It seemed reasonable, as we first started talking about the innovation incubator project 15 months ago, to expect that journalism students would be more technologically adept and experienced than we were. After all, we are a bunch of college administrators, women who (for the most part) have spent our careers in legacy newsrooms and scholarly environments.

We figured that students who grew up with the Internet — or, more accurately for this cohort, grew into adulthood with the Internet — would come to the task of creating new approaches to community news not only with great ideas but with the skills to execute them.

We figured that the students who couldn’t code or create a php MYSQL database would have at minimum a mastery or knowledge base about available tools.

Turns out, we figured wrong.

Yes, at least some of the students we selected — and tellingly, who eagerly volunteered — to participate in the project came to it with strong technical skills and understandings.

But most of them were far less prepared for the “execution” phase than we had expected.

We’ve managed to bridge the gap between concept and prototype, and we’ll continue to work on making those connections more clearly in the months to come. But it has been a wake-up call for us — each of us, representing seven different journalism schools — in terms of the critical question we all need to be considering as we prepare the journalists of the future:

What skill sets will they need to put innovative ideas into practice?
How technically adept will they need to be?
We all bought into the computer-assisted-reporting craze in the 1990s, and most schools now require at least some exposure to or experience with database reporting. What’s the equivalent in 2007?
And should journalists be clients and users of media software and applications — or should they have some sense of how to create them as well?

We had some pretty strong operating assumptions about the answers to those questions when we started this project. Five months later, we’re taking a closer look at some of those assumptions. We’ll keep you posted.