” world?

• Can the events of 9/11/2001 really be traced back to political and religious forces in Egypt, dating back to 1948?

The ability to see such questions, to analyze them and derive meaning from them, comes from the exercise of cognitive muscles toned in the gymnasia of traditional academic disciplines, from studies as diverse as evolutionary biology to anthropology to calculus to world literature.

Formal journalism study that is too narrow (with too many courses specifically about journalism) may result in short-term gains at the expense of long-term progress in a career. The aspiring journalist needs the enrichment of the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences; it is from those deep wells that the competent journalist can draw.

[Analysis and Interpretation describe the ability of the journalist to make sense of the often jumbled and chaotic movements of the day. In a deadline story or in a book, the journalist gains audience and credibility when he or she can discern trends, patterns, a higher or deeper level of meaning. This has no agreed-up name, but comes under phrases such as “sense-making,” “gaining altitude,” “conceptual scoops,” and “collateral journalism.”]

Courses that would enrich analysis and interpretation

• Myth and Literature

• History of Science

• Abnormal Psychology

• Quantum Physics

• Principles of Economy

• Art Appreciation

• Technology and Society

An essay to read that would enhance analysis and interpretation

“The Dark Continent of American Journalism,” by James W. Carey


Innumeracy can be as bad as illiteracy in a profession – especially one such as journalism that describes its members as watchdogs in the public interest. Corruption of power – by banks or governments – often involves the abuse of numbers. The ability to work with numbers – especially for those with a natural word orientation – enriches reporting capacity exponentially.

[If you do not know the meaning of the metaphor “exponential,” you may have some work to do.]

Let’s take the case of the young reporter who asks a state commissioner of education why the budget for pre-school education was cut last year. “Check your facts, please,” says the commissioner. “Our budget increased by one percent,” and that’s what the reporter put in a draft of the story. Until a more numerate editor asked “What was the inflation rate last year?” Turned out, it was 3 percent. So that in real dollars, the value of money to be spent on education did, indeed, decline.

More and more, the numbers tell the story. The analysis and presentation of numbers – described in the jargon “big data” – adds in the reporting of such diverse topics as to whether state lottery revenues actually contribute to education, to the probable winners in an electoral cycle, to whether or not a certain economic policy is discriminatory, to the workings of a successful fantasy football league.

A lack of numeracy has been described as the “dark hole” of journalism competence. It need not be that way. In fact, the analysis of numbers often reveals a secret part of the world that can be explored by reporters and storytellers. Reporter Mara Hvistendahl knew that in normal circumstances 105 boy babies are born for every 100 girl babies. Her research discovered that the Chinese port city of Lianyungang has a gender ratio for children under five of 163 boys for every 100 girls. Armed with such numbers she set off for Asia to report their human consequences.

[Numeracy is most often the ability to use computation skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to understand the world. For some stories, higher skills are necessary, including the ability to report for numbers, understand probability and statistics, and work with basic economic concepts – such as adjusting for inflation. Journalists also make routine decisions about what information to include in print stories, and which ones to illustrate graphically.]

Courses that would enrich numeracy

• Probability and Statistics

• College Level Algebra (and more advanced courses in mathematics)

• Math for Journalists

• Econometrics

• Quantitative Social Science Methodology

• Investigative Reporting

An essay to read that would enhance numeracy

“The Scientific Way,” by Victor Cohn


It may be obvious to state the importance of technological literacy in the digital age, but consider the complexity of this: that many students raised with the Internet may be, in important ways, more technologically literate than their professors. Universities must grapple with who has the capacity to teach students about technology in the interests of journalism and democracy.

The key for journalism competence is to understand technology in two ways:

1. How technology undergirds changing forms of journalism – the way that the telegraph liberated news from geography and transportation.

2. How technology acts as a force that changes society – for better and worse – thus demanding coverage in the news itself.

The competent journalist must be prepared to work successfully in a variety of media platforms, from print to video to digital to mobile – including forms that have not yet been invented. Just as “computer assisted reporting” once enriched investigative work, there is now new potential in forms of computer programming, data analysis and display.

