J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Archive for January, 2011

“Why J-School is Too Important to be Left to the Journalists.”

Posted by chanders on January 19, 2011

Among the many things that make Dave Cohn awesome is the fact that he decided to revive the long-beloved Carnival of Journalism. The topic for this round is: what is the role of the University / Journalism School in helping to sustain a healthy information ecosystem.

I knew I didn’t have a whole lot of time this month to participate, so I was just going to bow out … but then I stumbled across this little talk I gave in the Summer of 2009 about this very topic. I still pretty much agree with everything I’ve written here, so I figured, why not update this and submit it to this to this months carnival?

So I hope this is a useful contribution — Enjoy.

Media Literacy and the “New” Journalism Education
Or, “Why J-School is Too Important to be Left to the Journalists”

C.W. Anderson

Every year, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism administers a “current affairs” test, which they say will test the “writing skill and general knowledge of current events.” It’s administered to every student applying to the school Why? Such a test seems trivial; it seems like giving a Jeopardy quiz to students who will be entering an Ivy League grad school.

My best guess is that this is test that determines whether you have an “ambient awareness” of the news. In other words, are you the kind of person who regularly consumes news content? Why might this matter? Just as you almost certainly can’t become a film director without watching film or a writer without reading literature, the most fundamental basic step to being a journalist is reading journalism. To be a good journalist, in short, being a news junkie helps.

In 2009, 2011 if I suddenly became god—if I were running the Columbia admissions program– what would I add to the current affairs test? I’d add something testing your “ambient awareness” of social media. Just as you could not be a journalist in 1989 without reading journalism, I’d argue that you can’t be a journalist in 2011 2009 without producing, or at least consuming, social media, understanding how it works, what it can and cant do, what the current debates are about it, etc.

I admit that I haven’t thought much about what the questions would be on a test like this, but they might include:

(1) compare and contrast the use of twitter to talk about Michael Jackson vs the use of twitter to talk about Iran.
(2) What are some of the implications of the new Google operating system for social media, if any?
(3) What are some hey differences between Facebook and Myspace?

I think a test like this would, in large degree, put the rather silly debate about teaching fundamentals vs teaching “new technologies” on the level it belongs. On a low level. “Ambient knowledge” and acculturation to new media would be required before you get in to J-School, not after. Obviously, this test shouldn’t make or break your j-school application. There are a lot of things that are actually more important … but this could be one component.
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