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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.

This article was co-authored by Abby Moon.

A previous article on MediaShift mined the OurBlook series of interviews with leading journalists and academics to outline some of the skills that future journalists will need. Interviewees described the future journalist as a multi-tasker who is technologically savvy, a versatile storyteller who can produce content for any format and a brand and community manager who cultivates a constant and interactive conversation with their readership.

In order for future journalists to live up to these high expectations, journalism programs, departments and curricula need to adapt to the changes in order to better prepare students for a career in a fast-paced, technology-driven field.

OurBlook is currently conducting an interview series on journalism departments and how they are adapting to the new media landscape. Here are some of the observations and recommendations we collected:

  • Journalism departments across America are converging classes and majors to become more streamlined.
  • Curricula should include more social media, production and multimedia training.
  • Traditional skills and ethics are still vital to good journalism, regardless of the platform.
  • Professors need to stay current, embrace technology and find ways to incorporate new media in the classroom.
  • Some professors may be resistant to change or may feel negatively toward the industry, but journalism is not dead — it’s evolving.

Experts Weigh In

“I think increasingly we’re seeing companies ask their journalists to be armed with a pad, a pen, a camera, a laptop, a mobile device … It’s being able to take a story and be fluent in a variety of formats and being able to produce for those formats… It’s understanding how to repurpose your content across those platforms.” — Tom Ksiazek, communications professor at Villanova University

“I think a lot of the schools are being very slow to react, to be honest, I think there are individual pockets within each program where an individual teacher is being very innovative in terms of new media and entrepreneurialism, but curricula as a whole are not changing very quickly.” — Andy Mendelson, chair of journalism at Temple University

“The technological aspect is important and I think that when schools are operating under tight budgets, there is that demand of being able to keep up with that technology. But the technology changes so quickly … It’s that continuous updating and upgrading of equipment that has to take place in a tight resource environment. I think that’s a real challenge, but ultimately my default position on some of that is that you have to learn the craft. The technology that you have is critically important but ultimately you can have the most expensive camera in your hand or the best computer to use, but if you don’t know how to go out and gather content and tell stories, then that’s not going to be the make or break for a student.” — Andy Nelson, the R.M. Seaton Professional Journalism Chair at Kansas State University

“Journalism schools teach very specific skills – writing skills, reporting skills, and with respect to those programs, I think that the knowledge base has to be expanded. The efficiency I see, which is one thing we are trying to address here at my school, is that those skills can be learned in a very short period of time – how to be fair to both sides, how to be objective, how to be balanced. But I think what is really lacking is this knowledge base, for example, about economics, about science, about history. Students don’t have that context anymore, and I think it’s really hurting journalism education. What I think journalism fans are racing to do is keep up with the technology but we’re missing the forest for the trees.” — Mary Cardaras, chair of the Digital Media & Communications Department at the New England Institute of Art

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“There’s never been a more challenging, exciting and scary time to get into journalism, nor a more important moment. Our schools are in the front-line of the struggle over the future of American journalism because it’s our students who will shape the new media world and our mission to help them develop the values, sensibility and tools to do so.” — Glenn Frankel, incoming director of the School of Journalism of the University of Texas at Austin

“Journalism grads need to be flexible — not morally or ethically — but about the methods, distribution means and methods of gathering and sharing stories. They need to understand all the available tools — not so they are experts in using those tools — so that they know what is possible and can use the right tool for the job.” — Jeremy Gilbert, assistant professor, Medill, Northwestern University

“A lot of programs are feeling the negativity that pervades the journalism industry right now. A lot of people are falling into a depressing cynicism that students pick up. That’s too bad, because I believe the times provide amazing opportunities for graduates. It’s not just the faculty. We have to be careful what guest speakers to bring into classes. Many professionals have one message: ‘Get out! Change majors!’ That’s too bad. We must remember that what we do is essential for democracy and there will always be a need for journalists.” — David Cuillier, journalism professor at the University of Arizona

“In a nutshell, all journalism majors should be able to perform ‘new media’ skills at a professional standard. New media skills include digital photography, desktop publishing, and online proficiency. However, we encourage good writing skills first and foremost. We also emphasize the importance of being willing to learn new things. The journalism field is ever-changing. The recent growth in social networking is one example of how the field changes very rapidly.” — Mia Moody, journalism professor at Baylor University

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Cynthia Good

“Technology is the key. This is where the money and opportunities are. Technology first, journalism second. While that’s frustrating to so many of us, myself included, since we’re very passionate about great editorial — this is the reality today for most grads.” — Cynthia Good, founding editor and CEO of PINK & Little PINK Book

“At the Greenlee School we opted for a ‘converged’ curriculum to match the converged media landscape. What that means, simply, is we eliminated silos … those emphases like newspapers, photojournalism, magazine, broadcasting, etc. That’s not to say that traditional media aren’t important … they are; the difference is, in today’s digital environment, our journalists and advertisers must learn to write, report and create across platforms. And students aspiring to work in PR must know each intimately as well. A converged curriculum also makes you focus on what’s important and what isn’t. So our operations are as streamlined as they are inclusive.” — Michael Bugeja, director of Iowa State University’s Greenlee School of Journalism

“Become current. Stay current. Develop working ongoing partnerships with the best digital minds in the professional community that you can find. Understand that you need to work harder than ever to remain relevant. Also, it would be really smart to pay attention to IDEO and design thinking as you think about the future of news.” — David Slayden, executive director of Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado at Boulder, offering advice for professors

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Kenton Bird

“It will take a while to get the wave of people through graduate school who are prepared to teach in these new media areas. But in the short term, the advice I would give is to use temporary lecturers, visiting professionals, editors-in-residence — people who have recent professional experience, are perhaps between jobs. [They] have an opportunity to get their feet wet in the classroom to see if it’s something they would like to do, and to use a series of short courses. We have something in our catalog called ‘special topics’ which enables us to create a course without having to go through the university curriculum committee.” — Kenton Bird, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the Internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today’s top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow’s solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, “Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule.” Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.


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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.