If some high school student asked my advice about choosing a college journalism program, I of course would suggest the obvious criteria.
Classes offered. Majors available. Out-of-the-classroom opportunities to engage in journalism. Reputation. State of its technology.
After writing a story about the Class of 2020 for this issue of Gateway Journalism Review, I now would give them a question to ask their potential schools: What is your response when asked to discuss your school for a media magazine?
If the answers fall anywhere close to what I received in trying to do the story, my advice would be to move along and don’t look back.
We’re too busy. The semester just started. I can’t get anyone interested in talking to you. Not interested. We don’t have any information about the freshman class yet.
And the nominee for my favorite: No one in our department has 15 minutes to talk or answer questions on email about our program.
But maybe I am being too harsh. At least those people responded, however negative. Of the 23 inquiries made that turned me down, 10 did so by ignoring the request altogether. I hope these places do not preach what they practice. But instead, they are so busy and caught up in teaching today’s journalists that they cannot look up from their lecture lecterns to talk about themselves.
Actually, I don’t hope it, because I know it’s not true. What might be closer to the truth is that journalism schools have joined the ongoing parade of ignoring the media because they are afraid we won’t tell the story exactly the way they want. But keep doing that and here’s what the story might be in 20 years: Those schools will no longer exist.
40, 30, even 20 years ago, journalism students learned the same standards of the trade: writing, reporting, editing. Not much variation there; where you went to college served more as a door-opener after graduation than learning secrets not taught elsewhere. Students at Missouri and Northwestern and Columbia and Newhouse and Stanford learned the five W’s the same as did students at colleges with much smaller departments.
Now, as journalism continues to find new ways to tell a story, the five W’s and how have been reclassified. They’re now called the foundation upon which sexier and more cutting-edge journalism is taught.
Some schools are building impressive structures on those foundations. They have successfully blended the classic with what is trending. To be a student at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism facing the dilemma of whether to write for the award-winning Columbia Missourian or join the convergence Global Journalist show to cover world news and challenges to freedom of the press.
Or to be taking classes at Indiana University’s Media School, in Franklin Hall, built in 1907. But thanks to its $21 million renovation over the past two years, the upgraded facility gives students tools that rank with those of any professional newsroom.
Journalism schools now serve as the farm team for the professional ranks. No longer will fresh-out-of-college journalists have the time, or an employer willing to spend that time, to train them over a few years. Hit the ground running or don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Successful journalism programs will teach students to jump right in, and also to have the skills and confidence to lead the way for the next four decades. The past 30 years already have shown that those who wouldn’t/couldn’t embrace the Internet and its ways to tell a story did not survive.
The same can be said about journalism schools. Because if you won’t tell your story, who will?