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News21– A Look at the Future of Journalism Education

Mark Glaser at asked me to critique the student work at News21 2007, the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of  Journalism Education, as he did last year. Here is his story with some quotes from me, and my extended thoughts on News21 are below:


My first reaction to reading Faces of Faith in America was, my god, the central tenets of public journalism have seeped deeply into the elite bastions of journalism education. Change is possible. Everywhere I clicked the Faces of Faith in America linked me directly to yet another everyday person speaking.

The elite voices were in short supply, and were not missed. Deena Guzder’s search for her Zoroastrian roots in Iran was more blog than journalistic in nature. It was first person and conversational.  What a relief not to hear more bombastic elite punditry or daily rants of politicians taking us closer to war. If we could only hear these voices more often, and have constant cross-cultural communication, maybe we would have less war mongering and more peacemaking. Maybe, with deliberation and tough debate, we would discover our differences and similarities.

However, to get to that cross-cultural communication we need to get beyond just amplifying voices as this project did so well. We have to discover ways of getting these everyday people involved in the conversations with the journalists and among themselves. This project gets very close to that goal. It even provided a space for people to upload their own stories.   

However, I would love to see students and newsrooms take another step forward. Wouldn’t it have been nice if they worked to have a conversation, let’s say, between the lesbian couple in Nebraska and the Baptists in Tennessee. Wouldn’t we all benefit by a conversation with the people in Iran?

I emailed David Cohn, a graduate student in the Columbia Unversity Graduate School of Journalism, to see if social networking was part of that curriculum, and he answered:

“There is little to no discussion about getting audiences to connect to each other or with the journalist. There is talk about sources — managing relationships with sources in a traditional sense. Weighing whether to burn a source or the ethical issues involved in being too close to a source, etc etc. But if you are talking about a general relationship between the audience and journalist to the tune of  ‘my readers know more than I do,’ then there is little discussion about that.

“Columbia is producing traditional journalists and doing a great job of it. They are also teaching new skill sets and storytelling techniques, such as flash and video. But they are not necessarily addressing the new mind set of community management, or using the web to communicate horizontally among the audience.

“Funny enough, however, the students seem to do this on their own. Columbia’s 2008 Journalism Facebook group is already really active.”

Cohn has been a central player in the pro-am movement especially at Jay Rosen’s Assignment Zero, where he was a primary editor. So despite the people running his journalism school, student-generated change is occurring, which is extremely important.

Buzz Merritt writing about public journalism once said it takes a generation for change to happen in newsrooms because students will come into power when they are in their 40s and 50s. However, that dynamic has changed. The digital world, which youth understands better than their bosses, has pushed decision-making power onto recent graduates. They bear a heavy responsibility. So yes, we need to teach them how to make video and podcasts, but we must let them experiment with new ways of practicing journalism, including that horizontal approach, which Cohn both speaks of and practices.   

Last year, when I wrote about News21 I said, “The last thing that journalism schools need is more of the fortress mentality.”  So this year the students were pushed out of the physical fort and roamed the world in search of stories. Now they have to be pushed out of the mental fortress to find new ways to help us all share our stories, our similarities, our differences just as we would if each of us could walk the streets of Iran, India and the low income neighborhoods across town.   

3 Responses to “News21– A Look at the Future of Journalism Education”

  1. Merrill Brown Says:

    Found your post provocative and insightful. I appreciate in particular
    your acknowledgment that the program has evolved in directions you find
    encouraging. I do wish there was some clarity in your post about the difference
    between the Columbia curriculum as characterized by David Cohn and what we’ve tried to do with the News21 program. Obviously we’re encouargaging innovative approaches to stories and that’s our mandate. The program is designed in part to accelerate that kind of change in journalism education particularly at the participating schools. Our goal is to have the work of the fellows, their projects, and the engagement of some very committed faculty members influence the broader programs.

    Merrill Brown
    National Editorial Director

  2. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi Merrill:

    Thank for your thoughtful response. You are correct I probably should have made more of a distinction between the News21 and mainstream Columbia program. When developing the post I emailed a News21 participant Anna-Katarina Gravgaard. Her response was similar to what David had said so I did not include it, but for the record here it is:

    “At Columbia J-school I got theoretically interested in blogging communities, community journalism, citizen journalism and open source journalism, but there was no practical training in how to build an active community. We were hoping to create an active readership for News21 and do our own experiments with horizontal communication but there just wasn’t time enough.

    “In the story ‘Minorities Representing Majorities’ we ask for contributions to the map. We’re now applying for funding to keep editing the map, keep it active and to add more user friendly technology.”

  3. Vox Publica » links for 2007-09-14 Says:

    [...] PJNet – Blog – News21– A Look at the Future of Journalism Education (tags: journalism education) [...]