Archive for the ‘ J-schools ’ Category

Women in media and gender equity: the role of journalism schools

When I read last week that a new study from the Women’s Media Center found little change over the past decade in the low levels of women holding key positions in the news media, I sent the center’s press release to my colleagues on the journalism faculty (11 women, 21 men), with this note: “Given who our students are, this should be discussed in classes.”

Of our 248 majors, 153, or 62 percent, are women. The headline on the press release read, “Report Exposes Problem: Gender Disparity in Media is at Crisis Levels.”

A male colleague replied,  “What would be the discussion? We should tell women jstudents that they face ‘a crisis’?”

I did a slow burn for a couple of days over that one, dreaming up hotheaded, sarcastic replies. Then I decided to answer the question. What would be the discussion? Continue reading

Journalism 24/7: What we studied, Fall 2011

At the end of each semester, I like to reflect on what I learned from teaching Journalism 24/7, my course on the changing news industry. The material changes so fast that the world looks different every time I teach the class. This time – my 10th – at the request of journalism major Evan Livingston, I’m compiling an annotated list of the websites we examined. For any journalism program contemplating such a course – and all programs should be preparing their students to understand the business side of journalism along with its history, ethics and skills – this list offers a framework on which to build.

Given the wildly overpriced textbook market, it’s gratifying that this is such a low-cost course. I require only one book, “The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril,” by Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser, a widely available trade paperback that costs less than $15. Though published in 2003, much of it is essential background reading. The only truly outdated chapter is the one on network television news, so we skip that. Everything else we read is available for free online – appropriately, for a class in which a major theme is the loss of revenue in the movement of news to the web.

The annual State of the News Media report published by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is essential reading for instructors. This exhaustive compilation covers newspapers; magazines; online; local, national and cable television; audio journalism; and ethnic and alternative news media. For each sector, the authors analyze audience, economics, newsroom investment, ownership and digital trends. The 2011 report includes special sections on mobile platforms and community news. A report on the previous year is issued each spring. Sections of the report could be assigned in small doses, or for graduate students, but the whole is overwhelming. I assign the section on local television, which is where many of our students hope to find jobs. The material has proved invaluable in class discussions.

Another core text is the 2011 report by Bill Grueskin, Ana Seave and Lucas Graves of the Columbia University School of Journalism, “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism.” Each of the 10 chapters – on journalism economics, audience, Continue reading

Newspapers and web video, part 3: Choosing the stories that need video

Over the past week, I’ve been reading what newspaper photographers and videographers have to say on the touchy topic of how their sites use web video.

Seems to me there’s a consensus that less IS more, which is exactly my point.

G.J. McCarthy, a photographer at the Dallas Morning News, posted this comment on sportsshooters.com’s message board: Continue reading

Journalism Students: We Like Paper! We Love Free.

What astounds me year after year with each new crop of journalism majors is how much they prefer ink on paper to electronic media. What kinds of jobs do they want? Newspaper reporter or magazine writer, many say. And most, all else being equal, say they would choose to read a book over a Kindle and a newspaper over a website. But all else isn’t equal, of course. They like paper, but they love free.

This spring in Journalism 24/7, the course I teach each semester that explores the changing news industry, The New York Times’ long-ballyhooed, carefully considered tiered paywall was a frequent topic of discussion. Overwhelmingly, the students dismissed the move as immaterial. There are a million ways to get around paywalls online, they said, proceeding to enlighten me with the methods they had used themselves.

As a final assignment, I asked the class to consider one of three questions: Two to three years from now, where will we get our news? Where will the money come from to support quality journalism? And how will the job of the journalist evolve?

Their answers showed clearly whether they had grasped the conundrum at the root of their own cognitive dissonance. Stephen Grotticelli, a quietly attentive student with a concise and expressive writing style, said that digital natives

will realize that an “app” should actually be an application, not just [a] bit of nomenclature. They will take full advantage of modern technology to offer rich, compelling multimedia, interactive and social experiences their print rivals will not be able to recreate offline. The content will be advertisement supported or, at most, available for a very modest fee from an app store.

But another student, whose name I won’t mention, argued that newspapers will survive because “people want to have the actual newspaper to keep when there’s a big news event, like Osama bin Laden getting killed.” Others, equally oblivious, said quality journalism will endure because people need to know what’s going on. Thanks, kids. That and $2.25 will get you on the subway.

