Yup, once again, welcome to my latest post for #JCarn.

The Carnival of Journalism is a loose collection of journalism thinkers (and people like me) who get together to post on their blogs with their reflections on a given prompt.


If you’re a journalist, journalism student, professor, blah blah media expert/guru/ninja/something-else-cultural-taken-out-of-context-and-caricatured-for-lolz or pretty much anyone with a blog or twitter account then at some point you’ve pontificated on the future of journalism. Inevitably the question comes up, if the future is in question then what should we be focusing on in the present?

This month, with the return of #JCarn (woo hoo, it’s back!) we’re asking those big questions as a group.

For November, guest ringmaster Patrick Thornton asks: What should be teach students in journalism school to properly prepare them for the work force? Since this is the first #JCarn in a almost a year, there’s also a sub-prompt: “Should we teach J School students how to aggregate?”

Gimme all the cookies! Or don’t?


Every time this question comes up folks jump into two camps: those that think we should teach everyone how to do everything (remember ‘backpack journalist?’) and those that think we should have students specialize (remember those tracks that Mizzou decided were the future?).

As a co-organizer for #WJChat for a couple years now, we’ve asked the “What should we teach in J-School?” and variations on this question a couple of times now and in the end the answer boils down to two simple tracks: Ethics and news gathering tools.

Ethics haven’t changed very much over the years but the tools are constantly changing.

The thing is, it’s nothing new, the tools have always changed: the telegraph replaced the pony express, lead type allowed mass production, drum machines changed the deadline dynamic of WW2, color photos changed word counts and layouts, auto focus changed how sports are covered, tv news changed the scope of what we cover and the web changed the equation to give users more control.

The tools have always changed and they’ll always change. Ten years ago there was no Facebook, Twitter, smartphone or YouTube. In ten years who knows what else there will be.

So does it really make sense to get all wrapped up in ‘should we teach this tool or that tool’ or blah blah blah?

Rather, let’s teach students the fundamentals of how to gather and report information. How to look for information, how to gather it, what to look for and how to conduct yourself ethically.

Boom son!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


The point of J-School

We all hear that the profession of journalism is in trouble because the business model of journalism is in trouble; but the public still wants good journalism. No matter what anyone says, at the end of the day, the public still demands good journalism and responds to good reporting.

Let that sink in.

So… we should teach students the realities of the business. We should tell them what they are getting into and make sure they have the right reasons.

Journalism is no longer a ladder, it’s a gauntlet. The old model: get an internship –> start at a small paper –> medium paper –> large paper –> retire and write a book or something. Those days and that model of paying your dues are gone.

Today it’s about finding the means to tell the stories you want to tell and finding ways to pay for your next story. Weather that’s inside a news org or as an independent, it’s largely driven by you and it’s not an easy road to navigate.

Ok Nelson, but Springfield still wants the news of the day.

We should also tell them that they’ll be broke, that they’ll move from city to city, that relationships will come and go, that the shine of airports and hotel rooms will wear off under shades of fluorescent tubes. That as the newsmen are replaced by corporate interest they will be fighting an uphill battle for good journalism. And if they are ready for all this should they chase the drug of the 4th estate.

Journalism is a responsibility and a great deal of trust is put upon you to come at it correctly. We need to teach our students to get into it for more than just seeing their name in print. You owe the public to be their advocate and point out the things that they should know about. Honor the responsibility.

If your students still have the drive, desire and fire after all this, then they’re on the right path. Instill in them solid ethics and use the real world, not books, for learning and they’ll be fine for the next 50 years.

Journalism is a cruel mistress, but when she is good to you, hot damn is she good.

If you’d like to participate in the next #JCarn head on over and sign up for the next prompt. Do it! I’m hosting next month.