Gene Allen, Stephanie Craft, Christopher Waddell and Mary Lynn Young, Toward 2020 : New Directions In Journalism Education. Available online.
By Brian Moritz
"Journalism education must do better."
Throughout his essay in the new anthology "Toward 2020: New Directions in Journalism Education," Oxford professor Robert Picard uses those five words as a refrain in a call for journalism faculty and journalism programs to update their practices and curricula. They also serve as a mission statement for the book as a whole. As journalism evolves from the 20th century mass-media based model to a 21st century model that is more diffuse and decentralized, the book addresses the question of where journalism education fits in the new media landscape.
Edited by Gene Allen, Stephanie Craft, Christopher Waddell and Mary Lynn Young, the book is a collection of essays which were first presentations at the "Toward 2020: New Directions in Journalism Education" conference at Ryerson University in Toronto in 2014. It's interesting to see how technology has already made some of these presentations feel slightly dated. There is little discussion of live streaming video online through apps like Periscope and Facebook Live, because (of course) that technology either did not exist or was brand new at the time of the original conference.
But that is a nitpicky point of a reviewer from two years in the future. The substance of the essays remains valuable to journalism professors and others interested in the future of the industry. Parts of the book are uncomfortable to read as a journalism educator — several authors openly acknowledge this — which is the point. As journalists, we demand that sources and readers address difficult topics. It is only right that we turn demand a similar level of reflexivity of ourselves.
The book opens with Picard's "Deficient Tutelage: Challenges of Contemporary Journalism Education," which was the conference's keynote address. He writes that in the changing landscape of digital and social media, "journalism education must change or it will wither and decay."
The crux of book (and the conference that gave birth to it) is the idea from Picard's keynote address: Journalism education, as it currently stands, is broken. Interestingly, it is a point presented without much data to back it up beyond anecdotal evidence and the general idea of the changing media landscape. Several writers point out that journalism professors are often veteran journalists who are well trained in traditional journalistic practices but who may not be well versed in the skills needed for a 21st century journalism career. Another underlying concern is the idea that journalism education is too focused on almost vocational training, preparing students for jobs rather than thinking of journalism as a way of thinking.
Concordia University professor Mike Gasher addresses this concern in his essay describing the difference between journalism education and training news workers: "Educating journalists should include addressing, and addressing critically, journalism's long-held values, reflecting on what we understand journalism to be – that is, on its role in democracy, its status as an independent institution, its notions of truth, and its methods of verification, as well as on what objectivity means."
This collection is not a debate about new media versus old media. In fact, the underlying tension in the work lies between journalism as a skill versus journalism as a way of thinking. Two different papers attack the move toward entrepreneurial journalism programs. Western University professor Paul Benedetti provocatively calls such programs "The Big Sellout," saying that they ignore concerns about journalism’s importance to society in exchange for short-term economic gains.
The one thing that is missing from these essays, and in fact from the entire larger discussion of the future of journalism education, is the voice of students—both past and present. The discussion about the state of journalism education feels like an important intellectual exercise, but to drive change within the academy, students need to be heard. Former students should be listened to, to see what they think of the education they received and whether or not it prepared them for their chosen careers.
Of course, the larger point of the conference remains valid, and faculty should use their expertise to shape the education students receive rather than merely responding to what the market requests. That is one of the points of the collection, and it's an important one. But the future of journalism education is not merely an interesting theoretical exercise, or a way to discuss one's own desired future for the news industry. It should be student-focused.
The essays in this collection are thought provoking, at times uncomfortable, but they do spark important thoughts about the future of journalism education. As Picard said in his keynote, journalism education must do better. This collection sparks discussion for ways that faculty members and departments can begin to shape journalism education in the 21st century.
Dr. Brian Moritz, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of digital media production and online journalism at SUNY Oswego and the author ofsportsmediaguy.com.