Technological innovations can be disruptive, placing demands on the competent journalist to manage change, and often to embrace it, but it does not require achieving escape velocity from enduring values and traditions.

What is called for here is neither technophilia nor phobia, but a techno-realism that recognizes the gains and compensates for the losses brought by new technologies.

[Technology literacy includes abilities in word processing, search and research functions, social networking, blogging, programming, mobile applications, data analysis and display, aggregation and curation.]

Courses that would enrich technological competency

• History of Technology

• Technology, Community, Culture

• Computer Science

• Introduction to Programming

• Computer-Assisted Reporting

• Introduction to Blogging

• Data Analysis and Display

An essay to read that would enhance technological literacy

“Into the Electronic Millennium,” by Sven Birkerts


Long before the invention of the written word, humans created forms of storytelling that took care of their informational and aspirational needs. Drawings on cave walls in France tell stories of the hunt and of the gods. Oral poetry – often recited to music – defined cultures and described heroes and enemies.

The audio and visual have evolved as crucial modes of journalism expression, a movement magnified by the Internet.

While there remains a place for journalism specialization, versatility is a virtue of the day. The backpack journalist collects photos, videos, sound, and writes texts. The cell phone is a tool that allows the collection of all these elements in the palm of the hand.

But one key feature of favorite technologies is their design. The world’s great designers have turned their attention from newspapers and magazines to websites and blogs to mobile technologies such as the iPhone and iPad. Audio and visual elements enrich everything from news navigation to data display to storytelling in multi-media and multiple media forms.

Radio remains a powerful medium for journalism worldwide, and famous networks such as the BBC and NPR now use text and visual elements on their websites.

This is one literacy in which collaboration is crucial and the best work undertaken comes from the marriage of writing, editing, and design.

[Audio-Visual literacy is expressed through photography and video, design and illustration, the use of color, creation of slide shows and other multi-media productions, the use of natural sound, and the use of music, when appropriate.]

Courses that would enrich audio-visual literacy

• History of Western Art

• 20th Century Art (Modern & Post-Modern)

• Theories of Color

• History of Photography

• Art and Craft of Photo Composition

• Multi-Media Reporting and Editing

• Music Appreciation

• Selected Masters of Classical Music

• Jazz

• Musical Performance (any instrument, including voice)

An essay to read that would enhance audio-visual literacy

“In Plato’s Cave,” by Susan Sontag

Civic literacy

The teaching of civics in American public or private schools has never been known as ideal – even in decades past. Read more

core skills report cover

Journalism needs the right skills to survive

Despite the economic imperatives facing the media industry, professional journalists lag behind educators and others in rating the importance of multimedia and other digital storytelling skills.

That finding is the result of new research from The Poynter Institute, which shows a wide divergence between professionals and educators in their thinking on the importance of core journalism skills, especially those skills that are essential for mastering new methods of gathering and delivering news and information. It is unclear whether educators are putting too much emphasis on these skills or whether professionals have a different perspective given their day-to-day work.

The Core Skills for the Future of Journalism report, released today, raises the puzzling question as to why the professionals who responded to the survey don’t rate the importance of multimedia skills in today’s visual, multiplatform media landscape as highly as educators, students and independent journalists.

Educators who responded also value knowledge about the business of media and the larger media landscape much higher than journalists working in media organizations. And, to a greater degree than professionals, educators appear to recognize the value of key newsgathering skills that have become more essential in the digital age, such as the ability to analyze and synthesize large amounts of data.

Poynter’s Future of Journalism Competencies survey identified 37 key skills or attributes and knowledge areas. The survey asked professionals, educators and students to rate the importance of those skills, attributes and knowledge areas for beginning journalists as they look toward careers in the digital and mobile age.

The report can be downloaded from here. On Thursday, April 10, co-authors Howard Finberg and Lauren Klinger discussed the findings in a webinar sponsored by the Knight Foundation. The replay is available free for viewing.

Professionals at media organizations rated the importance of all of the multimedia skills much lower than did educators, students and even independent or freelance journalists. The difference is striking.
For example, few would argue that video skills are set to decline in importance in the future.

