A Call to Action for Journalism Schools

Earlier this summer, I attended the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) conference in Boston. It was interesting to see how the challenges facing news organizations nationwide are filtering down to those who are trying to prepare the next generation of journalists.

The attendees asked questions that were slightly different from those asked in other journalism conversations; instead of “What’s the future of News?” I mostly heard people ask, “How do we prepare students for an unknown future?” But the questions not being asked remained the same.

While I saw distinct interest in new models – especially nonprofit models for journalism – there was little discussion of the policies we need to ensure a level playing field for these new models. When questions of public policy did arise – like David Westphal’s excellent session on his research into journalism and public policy – they tended to be treated as academic exercises rather than points for action.

The only exception to this was at an evening reception hosted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication. In his opening remarks to the assembled group of deans, faculty and graduate students, Ernest Wilson, dean of the Annenberg School, called on academics to get their hands dirty in the policy debates shaping our media. He lamented the fact that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) could hold a public hearing on the future of journalism and “not a single journalism school professor was asked to testify.”

In a recent article which expands on those remarks, Wilson explains, “[The professors’] absence points to a serious underlying problem with journalism schools and the profession more broadly — journalism schools are not adequately engaged with the great public debates over the future of their core sector.”

Wilson points to the way business schools and medical professors are regularly consulted on Capitol Hill and in the media about the future of their sectors. He asks, “In a moment of root and branch radical changes throughout the media, where are the open, public debates over radical options coming out of the top journalism schools? Where are the suggestions on how to change our teaching, research and public service practice to contribute to the rehabilitation of American media? After all, the stakes are high –- arguably, democracy itself.”

Wilson outlines a series of steps that journalism schools and faculty must take to engage the journalism crisis head on. First and foremost, he argues, “journalism schools have to become much more intellectually and professionally ambitious. We need to become centers for experimentation and innovation, and move from rather passive observers to passionate participants in a great national debate.”

He acknowledges that journalism schools bear some responsibility for the current, nervous state of journalism, and argues that they must have a central role in articulating a “more coherent, sweeping vision of what our profession can become, and mobilize the non-stop vitality that the current crisis demands of us.”

Here at SaveTheNews.org, we are eager to work with journalism students and faculty to organize for the future of journalism. Together we need to build on the important research being done in the academy, we need to incorporate policy debates into the classroom and the campus, and we need to translate our findings into action.

Read Wilson’s article, “Where are J-Schools in Great Debate over Journalism’s Future?” at PoynterOnline.

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