Schools Still Cheating Journalists: Programs Devoid of Computer Science.
Last night I attended a panel at Columbia University on “Changing the Media Landscape” featuring numerous panelists all describing the evolution of their job since journalism’s big “a-ha” social media boom began.
- Vadim Lavrusik: As a user of Facebook, you contribute to over 4 billion pieces of content every day.
- Leila Cobo (gained thousands of new best friends): No one should write for free.
- Leila also commented that she now carries a camera in her pocket on assignment. Five years ago that would he been tacky. She also works 2x as much.
- Mark Miller: The future of journalism actually looks quite bright.
- Angela Morgenstern: It’s not enough to have an interest in media, you have to really demonstrate proven evidence that you have experience.
- Angela said one applicant applied to Current TV around 3 times, each time coming back to show she learned something new (podcast, design) and it really shined through for her. #hopesanddreams!
It became, once again, increasingly clear to me that to be a journalist, you can’t just write, you need to create. What does create mean? It’s constantly evolving - but the skills being taught to journalists right now (yes, even right this moment) aren’t up to par.
Here are more thoughts, in long form:
2005 seem centuries ago, when I started my journey to becoming a “journalist”
At orientation, a question was posed to us nervous freshmen: How many of you out there.. are print sequence?
A couple hands shot up, one of them mine. There was a rolling, almost sympathetic laugh, but we were proud for some reason, to be holding onto the old testament of journalism. It was always this silent war between print vs. everything else.
To say things changed, seemingly overnight, would be an understatement. I remember sitting in one of my first j-classes filling out my “sequence” paperwork just months later and I paused when I saw “Non-sequence” - what did that even mean?
My friend checked it quickly, using her hands to wiggle quotations when she said she wanted to try out this “new media” thing.
It sounded really unstable.
Yet, there I was in 2006, in one of my first “media” classes doing an assignment that instructed me: Construct the following in Microsoft Word. Center this. Clip Art that. This is how you bold something. Really.
We eventually moved onto Dreamweaver and Final Cut Pro - 2 weeks or so each. And that was it.
By my second semester, I realized I was learning more outside the classroom as an assistant editor for The Nevada Sagebrush than I was in class. One of the golden tickets here was experience with InDesign - the building blocks of any publication.
I never learned InDesign in any of my classes throughout 4 undergraduate years. I asked other students if they knew of a class I could take - all responses were a disgruntled “No.”
Sadly, this isn’t the most important element missing in a journalism curriculum. Six years later, I have j-grad school students telling me they aren’t offered classes in coding.In an industry where your entire existence is online, learning how to “build your house” should be common sense.
We spent a mere 2 weeks in Dreamweaver, which I feel like, given more exposure, could really help unemployment rates in this industry. A journalist armed with computer science skills not only has a higher chance of getting job, but I think they are actually prepared for what will eventually be the new journalist.
Because, in reality, what is a journalist anymore?
You need to be able to create. You aren’t so much a writer anymore, but as Facebook’s Vadim Lavrusik puts it, an “information engineer”
I want to stress that this isn’t trying to say writing is dead or any of that radical nonsense. Writing is an amazing skill that we should continue to polish. But it’s not the centerpiece of a journalism curriculum any longer, and yet in schools I continuously see writing and editing acting as the nucleus of the program.
In my opinion, journalists should first learn to write accurate and efficient copy using the inverted pyramid style (however possible) and AP Style. They should also learn journalistic ethics. Those things cannot go away.
However, the execution of information and the medium used for presenting journalism must deviate from tradition. Students should begin learning immediately the skill of non-linear storytelling, creating information graphics, shooting photo and video — and especially — coding and design elements.
If you can write the story, you should be able to paginate the story and flesh out the mutlimedia for the story. Curate the story.
Another facet of this is entrepreneurial journalism. Most journalistic success stories that I read are when a journalist just takes matters into their own hands and creates their own company.
Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Some see this as journalism dissolving into a business field. But I disagree, because the way we digest media is completely changing. That is because media isn’t just in words anymore. So, therefore the entire premise for what a magazine or publication is will completely change.
The product that we offer to readers completely changed. That’s okay because if executed properly and ethically (I think it can be done), we can still remain high levels of comprehension and literacy. If anything, we can get smarter by visualizing things differently. Reading will never go away, forget it. The kindle won’t destroy reading and neither will blogging and entrepreneurial journalism abolish journalistic integrity.
Imagine a curriculum where a class teaches you how to create iphone applications. Imagine that in another class you could take a block of text and turn it into this ?
Imagine that this is all second nature.
We have to stop budgeting stories just on how they are written but yet how the reader experiences the information.
I don’t think an education is complete for that, until you can fully build your product.
More thoughts later.