My colleague and City University Visiting Professor Paul Bradshaw has been reflecting in a 3-part blogpost on the changes in journalism education being driven by the disruption of the previous era’s pattern of communications.
Bare summaries of other peoples writings shouldn’t be so necessary in the digital world since I can link and you can click direct to the originals. But in case you’re short of time, I’d boil Paul’s case down like this:
- Online publishing creates requirements for new skills and allows many organisations the ability to bypass news media and publish on their own account. The shortage of new skills in journalism itself is mirrored in the journalism education business.
- Today’s students are saturated in information. Teachers are no longer gatekeepers to learning but “gatewatchers” who will need to communicate with students on multiple platforms.
- The old supply chain of trainees and interns entering an industry has been broken: students were teaching the media companies they joined, rather than the other way round.
I agree with Paul about the first, query part of the the second and think the third point overdone:
- At least some journalism schools have been slow to see trends such as data journalism and to acknowledge that there are new skills and new jobs which are needed in newsrooms and here to stay. The tricky bit is determining which “old” (aka timeless) skills need to be retained in radically changed environment.
- No quarrel from me that the profusion of information changes the context of journalism or that digital platforms enrich exchange with students. But shifting the role of teacher towards “aggregating and curating, challenging and verifying and providing platforms for connecting and investigation” could mean abandoning the role of teacher altogether – which is surely not what students are after. But if Paul is only arguing that in an information-rich environment no teacher can be omniscient, then he’s right.
- Again, no question that you can see the best students with the sharpest online skills going into newsrooms and teaching their elders, something which would not have happened 30 years ago. But there are skills still valued – and taught – in newsrooms whose importance hasn’t changed. An Extremely Senior BBC person was recently at City telling students that it was fine and welcome if they are digital natives but that the tests they would be passing to get jobs in BBC News still are: can you spot a story? Can you check it out? Can you tell it well?
I’m grateful to Paul for such a thought-provoking reflection, not least because anyone running a j-school can use it as a checklist. (I think we pass the test at City University London, but see for yourself). If there is a note of frustration in Paul’s posts I sense that it’s as much a complaint about how slow the news business has been to change as schools have been. And underlying this argument, as Paul mentions in the first post, is a dilemma which can only be managed and not solved. Online disrupts everything to some degree but affects different parts of journalism at different speeds and in different ways.
Have a look at the preoccupations of the group of young journalists behind wannabehacks.co.uk and you’ll see an agenda which is saturated with digital but also includes issues as old as printing. On journalism courses should online be treated as a separate subject (which creates a risk of “ghettoisation”) or should everything be changed (which risks losing valuable stuff being lost in the disruption)? In our courses we mix both approaches and I suspect others do too. But we need to constantly revisit the way the mixture is put together.