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Vadim Lavrusik Rss

Journalism Schools Should Stop Producing Content That Lives on Islands

Posted on : 01-21-2011 | By : Vadim Lavrusik | In : Business, Higher Education, Journalism school, Online Journalism

Tags: , , ,

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The days of journalism school content living on islands that are not a part of their community should come to end. One of the ways this can be accomplished is by having journalism schools partner with campus business schools in which students from both schools work collaboratively on maintaining a living, breathing monetized news website or mobile product.

This will be my recommendation as part of the collaborative Carnival of Journalism topic, “The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community,” and an upcoming round-table organized by David Cohn at Missouri.

In general, I think David hit it on the head when he said that at many schools, the journalism that students produce is “museum work.” It is work that is produced in a vacuum, only to be read and seen by the professors, students and sources.

In the last 5 years, journalism schools have taken a step in showcasing student work on their websites, and in some cases, like my experience at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, producing entire websites or in-depth web projects. Students are progressively able to learn to produce for the web and the web, learning multimedia and social media skills. At Columbia, almost every class had a dedicated website that either covered a neighborhood or specific topic. The problem is few people actually visited these websites because of a lack of outreach or as soon as they gained momentum they were killed off at the end of class.


Why Working With Business Schools Makes Sense


The idea behind “vacuum” journalism environments is that it creates a safe environment for students to learn, make mistakes, screw up and improve their craft. This perhaps reduces student fear and provides them with the skills they need before they jump into a “real” journalism organization, where brand is at stake.

That makes sense, but what about students that have gained fundamental skills and would like to improve their craft in the environment and pressures that working in a news organization provides? The economic pressures felt by journalists in newsrooms across the country? The pressure that forces journalists to become entrepreneurial and innovative in their solutions to journalism’s current challenges? This is why partnering with business schools makes sense.

It could start with a collaborative  class, in which both journalism school students and business school students maintain and manage a website or mobile-only news product focused on a local community that is constantly updated. I include mobile because I think mobile-only news products will become more prominent and an options as more readers consume their news on-the-go. The coverage would be focused on a community of need, combined with market research to show whether there is business demand.

This class would have to be offered year-round to be successful in building an audience and attracting interest from advertisers. The revenue generated would go to pay costs for the website and the students. And no, paying students for their journalism school work is not unheard of. At my undergraduate journalism school at the University of Minnesota, I was able to participate in a paid internship at the Star Tribune, the daily metro newspaper. The internship was really a class through the school, taught by a professor. So why not have students get paid for their work for a website they maintain and manage?

Economic incentive would force the websites and students to do more outreach and community engagement, something that has become almost expected of journalists today. The sites would no longer just be islands consumed by the few, but would instead grow into resources for local communities. It wouldn’t be easy, of course. It would take real sacrifice from students working together to build a sustainable destination for local journalism. But it could be possible if it is addressing a need for content in an under-covered community.

Not only would this provide adequate training for the journalism students, but it would also train the business school students on media and online economics and sales. And perhaps more importantly, if done right, it would fill a gap in news in a community that have had its news source recently face cutbacks.

The days of content produced by journalism students living on an island are gone, not only for the sake of students getting proper training but also the community continuing to be informed.

Comments (25)

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vadim Lavrusik, andrew mendelson and Mark Coddington, FCIR. FCIR said: RT @Lavrusik: Journalism schools should stop producing content that lives on islands: http://bit.ly/fKNYMt My recs for Carnival of Journ … […]

[…] Ying: Fellow Columbia J-school alum Vadmin Lavrusik made a specific recommendation that I conquer with, journalism schools should partner with real world practitioners to give journalism students real experience. […]

I think you’ve hit on something key here, Vadim. A cross-disciplinary approach to teaching journalism is absolutely required. We have a class here at Mizzou that teaches iPhone app development, and it’s taught jointly by journalism, IT and computer science professors. The students both play to their skills and learn so much from each other.

Journalists in general aren’t used to spending much time thinking about audience. Of course it makes sense to learn from the business folks. And the computer science and IT folks.

I’m finding this year, though my work studying engagement, just how much journalists have to learn from anthropologists (like Meg Pickard at The Guardian: http://bit.ly/hE3TaS). And civic activists. And social psychologists. And experts in marketing, and analytics. And community managers.