  • Less than half (46 percent) of the professionals who responded said that ability was important to very important
  • Yet more than three-fourths (76 percent of educators) regarded this skill as important to very important

Photography, an essential skill since most reporters today are equipped with smartphones or cameras, is less important to professionals than to educators.

A slightly higher percentage of professionals (53 percent) thought it was important to very important that a journalist have the ability to shoot and edit photographs. However, more than 75 percent of educators in the survey thought photography skills were important to very important.

Given the evolving platforms for journalism — the Web, phones, tablets —  these difference between professionals and educators (and the other groups surveyed) are noteworthy.

The gap may indicate that professionals in media organizations, both staff members and managers, have not fully embraced the importance of digital skills so essential to online and other new forms of journalism. While not all of the core skills surveyed should be emphasized equally when it comes to training today’s beginning journalists, all are important.

As more journalism is produced for the Web, for tablets and for other mobile devices — not just published on them — it is striking that professionals who responded placed relatively little importance upon the skills necessary to shoot video, record audio, take photographs and tell visual stories. There were also gaps in other categories that are important to understanding the global digital media environment, including understanding different cultures and the media landscape.

Tom Huang, Sunday and enterprise editor of The Dallas Morning News, in an email about the survey’s results, argued that perhaps professionals are weighing traditional skills and digital skills carefully:

So while I recognize the importance of digital skills, if I had to choose, I’d first choose journalists with “traditional” skills and then train them on digital skills, rather than the other way around. I think the point of the survey, though, is that we shouldn’t have to choose. New journalists should come equipped with a whole host of skills, both traditional and digital.

Perhaps, given the drumbeat about educators not “going digital” over the past three years from various individuals, including the report’s co-author Howard Finberg and the Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton, the finding that educators are becoming more digital-savvy should not be surprising.

Sue Burzynski Bullard, associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and former managing editor of The Detroit News, said she wasn’t surprised that educators rated digital skills highly in the survey.

“After the 2012 call for change in journalism education,” she wrote in an email, “the debate among educators about what journalism graduates need to know got louder. It became harder to ignore the need for change. Most educators would say it’s important that our students understand digital skills and multimedia storytelling if they’re going to find jobs in today’s journalism world. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean every journalism professor is ready or willing to incorporate those skills into their classes yet. That’s still evolving. And in some cases, it’s still a battle.”

It is important to remember that saying a skill is important, which was our survey question, is not the same as using or teaching that skill. However, the first step in doing something new is to acknowledge its importance.

Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president/news at the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group [Rochester, N.Y.], expressed in an email that she is skeptical about whether these skills are being taught:

Educators may think all of those things are important but the results coming out of colleges are very mixed. My personal experience with journalism grads is that they fall into one of two categories:  solid writers/reporters with limited digital skill sets or multimedia journalists who are great with video but don’t understand how to work a beat or dig much deeper than what’s given in a press release or press conference.  Both types are problematic in today’s newsrooms.  We need it all!

However, it appears that educators have listened to the debate about the need to change, at least enough to acknowledge the importance of new skills. But the question remains what professionals are hearing when it comes to the need to change what they do. And whether there is a disconnect between the staff members, as represented in the survey, and the senior management at various newspaper companies who are pushing their organizations to change.

During the past 10 years, the media industry has seen the decline of the specialist and the corresponding rise of the generalist. It started in the broadcast industry with “one-man band” journalism, where the reporter is also the camera person and sound engineer, and it has spread to print publications. Print journalists are routinely expected to take pictures and record sound bites and even video to complement their text-based stories so that those stories make compelling content for digital platforms.

If professionals need another indicator that the workplace is changing, they only have to consider the disappearance of journalism jobs. Print media have lost 16,000 jobs in the past decade, a drop of almost 30 percent, according to the American Society of News Editors, reported in the Pew State of the News Media 2014 report. The survivors are expected to take on new digital-focused tasks. In the same time frame, Pew estimates that about 5,000 new journalism jobs have been created — in digital-only news outlets.

