Too Cool for School

Philly's journalism schools say they're prepared for the future. But students aren't sure if their teachers are ready for today.

By Larry Atkins
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Apr. 6, 2009

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Today's young people know exactly what a newspaper is good for.

Like other young people, Temple University student Grace Dickinson lives much of her life online: Facebook, YouTube and other multimedia sites figure prominently into her daily media consumption. But when she walks into her journalism classes, those popular applications fade to the margins.

“Although the training I have received through Temple has definitely introduced me into the multimedia world of today, it has by no means exposed me to the types of applications that the typical person is using on a daily basis," says Dickinson, a student of mine at Temple, as well as a fitness blogger. "Never have I had a class teach me about things like YouTube, or Facebook, or an application like that. Instead, I am left on my own to discover how these types of applications work and how they would benefit me by using them in today's society.”

With newspapers in decline -- there are fewer of them, and the ones that remain are constantly cutting back on staff -- you might think that college students like Dickinson would be fleeing the field of journalism in droves. Thus far, that's not the case. Inside Higher Ed reports that applications have risen 40 percent at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. The number of journalism majors at Temple rose from 768 in fall 2007 to 793 in fall 2008, and is expected to increase or hold steady. And The Daily Pennsylvanian has reported that due to student interest, Penn is considering a journalism minor.

But the question remains: How well are journalism schools and departments adapting to the changing realities of the profession -- and the audience it serves?

The answer is muddy. Some professors around Philadelphia point to a greater multimedia emphasis in their programs, while others believe that teaching old-school basics provides the best foundation to work in an ever-changing media landscape. And some students are wary of an education they say doesn't always match up to the way they consume media.

At Temple, journalism chair Andrew Mendelson points to a curriculum change six years ago that added multimedia requirements to students' education. The university also created a Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, where journalism students work in a newsroom that covers local neighborhoods with print, broadcast, web and other digital media.

“In some ways, we anticipated the new reality," Mendelson says.

Another bow to reality: a new course that reflects how future journalists may have to hustle for employment.

“We also added an Entrepreneurial Journalism elective," Mendelson says, "in which we teach students how to become their own business model by freelancing or starting a website.”

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Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. Eric said... on Apr 7, 2009 at 09:19AM

“I graduated from Temple University 2 years ago with a degree in Journalism and minor in Latin American Studies. To be honest, I do not regret the path I choose because the classes were great. Investigative reporting, broadcast journalism and electronic information gathering were just some of the few classes I learned a lot from.

I learned about social media through my own adventures and I wouldn't expect Temple or any other school to change their programs. However, I do think it's a component.”

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2. Jackie Jardine said... on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:44AM

“While not everything posted or published in the blogosphere deserves the attention of a university curriculum, this ubiquitous form of communication is making every single blogger a journalist of sorts. It would certainly be interesting to have some academic insight in to the phenomenon. And it couldn't hurt the aspiring writer either, given the sad situation of print media. Given the rapid decline of newspaper and magazine sales, tangibility of media is becoming a thing of the past. And though I dread the demise of print media, I realize I must adapt as a writer...that is, if I want a career in the field.”

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3. andrew said... on Apr 7, 2009 at 06:58PM

“You have got to be fucking kidding me. A Temple journalism professor writing about his students and the future of journalism...in PW...again.”

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4. grm1 said... on Apr 9, 2009 at 09:45PM

“andrew, whats your point ???”

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5. grm1 said... on Apr 9, 2009 at 09:45PM

“andrew, whats your point ???”

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6. Mike said... on Apr 11, 2009 at 01:08PM

“I am puzzled as to why college kids would waste their parents money on a major like journalism. What is the future in it? Papers all over the place are on life support, including here in Philly.

A buddy of mine majored in the Radio TV Film program and he got nowhere fast, so he went back to school for IT and is now making 70k. It's really a pity that Temple still offers these majors that do not pay well and take years to repay in loans.



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7. andrew said... on Apr 12, 2009 at 10:40PM

“@ grm1: My point is that PW only recently published a cover story by George Miller on the exact same thing, which - similarly to this story - said nothing. Miller's story was a pointless rumination on his profession that lacked insight; this is a mere transcript of interviews with 19-year-olds that also lacks insight.

I should point out that the successful people I know who graduated from the journalism program see it as a wasted experience and had to put in their own extracurricular legwork to learn how to actually think.”

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