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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

The problem with five jam-packed days of panels and events is that you can’t do it all. Presentations and business meetings for the 93rd annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), which was held in Denver earlier this month, ran concurrently from 7 a.m. until, for some, after midnight. I hustled from my booth in the exhibit hall to sit in on sessions across the different groups, but especially to eavesdrop on discussions among attendees and peek over their shoulders as they tapped silently on their iPhones. Below are five key messages I overheard in Denver.

1. Boots on the Ground

“I have to be on the ground, witnessing events with my own eyes … [War reporting] is not just a cocktail party — you can’t just drop in.” – Anne Garrels, former foreign correspondent for NPR

Garrels commanded the room during a keynote address that saw her recount harrowing experiences during her six years as an embedded journalist during the Iraq War — including false accusations made on her Wikipedia page that she believes could have gotten her killed.

In the face of “raw information” quickly disseminated through new social mediums, Garrels emphasized committed, responsible, on-the-ground reporting. “Having knowledge to put events into context is really key,” she said. “Otherwise, information is pretty hollow.”

2. Editing Skills to Pay the Bills

“We need to get our students to think of themselves not just as reporters, but as editors.” – Eileen Gilligan, assistant professor, SUNY Oswego

Gilligan said the above during a session about teaching convergence in the midst of a climate of ambiguity surrounding priorities in journalism education. Her session, “Teaching through Transition,” presented data from several research studies conducted by AEJMC members that revealed an alarming disparity between the skills needed in convergent newsrooms and the core curricular priorities in U.S. journalism schools.

The data underscored the importance of superior storytelling skills. But interpersonal skills (such as the ability to develop sources), news judgment (the right story, the right way), and multi-tasking (the hardest of the three) were cited by news directors as necessary traits to succeed in converged newsrooms. Gilligan said the most meaningful feedback was that editing is a core skill for current students and future journalists.

3. Social Media Everywhere

“Social media showed me that people don’t just care about the news, they care about the people who write it.” – Arizona State University student Sebastien Bauge, as quoted by Serena Carpenter in her presentation in the AEJMC social media competition

Social media was popular during the conference, both in panels and in practice. One session, “Social Media in the Classroom”, shared how instructors incorporate these tools in their courses. Examining Twitter updates during current events — like the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year — and hashtagging course names for classroom conversations were among the suggestions discussed. One course at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill invited Pizza Hut’s public relations coordinator-turned-“Twitterologist” as a guest speaker to discuss corporate social media strategies. Mich Sineath, who tweeted for @AEJMC during the conference, called it the “hands-down BEST panel of #AEJMC10.”

Social media happened to me, too. When inside the large, glass-walled room for Poynter’s News University presentation (and announcement of its new syllabus exchange program), I tweeted from @CQPJournalism that it was one of the most well-attended sessions I had seen. Within minutes, professor Jake Batsell of Southern Methodist University responded that he had at least “40+” attendees for his panel on creating and running multi-platform student news websites. Turns out, Batsell was sitting two seats away from me.

4. Entrepreneurship the Answer?

“I’m not even slightly interested in saving the industry.” – Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University

The lack of viable business models that can sustain an increasingly complicated news marketplace was still the elephant in the room this year, especially in light of the fact that the conference showed that traditional news jobs continue to disappear. In fact, panelists for the “New Media Economics” panel admittedly had little to offer in terms of successful strategies. Gillmor, author of “We the Media” and a forthcoming book called Mediactive, went on to say, “I’ve given up the idea that the industry wants to be saved. We’ve moved on.”

By that Gillmor meant that the news industry should look toward new types of social and media entrepreneurship. He explained that journalists and entrepreneurs must have an appreciation of risk and be attuned to the current media culture.

“Innovation,” he said, “is doing something better than how somebody else is doing it.”

5. Enrollment Changing Along With the Industry

“Everything is changing, not dying” – Guy J. Golan, chair of the new Political Communication interest group

During the conference, I frequented the Starbucks on 16th street, just across from the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel. It was a place to refuel, charge my laptop, and access free wireless, which was not available in the conference rooms nor in hotel rooms. When I reached over to unplug my laptop, Golan handed me my cord and we chatted about the conference. He corrected my assertion that the common perception is that the news industry is “dying” and yet enrollment rates are rising in journalism schools.

It’s the PR and advertising programs that are gaining students, he said, along with niche beats like sportswriting and political coverage. That was an interesting distinction to note. It was also borne out by some of the association business that was taken care of during the conference: political communication and sports communication became newly-minted interest groups this year, and the Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk Interest Group (ComSHER) was raised to division status at the conference.

Golan, currently a “free agent” professor, interviewed for work during the conference job fair, along with the many grad students I ran into at a school-sponsored evening social. He said there are “lots of jobs, and lots of candidates” in the world of journalism and communications education.

Christina Mueller is an Assistant Editor in the College Division of CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications. She comments at @CQPJournalism and blogs for the journalism and mass communication line of books. The opinions of this post are that of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of SAGE Publications.


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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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