It seems obvious that digital skills are essential for any journalist who wants to succeed in the 21st century.

Thus a discussion about skills is part of the larger debate about the future of journalism education. During the past two years, academics, foundation leaders and professionals have expressed a wide range of opinions about whether journalism education can be saved — and even whether a journalism degree is valuable.

Two Poynter studies on the topic showed an enormous gulf between professionals and professors about the value of a journalism degree. The first survey was conducted in 2012 as research for a speech I gave at a 20th anniversary celebration for the European Journalism Centre. That survey had responses from more than 2,000 professionals and educators.

The second study, the State of Journalism Education 2013, showed:

  • 96 percent of those who identified themselves as educators believed that a journalism degree was very important to extremely important when it came to understanding the value of journalism
  • Editors and those who worked in journalism had a less favorable opinion, with only 57 percent of professionals saying that a degree was very important to extremely important

Future of Journalism Competencies survey results

Our new research report is based on the Future of Journalism Competencies survey, which was conducted in late 2013 and early 2014. The survey received more than 2,900 responses from media organization professionals, independent or freelance journalists, educators and students. The participation breakdown was:

  • Professionals: 1,124, 39 percent; 425 participants identified themselves as managers or senior editors
  • Educators: 996 participants, 34 percent
  • Independent journalists: 356, 12 percent
  • Students or recent grads: 426, 15 percent

Survey participants were asked to indicate the importance of 37 different skills and attributes for a “beginning journalist as he/she looks toward his/her career in the digital/mobile age.” The 37 skills were derived from two academic papers, one by Nico Drok and the other by Michael Opgenhaffen and his co-authors.

The survey used a five-point scale, with one labeled “not at all important” and five labeled “very important.” The skills were grouped into four different categories:

  • Knowledge, attitudes and personal features or values had 19 skills
  • Newsgathering had 7 skills
  • Basic news production had 6 skills
  • Technical or multimedia production had 5 skills

This example is representative of how we asked survey questions: At your organization, what newsgathering skills do you think beginning journalists need to have? Rate the following newsgathering skills from Not at All Important to Very Important. We used similar wording for the general attitudes, news production and multimedia topics.

Results from the Core Skills for the Future of Journalism show alignment between professionals and educators on the traditional and foundational attitudes and skills needed for beginning journalists — and divergence when it comes to those abilities essential for today’s journalism. Some of the report’s highlights are described in the next sections.

Knowledge, attitudes and personal features

Nearly all of the participants surveyed agreed on some essential skills and traits for today’s journalists. The number-one rated skill was “accuracy,” followed by “curiosity.”

  • Professionals rated “accuracy” at 96 percent as important to very important; educators rated this skill at 99 percent
  • Educators rated “curiosity” at 98 percent as important to very important; professionals rated this attribute at 93 percent

The top-10 skills lists of both professional and educator survey participants included most of the same skills, although the order varied. Of the skills that didn’t make both top-10 lists, only two (“storytelling” and “master interview techniques”) diverged by more than a few percentage points.

However, significant differences were found between professionals and educators when it came to rating other knowledge, attitudes and personal features. For example:

  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of educators said that “knowledge of other cultures” is important to very important; only half (52 percent) of professionals agreed
  • The gap was a little narrower when it came to “knowledge of government,” with almost 70 percent of professionals rating this as important to very important versus 83 percent of educators

Both of these knowledge questions raise essential issues around effective coverage of institutions and communities. With the increasing diversity of the United States population, having some understanding of other cultures would make for more effective journalism — journalism where more individuals would see themselves within the stories being covered.

Aly Colón, former director of standards and practices at NBC News and now the Knight Chair for Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, believes that the issue might be one of focus rather than importance. Colón wrote in an email that:

“In general, professionals focus on what they do daily, and educators focus on what they see emerging: the practical versus the prescient.

“In newsrooms dominated by white males and fighting to survive, craft skills may trump cultural knowledge. And the decline of minority journalists, who lost jobs or sought employment elsewhere, leaves today’s shrinking newsrooms without advocates for expanding cultural knowledge. Educators, however, may see increasing cultural diversification in their classrooms and in their research. They recognize their students will enter a more multicultural world and need to learn about other cultures if they hope to provide more complete coverage of their communities.”

