New specialties for journalism schools

Journalism schools, like much else in the field, are being asked to do more and more.

The natural inclination is to treat digital media roughly like broadcasting: add some specific courses and maybe courses that integrate digital media with previous offerings, such as public affairs reporting online, and eventually a separate track.

But as more is added, something will need to be cut. I would fit in additions by reducing offerings in specific delivery methods. So students would be less specialized in any given medium.

For the present to midterm future, journalists will be expected to be work in multiple media, which is not synonymous with digital media. But some specialization will usually still be needed.

So I would divide the basic two tracks between “outside” and “inside” journalists.

The “outside” program would be reporting, in the broad sense of the term (such as by including photojournalism).

The “inside” program would cover editing and production.

Because the niche market is growing, another option is to offer more specialties in specific coverage subjects, such as sports and business. One flaw with this method is that undergraduates might be less likely to know which subject they want to specialize in.

An advantage would be that the journalism school wouldn’t need to do it alone. It could use complementary work by another school in the college. The same principle would apply for a track on the news business.

The civic media program I outlined at Poynter would encompass much of the above.

Looking further ahead, in the category of “tracks not yet invented” (as far as I know) would be “discourse media.”

I struggle with what to call this. “Social media” denotes only part of the idea. It is less evocative of the underlying value and principles.

The main idea is journalism as conversation — a mesh between participatory media and civic media. But it needs a relatively short name.

“Convening media” occurred to me after reading a post by Ryan Thornburg, where he asks: “If everyone’s a publisher, who will convene’ the public?”

To some degree, the public will convene itself. But journalists can and should help it. Thornburg’s view is one of the best I’ve seen for the role of journalism in the digital age.

He also notes that this is not a new idea. It follows the civic journalism or public journalism movement of the 1990s.

The idea was controversial then. One problem was the ambiguity.

I’ll use Philip Meyer’s definition and boil it down to this (the first paragraph after the bullet points):
“Each of these six goals is consistent with the traditional notion of the journalist as a free society’s watchdog. Their purpose is to focus the watchdog’s effort in a time of information overload. … Focusing the light of public attention on any one problem long enough to spark discourse leading to a solution is the object of public journalism. Therefore, a generic term for the various strains of public journalism might be ‘focus journalism’ or ‘discourse journalism.'”

Using “discourse media” instead of “discourse journalism” recognizes that this work is already being done outside of journalism.

Do you have other ideas for what to call this?

Published in: on March 22, 2009 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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