Two things we DON’T need much more of: Journalists creating content with other journalists (or professors) in mind. And journalists sitting in a room talking to each other about how to solve the problems of journalism. We have limited knowledge sets, and it’s time to be turning to people with other areas of expertise.

With regards to the islands of content, I’ll say that most of the classes here at Mizzou fall under what we call the Missouri Method, in which students produce real work for real publications. Students in my participatory journalism class, for example, produce content for a real (and one of the first ever) citizen journalism site. And students in my news design class design pages for a real community newspaper. Those classes are so much more realistic, and do a better job preparing students, than the ones in which content is produced for the sake of an assignment only.

[…] Ying: Fellow Columbia J-school alum Vadmin Lavrusik made a specific recommendation that I conquer with, journalism schools should partner with real world practitioners to give journalism students real experience. […]

I very much agree with Joy here.

Though journalism school is sometimes thought of as almost a “trade school” without much interdisciplinary integration, taking an academic approach in addition to learning practical skills, by collaborating with other departments, is something that needs to happen more often.

When I worked with anthropologists to write about Facebook, I found that the insights I gained from our collaboration easily translated to my day-to-day choices as a journalist. They enhanced my news judgment. It sounds funny, but I began to really analyze what people would want from my journalistic work, beyond the “5 W’s and an H”, at their most basic level. We do this anyway – especially visual journalists (designers and photojournalists) – but I found my collaboration with people who think about the most basic level of human nature all the time to push me to be very conscious about those basic human elements.

Universities, perhaps more than any other setting, give emerging journalists the greatest opportunity to learn from a variety of people deeply vested in a plethora of topics. Instead of just calling the local expert professor on Topic X, students should be encouraged, perhaps even required, to collaborate with that professor (and his or her students) on something more meaningful.

I am a product of the Missouri Method – and feel that I greatly benefited from it. When you have to produce content that is not on an island, there is, of course, more pressure, but I feel that I was more prepared for the realities of the working world because of it.

[…] Ying: Fellow Columbia J-school alum Vadmin Lavrusik made a specific recommendation that I conquer with, journalism schools should partner with real world practitioners to give journalism students real experience. […]

Couldn’t agree more about the things we don’t need :)

Thanks for your thoughts, Kelsey.

Take a look at http://www.philadelphianeighborhoods.com. That’s what we try to do. Bests.

I really agree with the the idea of j-schools teaming up with business schools. The industry is changing and j- school need to radically reinvent, not just tweak, their programs. I also would like to see more j-school collaborate with information studies programs. The future j degree probably should be much more interdisciplinary, preparing students for an industry that is going to continue to morph and change. It is a mistake, I think, for j-schools to ever think: Oh, we’ve got it figured out. As soon as you think that, you are history.

I also agree with needing student work that lasts, not just posting it up on a static news site that no one sees, let alone the general public. How can you learn how to engage readers if you are never allowed near any actual readers?

Good post.

Could not agree more. Thanks for your thoughts, Gina. I really like your point about an interdisciplinary program. I think that would adequately prepare students.

Great post…

I’d love to help… collaborate between the J-School and the B-School (?) with a simple ad platform that everyone can work with…

Long been a hobby horse of mine… May 09…

http://rickwaghorn.co.uk/2009/05/17/as-journalists-we-tend-to-be-engaging-personable-people-so-if-we-can-prise-a-story-off-a-door-step-why-cant-we-prise-an-ad-off-a-hardware-store/

Part of the ‘kit’ *may* come in the shape of our Knight News Challenge entry…

http://generalapp.newschallenge.org/SNC/GroupSearch.aspx?pguid=6671c4e8-ddb2-4170-9b12-e864115cc5a3&search=community+advertising+exchange

…which would then enpower J-School, B-School and the local community to sell into their own ad space.. all whilst ensuring that the platform owner maintains pre-approval rights to that ad; ensuring that nothing untoward or unsuitable is advertised to that community…

best etc

r

Vadim: Thanks for this. I think you are absolutely right about the need for j schools to encourage and teach students to do more community outreach, both online and off. In some ways, I think journalism schools, like traditional media, may still be stuck in the old one-way model of producing content and putting it out there. Good, but no longer enough. Engagement is a very amorphous area right now, and fast-changing. But practicing the techniques that are available now will help journalists and future journalists become both more effective and – very important – more adaptive for the next inevitable wave of change and the ones after that.

