Journalism as practice informed by theory

Note: Blog posts tagged “J117” (such as this one) are requirements for the Online Journalism class I’m taking this semester. See all of my J117-related posts.

Journalism education is a funny thing: it attempts to teach what can be learned only on the field. I know this from personal experience. Even in classroom discussions, I learn the most not from PowerPoint presentations, but from the anecdotes my professors share in between slides.

Jeff Jarvis is right when he says that the industry is extremely disruptive. But it’s wrong to conclude from this that Journalism schools should be teaching the “journalism of the future.” That’s an entirely different boat. The reason is simple: because of the rate of acceleration of technologies, what we think of today as “the future” may be part of the past tomorrow.

Bradshaw’s right: now’s a good time to change the paradigm of journalism education and start teaching the art of journalism more than “how to be journalists.” I personally think it should have been done this way from the start, and not just because of the rapid changes we have been experiencing. At any rate, now’s a good time as any.

I think what Bradley means is that journalism isn’t a question of how to use certain tools or how to write in this medium or that. Amidst rapidly changing technologies, only the core values of journalism will be worth retaining in the future, which is why, as Jarvis suggests, J-schools should focus on teaching the value of persistent legwork, strict verification, and ethics.

But even then, these core values of journalism are merely theoretical. How do we give them meaning? Through more rigorous practice. In UP, for example, just one internship course isn’t enough. The Journalism department could be organized as a massive newsroom that produces news for the college’s media outlets. Practice should be at the root of our curriculum, not just a single course number to be taken during our last summer term in college.

Journalism, after all, is a practice, and theory is only supposed to serve as a guide towards an excellent practice of journalism, no matter the technology or medium.

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