Monday, April 20, 2009

Big Ideas and Where to Find Them

While it may seem likely that journalism schools would be the places generating new ideas and solving the problems that plague our industry, I haven't seen much of that happening - that is, at least not at our journalism school. While we have a strong newspaper program led by a plethora of talented reporters and editors, what we as students are learning is very basic stuff. Anyone can learn to write a good lead, and anyone (except me, for some reason) can memorize all of the rules of AP style. That's a given.

But when it comes to true innovation, the fact of the matter is that we don't have the framework to support new discovery or new techniques. The business school continually improves the rating of its international business program, the schools of public health and nursing are ever-increasing in size and popularity, and the university's research efforts are on the brink of making the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cells a reality for this country.

Meanwhile, back at our ranch, we're plodding through the basics. I've never been in more than two journalism classes at a time, but my accounting major friends spend all day correcting budgets and doing audits. My pre-med friends kill mice from noon to five every Wednesday and Thursday. They're getting hours and hours of substantial experience and exposure in their classes every day while we're learning concepts for only a few hours a week.

If journalism schools want to innovate, they have to give us the tools to really know what we're doing. Where is the class on HTML coding? When are we going to learn about new media? (Does anyone know what that means yet?) I get anxious knowing that I'm going into a field that I'm not fully prepared for.

Journalists have to be ready for all possibilities. At present, we're only ready to scramble for dwindling jobs in a dying medium. If j-schools want to innovate, they need to offer some kind of instruction in areas where the innovation is happening instead of leaving us to figure out those uncharted waters on our own. Once we have the tools to figure some of this stuff out (internet advertising, content generation, effective blogging and vlogging and the like), we'll be able to experiment with and develop our own approaches to the dire problems our industry faces.

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