Definitely agree, good post.

I wonder if the best approach here might be something like my school (University of Memphis) does with the Teen Appeal (city-wide high school newspaper). Maybe you could get a relatively small grant that would help you to hire an editor/program coordinator and some graduate assistants to get it running and to help guide the students, manage the collaboration between departments and help deal with the transitions that plague any student effort – e.g. new group coming in each semester/year, summer/winter breaks, etc. (Missouri has shown those are not insurmountable obstacles in creating a year-round, stable news product, but it’s not easy). The biggest trick is just that launching something like this and creating some continuity even though students come and go is a lot of work, and often there’s no obvious go-to person who can do it. In theory, I would love to launch something like this, but with teaching and research and service responsibilities and the desire to occasionally live life like a normal person, would be very hard to have an extremely active day to day role. We get $70/year for Teen Appeal and it pays for are one salary, tuition/stipend for a GA, but that makes everything possible, though it’s “just” a monthly. I like the idea of making it a course, too, but I think you still may need some folks who are concentrated on the whole outside of the semester cycle to keep it running well, at least at the very beginning.

That’s $70K/year of course, sorry. :)

Yeah, that’s a good point about having outside of the course oversite to guide the transition with each new batch of students. Perhaps it’s a course that students could take more than once, which would keep it going?

Joy — I love your point about how much journalists have to learn from other fields. My post for the Carnival of Journalism envisioned j-students producing different websites using different departments’ research and findings. For example, the class would run a website on science that had a national audience and could populate it either with original content or repurposed links and aggregation.

But when the school’s biology department reveals a finding, that class would collaborate with the department and help the biology researchers post their findings and perhaps databases that wouldn’t make it into the general-interest student media.

The obstacles to that, though, are the same as outlined here in this post and the comments. But that’s the major theme I’ve been seeing in the carnival: We have to produce work that doesn’t live in a silo, not just to suit the journalism students’ needs, but the community’s information needs at large.

(BTW, my post is here: http://www.suzanneyada.com/2011/01/20/carnival-of-journalism-how-universities-can-fill-information-needs/)

We agree with you, and have currently our http://www.sparksunderland.com hub, which is the online presence of our community radio station, Spark FM, which has a five year _community_ licence to broadcast and engage with students and the local community. It just won a major award for best radio station (audience under 300,000) in the North East of England, UK. The idea is for all of our journalism programmes to take responsibility for some element of the Spark brand. Radio students (Spark FM) tv production students (Spark TV) and news, magazine, fashion, sport and international journalism students (Spark Online).

Working with business schools is a great idea, but often falls down on the simple pragmatics of different timetables, goals, campuses. But we’re cetainly working under the ethos of journalism programmes needing to produce live, real, 24/7 and sustainable relationships with our community. Our current aim is to make Spark sustainable as an ongoing, financially viable process producing fantastic student journalism.

thanks for the post – let’s keep these ideas and the conversation front of mind.

Alex
http://www.sunderland.ac.uk

[…] Vadim Lavrusik » Blog Archive » Journalism Schools Should Stop Producing Content That Lives on Isl… "In general, I think David hit it on the head when he said that at many schools, the journalism that students produce is “museum work.” It is work that is produced in a vacuum, only to be read and seen by the professors, students and sources.In the last 5 years, journalism schools have taken a step in showcasing student work on their websites, and in some cases, like my experience at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, producing entire websites or in-depth web projects. Students are progressively able to learn to produce for the web and the web, learning multimedia and social media skills. At Columbia, almost every class had a dedicated website that either covered a neighborhood or specific topic. The problem is few people actually visited these websites because of a lack of outreach or as soon as they gained momentum they were killed off at the end of class." (tags: journalism education j-school collaboration problems) […]

[…] Vadim Lavrusik – Journalism Schools Should Stop Producing Content That Lives on Islands […]

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