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Friday, April 21, 2006

"It would be nice if colleges taught Journalism 101 as if it was a requirement for every kid getting a college degree... Starting right now I think every kid should have basic journalism skills; they should know about integrity and how to source some things... Integrity doesn't change just because we're creating for other media."

-- That's a quick transcript of Dave Winer of Scripting News being interviewed by Amanda Congdon on Rocketboom. (Thanks to John McNair for the tip. I generally don't catch up with Rocketboom until Friday.)

I owe Dave a lot: His company made the blogging system I use; he tirelessy promoted an Internet syndication standard (accidentally named with my father's initials, RSS), and with it he drew The New York Times toward the blogging world four years ago (which also made it easier for journalism teachers to provide students with long-lasting links to Times stories); a few years ago he started a Harvard blogging roundtable and let non-Harvard bloggers like me join in, and now he's recommending that more people take intro journalism courses, just the kind I've been teaching for the past couple of years. Thanks again, Dave!

I tried raising the "journalism courses for everyone" idea a few months ago in a educators' forum about grassroots journalism, but my note didn't inspire much discussion. It was a new forum, and maybe I was too verbose. Dave is definitely a blogger... In about 50 words, he made the main point I dithered around for more than 300... all rhetorical questions and few answers. For what it's worth, here they are, without the original preamble:
  • How can journalism schools prepare students to be part of a "pro-am" conversation between "professional" journalists, amateur journalists, and readers?

  • Should J schools try to convince universities that journalism is a "liberal art"?

  • Instead of treating journalism as only a professional set of skills, should we be trying to reach more of the population -- by offering more university-wide electives, more minors in journalism and more in-service "updating" for the working press?

  • Can that be done without weakening accreditation standards or disrespecting the institutions that contribute (or that we wish would contribute) to the support our schools?

  • For the common good, couldn't more undergraduates use the skills of clear, concise, factual writing, careful editing, healthy skepticism and cut-the-bullshit research methods?

  • And wouldn't it be nice if, along the way, they picked up traditional journalism ethics and some of the basic civics they missed in high school... even if they're intent on remaining in "the audience"? (See Dan Gillmor's We the Media chapter about "the former audience," and the civics education suggestions in David Mindich's Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Read the News.)
  • Getting some "elective" exposure to journalism practices (and civics) might boost young folks' esteem for the professional field. It might get newspapers more readers. It might get us some late-blooming majors who don't just want to be sportswriters and well-coiffed anchorpeople.

  • Being open to the pro-am conversation also might encourage future "grassroots journalists" to see themselves as working with the pros... watchdogging the watchdogs in a positive way as fact-checkers, double-checkers and adjunct reporters... not just shouting "Rathergate" at the "elite, mainstream media dinosaurs" when they screw up.

  • Journalism schools also could turn a critical and helpful eye on commercial papers' attempts to co-opt the grassroots movement. Are they providing "forums" but not listening? Are they using "citizens" as an excuse for cutting the professional staff? Insincere efforts will leave newspapers looking even more like dinosaurs -- who are trying to hide their scales under a new metaphor.

12:25:03 AM    comment []

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