However, that doesn’t explain the fact that the gap between professionals and educators cut across a range of skills, including essential digital skills.

Skills for innovation

Today’s media landscape is littered with failed attempts at innovation. Traditional publications and broadcast stations struggle to find new audiences, as well as new approaches, for journalism that is increasingly affected by technology. In addition, many staff members are asked to think about ways to create new products that have both journalistic merit and revenue potential. Yet, professionals in our survey did not see knowledge about the business of media as important.

  • More than a third of professionals in the survey (38 percent) said “having knowledge of the business of media” was important to very important
  • But far more — 61 percent — educators said business knowledge was important to very important
  • Students, at 71 percent, and independent journalists at 64 percent, agreed with educators, saying that business understanding was important to very important

Related to understanding the business is “understanding the media landscape.” This ability helps media professionals recognize the importance of emerging media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook — and anticipate the next Twitter and Facebook.

Again, the professionals found this skill to be less important than did educators.

  • 78 percent of educators responded that understanding the media landscape is an important to very important skill
  • 57 percent of professionals responded that understanding the media landscape is an important to very important skill
  • Independent journalists, at 75 percent, and students, at 78 percent, were closely aligned with the educators

Jeff Jarvis, professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY and a frequent critic of the lack of innovation in both the industry and education, proposed a possible explanation for the findings in an email requesting his opinion:

“Educators are closer to the future because they are closer to the students, who are worried about supporting themselves and thus about the sustainability of the field and who chose to come to journalism school now because they want to be part of the disruption. Thus it’s good to see the educators and the students and independent journalists in sync.”

One who does worry about the future of the business is Mizell Stewart, vice president/content, newspaper division, The E.W. Scripps Co., who sees organizations making this digital transformation. Stewart wrote in an email:

“The range of skills necessary to navigate this transition goes far, far beyond bread-and-butter competencies such as writing, editing and practicing the discipline of verification. Teamwork and collaboration, audience engagement, marketing, project management, data journalism, video editing … the list goes on and on. Along the way, we also have to understand what it takes to build successful digital news and information businesses with revenue models that may be very, very different than the ones we know today.”

Newsgathering skills

The ability to find and make sense of information is almost the definition of newsgathering, so it seems safe to call this an essential skill for the beginning journalist. We asked professionals and educators to rate the importance of two key aspects of newsgathering that require this ability. Both the ability to analyze and synthesize large amounts of data and the ability to interpret statistical data were rated as more important by educators than by professionals.

When it comes to the ability to “analyze and synthesize large amounts of data,” a little more than half (55 percent) of the professionals responded that this was important to very important. Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of the educators rated this skill as important to very important.

The response to the question about the ability to “interpret statistical data and graphics” was similar:

  • 59 percent of professionals and
  • 80 percent of educators called this skill important to very important

Given the large amounts of data available on the Internet and the growing importance of presenting information in a pleasing and informative visual manner, the gap between educators and professionals is disturbing. The ability to make sense of our complex world by distilling meaningful information from the vast river of data is one of the great values professional journalists can offer their audience.

Related to those newsgathering skills is the ability to “search for news and check sources without the use of the Internet.” Today’s journalism students have grown up with Google. It is an instinctive response: Have a question? Look it up online. But not everything is online, and not everything online is accurate or complete. Yet having the ability to find and verify information “offline” is seen as a much more important skill by educators than by professionals.

News production skills

The good news with this area of abilities is the alignment between educators and professionals on the importance of skills needed to turn newsgathering into news production. Respondents in both groups attached similar levels of importance to such skills as storytelling, writing in a fluent style, using correct grammar and understanding audience expectations and needs.

