College Media in the Digital Age

The Carnival of Journalism is BACK. This month we are asked to describe how we would set up a student news organization in 2013 or how an existing college news organization could modernize itself.

What I would love to see is college media organizations reinventing themselves like startups, using some of the tried-and-true techniques used by experienced entrepreneurs.  This doesn’t mean that they have to or should throw out everything that they are doing now, but it does mean that they need to do some hard, creative thinking about the audiences – and the advertisers – they serve, what their needs and problems are, and what kinds of key digital products and features they could offer that will meet those needs.

In other words, instead of getting mired in the endless debates about what skills they need to master [are blogs journalism? do you need to code? etc. etc.], they can learn the PROCESS of innovation , and THEN develop the skills they need to make the create the kinds of news products they and their audiences decide they want.  Bonus is that it is far more motivating to learn skills in this context than purely in a classroom setting, and as a professor, I’d also be happy to adjust my teaching to what students told me they wanted to learn for this purpose.

I would urge college media editors and staff to attend some kind of 48-hour or similar launch program either at their own university or a at a local accelerator, like this one hosted by Start.co in Memphis. Or take a hands-on course on media entrepreneurship. Or find somebody that teaches design thinking and then use those processes to reinvent yourselves. Entrepreneurs know a lot about innovation and how to come up with a solid and sustainable plan for the future that is based on more than just intuition, and I think the experience can be incredibly valuable for students who face a future in which they will also have to help media companies they work for evolve.  For example, in my entrepreneurial journalism class we use the Start.co founder’s toolkit and the Business Model Canvas to guide us in creating and pitching media startups. These resources would ensure college media organizations leverage digital tools in ways that help ensure their ongoing relevance, impact, and financial sustainability, rather than just flailing around trying to blindly grasp at new ideas.

Overall, I encourage college media to experiment. Those core writing and reporting skills you are practicing aren’t going away, and you can never get enough practice at either of those in college. The Elements of Journalism are as important as ever.  But the relatively safe environment of college is the best time in your life to take lots of risks and try new things.

Side note: Journalism education can be vastly improved. I’ve spent the last 5-8 years of my life trying to change it, with plenty of frustration along the way However, I think far too many people 1)are making assumptions that we can teach every single skill required and churn out idealized graduates who are highly proficient in multiple areas [sorry, that's impossible] 2)Assuming that people who are ~19 years old know exactly what they want out of education, are extremely motivated to learn, and generally behave with a similar mindset to a middle-aged person working at an elite national news organization [did you think the way you do now when YOU were 19?}  3)that so-called “digital natives” are naturals when it comes to producing digital content. [They are native consumers, not producers.]  We need your fire to help us change antiquated academic thinking, but we also need to to be somewhat realistic about what we are asking and expecting.  Remember that if we graduate critical thinkers who genuinely care about journalism and can write,  learn quickly, and engage well with others, we are doing pretty well on setting them on a path to what will undoubtedly be a lifelong learning process.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “College Media in the Digital Age

  1. grovesprof

    Great post, Brown, especially the last paragraph. I think we as educators focus so much on churning out the perfect omnibus journalist that we forget it took us years to master multiple skills in the field. The tools will change. Are we creating resilient, adaptive students who can change with them?

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Journalism: Modernizing college media organizations | The Journalism Iconoclast

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