I have to thank Amy Gahran of Contentious for this link: It’s a provocative essay from 2002 on the potential obsolescence of journalism education by Betty Medsger.
Writing in Zoned for Debate, NYU’s faculty’s webforum on current issues in journalism, Medsger, the former head of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State University and founder of its Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, found in 1996, as she analyzed surveys taken for a national study of journalism education, that 27 percent of “new journalists,” people who had worked for one to 11 years said they had never studied journalism.
Further research by Medsger revealed that a majority of winners of major journalism awards, including Pulitzer Prizes, Alfred I. DuPont Awards for broadcasters, Nieman Fellowship and Knight Fellowships at Stanford University never studied journalism in school. Many of the winners majored in literature or history, with the rest majoring in a wide sampling of liberal arts and science disciplines.
What to make of these facts? Why have post-Watergate journalism graduates (of which I am one) not made the same sorts of impact as those who never set foot inside a j-school?
“The greater achievement of journalists who did not dedicate their academic years to learning how to fill the vessels of journalism, (in contrast to what goes in them), suggests a profound challenge to what journalism educators have assumed was their raison d’etre: training people in how to fill the vessels. The finding suggests that radical changes, or at least intelligent experiments with new approaches, are needed at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The way things are done now seems to get in the way.”
The rest of the essay suggests a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching journalism that seems positively prescient in light of the challenges that print journalists and other media professionals are facing in 2009. I believe Medsger put her finger on a long-term trend in journalism that has caused the industry to lose its way and struggle as its business model eroded out from under it—a focus on the how-to-fill-vessels technique end of things to such an extent that thinking about reader (or audience) needs has become, at best, an afterthought.
The Knight Citizen News Network is an information-rich site for community-focused new media start-ups, run by American University’s School of Communication and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It has a number of helpful guides for citizen reporters and traditional journalists on how to use Web 2.0 tools to create high-quality local news sites.
“Crowdsourcing” is a term that’s gained much interest of late—Jeff Howe, author of a book by the same name, defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”
In journalism circles, crowdsourcing means letting ordinary people help you with your writing research. It’s a complicated business to balance the power of “open source” reporting with the journalistic tenets to vet information thoroughly and the tendency to rely on statements from public figures as credible. This helpful guide explains the best way to do it without compromising accuracy.
The guide is part of a more comprehensive toolkit for citizen journalists on KCNN, which includes how to generate or uncover story ideas, credible story research, mining data banks for relevant corroborative material and finding and training good reporters. The site is full of useful tips for anyone wanting to do in-the-trenches public interest writing, whatever their level of professional training in journalism.
Writers, particularly those who have a defined specialty niche, often wonder about how to best showcase their expertise without sounding cheesy. Sonia Simone, senior editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication, has developed a comprehensive list of products that any author with a specialty (whether it’s a beat or something the author is considered a bona fide expert in) can use to create new information products or guide their content planning for their website, blog, webinar schedule, e-newsletter, etc.
Yes, a few of the suggestions are a little off-beat (example: write a column from your pet’s point of view on your specialty topic), but most of them represent solid new ways to connect with present and potential readers/audience members and keep them interested in reading (and buying) what you have to offer.
Skellie, writing on her newly revived (?) Anywired blog, has developed a nice post on how to take your freelance skills (and income) to the next level by offering consulting services to your clients.