J-schools: Redesigning the future

From left, David Johnson, Mindy McAdams, Emily Bell, Richard Gordon share ideas about the future of J-schools. Photo by Nyssa Rabinowitz

There’s one thing to know about J-schools today, and it’s not print or broadcast.

Students instead should take an early introduction to multimedia course as part of their foundation in journalism, a panel of journalism professors said Saturday at the 2010 Online News Association Conference in Washington, D.C.

“Most of these students think journalism is this bunch of text or bunch of still photos or holding a mic,” said Mindy McAdams, a journalist, journalism educator and Web developer at the University of Florida for more than a decade. “They want to write or they want to shoot.

“When is it they get shown that first multimedia course?” she asked. “They need to see the package, the video.

“They need to see that when they are still little green freshmen.”

“The problem word may not be multimedia,” said Richard Gordon from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. “It may be journalism.”

We continue to think that journalism is just reporting and writing, Gordon said during a session titled “Rewiring the Ivory Tower.” Instead, Gordon added, we should be seeing journalism as having three primary functions: storytelling, reporting and producing/publishing, rather than print, broadcast and multimedia.

“There’s this idea that you need to be good at something when you go out there because you can’t be good at 10 or 12 things,” McAdams said. “That one thing that they need to be good at is not broadcast or print. It’s video, shooting and studio. It’s audio production; it’s graphic design, data reporting, data analysis.

“Those are the particular skills,” she said.

“The journalist of the future doesn’t upload a video to YouTube, they make YouTube,” said moderator David Johnson from American University. “Facebook is the newstand.”

Universities have traditionally produced and refined student skills for the industry such as writing, said Emily Bell from Columbia University and a former multimedia journalist at the Guardian in London. But academia hasn’t led the industry.

“Digital media offers you the opportunity to do something that no one has done before,” Bell said. But you can’t get too caught up in it, she cautioned.

Students need to be able to think, Bell continued. The tools are going to change, but students need to be able to think about these skills.

Students should consider these multimedia courses as “the first year or two years of learning a skill that will be in constant evolution,” Bell said.

“The most important skill we teach you at the university is we teach you how to teach yourself,” Johnson said. “What you buy yourself when you go to school is time to learn.”

But graduation does not mean that you are done learning, Gordon said.

“You are never done learning,” he emphasized.