A gap appeared in only one skill area: the ability to “master various forms of journalistic writing.” Again, professionals rated this skill as less important than did educators:

  • More than two-thirds (68 percent) of professionals rated this skill as important to very important; managers were slightly higher at 70 percent
  • But 84 percent of educators in the survey said the ability to “master various forms of journalistic writing” was important to very important

In the multiplatform media environment, the skill to write different types of stories would seem to be essential. Today, print journalists write for the Web and often prepare video segments; broadcast journalists need to write for the Web and provide additional material to support their video and/or audio stories. Few journalists work exclusively on one platform.

The failure to recognize the importance of mastering a variety of forms might explain the results found in another skill area, though — technical skills. If professionals have not completely accepted the need for proficiency on multiple platforms, they are unlikely to appreciate the need for technical proficiency.

Technical or multimedia production skills

This category showed the greatest gap between professionals and educators, especially around multimedia skills. Read more


R.B. Brenner named director of UT Austin journalism school

The University of Texas at Austin this week announced the appointment of former Washington Post editor R.B. Brenner as director of the School of Journalism.

The university released a statement Thursday:

“Brenner brings an acute awareness of new trends facing journalism and demonstrated success at furthering the teaching and intellectual missions of journalism programs,” said Roderick P. Hart, dean of the Moody College of Communication. “In turn, he will help our students anticipate the shifting media landscape and enable them to make the communication breakthroughs of tomorrow.”

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Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications, at the downtown campus of Arizona State University Friday, Nov. 14, 2008 in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

How journalism schools can innovate by teaching tech reporting

Almost every journalism school either has or intends to revisit what they teach. Even before Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton led the call for a reformation of journalism schools, the momentum was clear: there was going to be educational disruption, and every school needed to position itself as the J-school of the future.

In recent years, much of what has happened falls into two categories: bringing “entrepreneurship into the curriculum” or using the “teaching hospital” metaphor. Both have merits. And the recent Knight education challenge fund administered through ONA is a great way to continue to push boundaries. And in that vein, I want to offer a third option, one that I haven’t seen widely adopted but that I think could bear fruit.

Your J-school should have a technology reporting class.

My personal story: I started out as a technology reporter. It was after the first dot-com bust and before the full rise of Web 2.0. Because I was reporting about new technologies, it was inevitable that I became engaged in online communities and tools. How can you report on an industry if you don’t understand how people in that industry are communicating? How can you report on a cultural shift if you don’t fully understand how it engages people?

When I started as a technology reporter I wasn’t @Digidave. In fact, before 2003 I was not very tech-savvy. But if you’re a motivated reporter you learn the nuances, the details. You study quickly. Creating my first blog was an occupational requirement.

When he taught new media at Columbia’s J-school, Sree Sreenivasan would talk about “new media skill set, and new media mind set.” The former can be taught: learning Photoshop, photography, video, etc. But the latter must be absorbed. That’s the real trick of building technology journalism into a school’s curriculum.

Technology isn’t something students should learn because “it’s the future.” Students can learn about technology because it will be their beat and they want to be good reporters. When students aren’t even paying attention, they’ll begin to understand the power of technology, the richness of the industry and the culture of the community.

For the traditionalists: Have no fear, it’s still reporting! A tech reporting class isn’t about gadgets and gizmos and “whosits and whatsits galore.” It’s about reporting and writing. Unlike most “teaching hospital” classes, the topic is around an industry rather than a geography. But it’s an exciting industry that has giants like Google/Facebook as well as new upstarts run by people not much older than your students.

Tech reporting requires desk reporting, but it is done best with old-fashioned boots on the ground, making sources, calling, following up, etc. You want students to learn how to report and write. They can do that while on the tech beat.

For the small J-school: You probably want to bring entrepreneurship and technology into your curriculum but maybe you haven’t been able to attract the high-profile journo-preneurs-coders. Maybe the multimillion-dollar foundation grant to fund the new innovation building is out of reach. Starting a technology beat class isn’t.

Tech beats aren’t limited to San Francisco. There are hubs in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Boston, Charleston, Seattle and more. There are plenty of technology hubs beyond the obvious. Where’s your J-school? Where’s your closest tech hub?