Today’s journalism students must understand media policy and business

I began my previous post with a story about my first, feeble attempt to discuss net neutrality in Journalism 24/7, my course on the changing news industry,  planning to segue into a response to Nick Lemann’s recent “Dean’s Letter” in a Columbia J-school alumni publication. Lemann’s letter addressed the importance of teaching journalism students about media policy, but I never got to it. Instead, I wrote about how that teaching blooper (what students might call an epic fail) taught me an important lesson about pedagogy, one I’ve used to great advantage in the years since.

And now to Lemann’s letter. Lemann, Columbia’s dean since 2003, writes that his attitude toward teaching students about media policy has evolved. His letter begins: “For most of my life as a journalist, I was blissfully, even willfully, ignorant about media policy.” But, he continues, Continue reading

An ideal journalism curriculum for undergraduates?

The consensus on preparing tomorrow’s journalists is this: They have to be able to do everything: write well, handle digital still and video cameras proficiently, edit photos in Photoshop, edit video with FinalCutPro, produce podcasts, produce slide shows, blog, promote themselves and their employers on social media. Have I left anything out?

And underlying those skills, there’s more – the skills that journalists have always needed, the reporter’s fundamental mindset. Tomorrow’s journalists, like today’s, like yesterday’s, need to spot stories in the world around them, find out what’s been published or aired on those stories, figure out new angles and follow-ups, research people and topics, synthesize information swiftly, write quickly and gracefully, revise their own and others’ copy, analyze and use numbers, conduct all kinds of interviews, be prepared to wrestle with ethical dilemmas, possess a broad knowledge of history and current events, meet deadlines. Accuracy, brevity and clarity, the ABC’s of journalism – they sound simple, but much study and practice are needed to achieve them.

From an educator’s standpoint, a key question is this: How do we weave the fundamentals and the technology together in a curriculum that not only teaches students to compete in today’s media job market but also how to think and reflect and write? The follow-up questions come thick and fast. Do we start by teaching students how to shoot and edit video? Do we have them produce stories in multiple platforms from the beginning? Or do we start with a focus on the fundamentals, the writing, research, interviewing, revising and numeracy skills? Is it possible to do everything at once?

The answer to that last question is the only easy one: No.

Spread the material too thin, try to cram too much too fast into students’ brains, and you end up with students who can do nothing well. There may be a superficial technical glibness, but the content, the storytelling, suffers. The ability to tell important stories accurately, quickly and clearly comes first. The platforms come second. And writing is still the best way for students to demonstrate their mastery of putting a story together – whether writing for “print” or writing “broadcast” scripts or writing directly for the web. (Those are air quotes. Nearly all “print” and “broadcast” work ends up on the web at some point.)

My dream journalism curriculum looks like this.

Continue reading

Update: University media relations departments and j-schools

My post on the sometimes tense relationship between university media-relations departments and journalism professors who seek to use the campus as a teaching tool generated a gratifying number of responses — including some positive moves from the media-relations department at my own campus, Stony Brook University.

In the week since my post appeared, Lauren Sheprow, the interim media-relations director whose methods I criticized, has reached out to the editorial board of at least one campus news organization. On Wednesday, she met with editors of The Statesman, Stony Brook’s oldest student newspaper, to discuss matters of access and communication. And one Statesman reporter tells me that Ms. Sheprow responded to her request to interview a top university financial official with alacrity — after hours, no less — and arranged the interview well within the reporter’s deadline. This surely is not be the first time Ms. Sheprow has responded effectively to a Statesman reporter, but it is unusual enough to merit notice — and praise.

Whether my post galvanized Ms. Sheprow to take these steps, I can’t say, but whatever their impetus, I welcome them.

In one of her several comments on my post, Ms. Sheprow wrote:

…it is tragic that there are those who feel it is appropriate to mention someone by name in a disparaging blog post, yet fail to sign their own name at its conclusion. Why not take credit — and responsibility?

Gotta say I agree with you on this one, Lauren. While those comments reflected years of frustration with stonewalling, calls returned after deadline and the resulting inability to tell complete stories, nastiness is never dignified. And while I understand that current students may hestitate to criticize Ms. Sheprow on the record for fear of an even deeper freeze-out, I — like most readers — have much greater respect for those with the courage to sign their names.

A few other points: Continue reading

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