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