Technology needs better coverage. Tech reporting for the most part is weak. There are great examples out there, but the preponderance of technology coverage stems from sources that are part of the industry itself. I’m not just talking about the fact that the major technology blogs take VC money. Those conflicts can be disclosed and navigated. Rather, it’s the sense that the very existence of tech blogs depends on the success of the technology industry as a whole. If the tech industry doesn’t have a massive consumer base of people buying gadgets or using web products, then the tech blogs have no market either.

A university tech reporting class is sheltered from market realities. It can do enterprise reporting from a unique angle. It’s an angle I think could be refreshing.

David Cohn is director of news at Circa and a member of Poynter’s adjunct faculty. Previously he worked on some of the first endeavors exploring crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @digidave.

Related training: Core Skills for the 21st Century Journalist Read more


Rebooting journalism education means constant state of change

Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, has added her thoughtful voice to the “rebooting” journalism education discussion with an Online Journalism Review column.

As predicted, journalism education’s “reboot” was the hot topic at the recent Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) convention in Chicago thanks to a recent series of articles, speeches and blog and listserv postings.

Overholser outlines several areas for discussion:

  • The debate shouldn’t just be about industry vs. the academy. She urges schools to think more about the public that is also creating journalism and to think about the diversity of both the creators and audiences.
  • Universities need to build richer connections to professionals, and there needs to be more research to guide the change ahead.
  • Schools need to be the “labs that experiment and test new techniques” of journalism.

I think Overholser is on target when she writes that rebooting journalism education will be an ongoing process.

There is no end-point. No matter how effectively we debate this, no matter how well we “solve” the questions confronting us, there’ll be no stasis. These conversations have been going on for a good while (here’s a summation of one from two years ago at AEJMC) and they’ll go on for a long time more. Change is our new reality, and it isn’t going away. As Google’s Richard Gingras said at AEJMC, “How can we create work cultures of constant innovation?” (His questions at the end of the speech are terrific thought-provokers.)

This comment ties nicely to an article in The New York Times about how media companies such as Discover, a cable TV company, and News Corporation are pushing into the education arena, especially with online products and services. Even textbook publishers are starting to change how they think about the future of their businesses:

“Over the last 10 years alone, we’ve invested $9.3 billion in digital innovations that are transforming education,” said Will Ethridge, chief executive of Pearson North America, part of Pearson P.L.C., the world’s largest education and learning company. “One way to describe it would be an act of ‘creative destruction.’ By this I mean we’re intentionally tearing down an outdated, industrial model of learning and replacing it with more personalized and connected experiences for each student.”

Ethridge’s comment goes to the heart of Gingras’ speech at AEJMC.  Constant change is the new reality.

I also like Overholser’s idea of journalism educators playing a larger role in news and media literacy, both at their schools and with the public at large:

We must redefine our “market.” We know that the quality of journalism depends on the quality of the demand for it. How might we play a greater role in media literacy? We know that the academy seems to be experiencing some of the disruption that has hit so many media institutions. What if we put these two facts together and started serving more and more of the public in smaller chunks of time (and money)? Finberg cites a great example: UC Davis is experimenting with “digital badge” programs that can “measure core competences rather than the standard three-credit course.”

Constant change and rethinking audiences, those are lessons for rebooting journalism education. Read more

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5 ways journalism educators can teach students to use multimedia in breaking news coverage

As wildfires ravaged her state, Colorado College journalism lecturer Diane Alters emailed a list of fellow educators for suggestions on how to give her students breaking news reporting experience — and also keep them safe in the process.

The query offered the perfect opportunity for what I like to think of as “small multimedia wins” in teaching.

Journalism schools across the country are embroiled in important but lengthy discussions about reforming curricula, updating courses and funding technology. Meanwhile, new forms of journalism roll on, and our students can get left behind.

While I stay involved in the larger structural debates, I look for small and immediate ways to incorporate digital reporting tools and publishing into my classes. Breaking news events like the Colorado wildfires provide an ideal moment to stick with notebook reporting and text stories and also round out coverage with multimedia.

With thanks to others on the listserve who added their ideas, here’s a roundup of how an instructor can use new tools to cover this news event.

