Playing a different game in academia

Building a journalism school at a research university in a time of tightly constrained funds has to be an exercise in patience for the faculty looking in at the school. We’re such a different animal at this early stage of our development. Typically, first-time professors focus on their scholarship, with teaching and service — things like committee work — taking a back seat. New profs need to prove their intellectual chops, need to establish their cred at conferences and symposia, need to be published in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals, need to write books. They need to develop a scholarly reputation that brings distinction to their universities.

That’s not how it’s working at my three-and-a-half-year-old school of journalism, which was born from a journalism minor in the fall of 2006.

First, there’s the teaching. Our founding dean, though an editor for many years, is a reporter at heart, and what he wants more than anything is to turn out reporters. So he’s hired former print reporters and their broadcast equivalents, producers, to fill the first five faculty openings. Academia is a second career for all of us; we’ve been playing one game all our working lives — journalism — and now we’re learning the ropes in another.

Second, there are all the administrative accoutrements that come with building a journalism program. There must be internships, so there must be an internship coordinator. There must be scholarship and awards committees. There must be a student advisory board with a faculty liaison. Because we are ambitious, and because globalization is an important consideration at our university, there must be a study-abroad program. There must be a school website. There must be advising. There must be contact with the rest of the university in the form of representation on committees and senates. In fact, there’s so much to do administratively that each of us professors spends almost as much time on admin as we do on teaching.

Third, we are building this school at a time of unprecedented disruption in the business of news. Neither radio nor television did as much to change the way news is gathered, delivered and paid for as that incredible boon and incredible bane, the Internet. I would say that 2006 through 2008 could turn out to be the most chaotic years of this disruption. In 2007, when I began teaching Journalism 24/7, it was still unclear what was going to happen to newspapers and television. Knight Ridder still existed, as did the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Dow Jones was an independent company. Dan Rather still delivered the CBS Evening News. Twitter was in its infancy. Facebook was a toddler. Smartphones didn’t exist.

While there is much change still to come, the outlines of that change are much clearer now than they were such a short time ago. We have a better perspective now. This blog is a sign that I’m ready to begin articulating what it means to be teaching journalism to 21st-century students. As the administrative responsibilities begin to settle into a routine, and the changes in the industry seem less earth-shattering, an opportunity for reflection and writing has opened.

What does this all mean? I’m thinking about the tenure process. I still have a couple of years to put my academic life in order, but I worry about colleagues whose cases will be considered sooner, colleagues who are brilliant journalists and dedicated teachers but simply haven’t had time to produce significant scholarship. I can only hope that the powers that be will recognize the special circumstances of our situation and base their decision on their potential for academic accomplishment and the reality of their immeasurable contributions to building our program.

  1. I think working as a Journalism professor requires a lot more time and hard work and the professor should definitely be given consideration form the powers that be (by the way, is this a Buffy reference? lol). We, as students, have so much more to learn because we’re being trained– we’re not just given facts and methods that we have to memorize. I personally think being a Journalism major is much tougher than a Biology major, for example.

  2. Smartphones did exist in 2007, but had not yet reached their current level of ubiquity.

    Back then the holders of BlackBerries and the like could swagger around airports feeling smug that they were more connected than the hoi polloi, except on the shuttle flights between LGA, BOS, and DCA, where, even then, most people were avidly thumbing.

    Today it seems like every air traveler, not to mention most people on line at the supermarket, has a smartphone, and the opportunity to feel superior has diminished greatly. Same with broadband aircards, which like wi-fi cards have begun to retreat inside the laptops themselves, so no one will see that you’re online in some faster, cooler way than them.

    Where will the next source of digital snobbery be?

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