Map the fire

Data journalism is a critical component in any news organization today. Students must have a working familiarity with how to seek data sources, clean data, analyze and interpret data, and display it in useful visualizations for audiences. Data can get exceedingly complicated, so I like to begin small with maps.

Students could work with agencies to get lists of fire locations, houses affected and firefighting lines. My favorite tool for mapping is Google Fusion Tables. It’s easy enough for class use and is a staple in major newsrooms. Look, for instance, at this map of snow removal failures that WNYC put together.

Google offers an excellent tutorial on Fusion Tables, beginning with mapping. Students can get up to speed in an hour or less.

Capture first-person audio accounts

I’m continually shocked when students fail to capture audio from interviews and events even though many of them have a device in their hands that will enable them to do so.

About 75 percent of students in my intro course this spring came armed with their own smart phones, all of which are capable of capturing and transferring audio. Yet only a handful think to use them for recording interviews and ambient sound.

If students want to capture quick snippets and add a picture, you can direct them to an app called AudioBoo. Students could visit a fire evacuation center, ask a common question and then use the app to round up the answers and photos on a Web page.

Students can record longer interviews on smartphones or digital audio recorders. They can post it as recorded or edit it into a standard radio news package. Audacity is a great free tool for audio editing on a Mac or PC. I’ve created a series of related tutorials online, which you can refer to for more guidance.

Build timelines of fire moments

Timelines offer audiences sequential summaries of key dates and transitions in an event or issue, usually with images. Students could mark the start of fires, efforts to contain them and critical events, such as injuries or damage to noted properties.

Dozens of timeline tools are available for free online. Start by teaching students how to use free options like Dippity, just to get them acquainted with the idea.

But then move onto more functional options. I like ProPublica’s TimelineSetter but recently have questioned whether horizontal timelines are the best approach. (I’ve been meaning to check out TimelineJS, as well). WNYC and Balance Media have created an excellent and easy vertical timeline that I’ll roll out in classes this fall. Their description and support materials are accessible for students.

Both of these options require a small amount of coding knowledge. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Students absolutely must come out with basic coding familiarity in today’s journalism world. Getting a timeline to work in a Web page is an easy way to begin that understanding.

Curate social media

The Colorado wildfires have both a quantitative and qualitative impact. Many people are affected deeply by it, so they are using social media tools to stay involved in the conversation.

Students can capture these posts and exchanges and curate them into content for a website.

The best tool for this curation is Storify, which is fast-growing in many newsrooms.  Columbia University’s journalism school has a fast and effective tutorial that covers not just the tech of the tool, but also good journalistic practices in using it.

Storify is free and most useful to pull lots of social media content together. Students also can use screen capture (on Mac or PC) to grab individual tweets, photos or Facebook posts to use as art for stories.

Explore other creative options

  • Liveblog a press conference: Use tools like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive for students to report the event as it happens. (Both tools charge for newsroom use but offer free accounts for journalism educators if you contact them directly.)
  • Collect student tweets under a common hashtag (a short word beginning with # that is used to connect tweets thematically). Students should use community hashtags, such as #COwildfire, but also make use of a class-based tag, such as #j200fires.
  • Work with live video: a smartphone is a terrific videocamera. Use a tool like Qik to get short bits out immediately.
  • Create audio slideshows: Bring together pictures and sound with something like SoundSlides, which has just incorporated a new HTML5 version of slideshows to improve compatibility with Apple mobile platforms.

Draw on professionals

Many of us are too shy in building connections with newsrooms. If I were covering a wildfire, I would first Google “U.S. wildfires 2011.”

After finding last year’s hotspots, I’d look to news organizations in those regions and see how they covered the fires. I have often found that a simple email to a reporter or editor yields an opportunity to Skype videochat that person into my class for ideas and advice.

In fact, Diane Alters and her students benefited from a public radio news director helping them on everything from how to hold a cell phone to best capture sound, to the ethics of reporting when friends and family are affected.

The tools to expand coverage of breaking news in a digital age are almost boundless. What do you use in your newsroom or classroom? Please share your knowledge and continue the conversation in the comments section. Links to tools are always welcome. Read more


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