Carnival of Journalism: Modernizing college media organizations

The Carnival of Journalism returns! This is our first post back, and our mission is to try to have thoughtful discourse around different journalism topics. This month we turn our attention to the future of journalism: Journalism students.


Student news organizations have traditionally existed to give students experience before entering the workforce. The kinds of journalism jobs and journalism companies have changed considerably in the past 10 years, and most student news organizations are set up to mimic traditional print or broadcast news outlets. How would you set up a student news organization in 2013 or how could an existing college news organization modernize itself?
Issues to consider:
  • Ideally experience at a college media organization would help a student learn relevant skills for the workforce and help students land a job.
  • If you work at a news organization, what kinds of skills do you and your organization look for in new hires?
  • What kind of “clips” should college students have by graduation?
  • You can approach this as your advice to college media organizations or as if you were a theoretical adviser or manager of a student news organization. Or as a theoretical employer imagining the ideal experience a just-graduated student should have gotten.

We also have a plan b blog post related to the general topic: “Should we teach J School students how to aggregate?”

Use #jcarn on Twitter to join the conversation or comment on this post and others.

The responses:

Michael Rosenblum says that journalists learn by doing. This means getting out in the real world and writing, taking pictures and photos and just doing journalism:

As a not theoretical but real (that means that there is real money being spent here) employer let me say that the very first thing I do with any new hires is to put them through a very intensive training program that I conduct myself.  And the very first thing I tell them is to forget everything they have learned so far – it’s generally pretty much wrong to begin with and about 95% of it is pretty worthless for what they have to do for me anyway.

And what they have to do is to make product.

They have to take a camera and a laptop, which we give them, and go out and make content for our shows.

That’s the job.

In many ways, Michael is saying to grab some modern tools and go experiment. Push yourself.

David Cohn points out that there is a big distinction between aggregation and curation and the two should not be confused:

In some respects, “curation” is what journalists have always done. Journalism is a process of collecting information, filtering that information and then distributing that information (caveats that the information is accurate and collected ethically, etc). So when we talk about teaching “curation” at j-schools – aren’t we describing what is already done? Why is this confusing?

Probably because of newfangled jargon: Now we are talking about curation on “social media.”

Victoria D. Baranetsky has some simple advice: Don’t talk about being a journalist; act like one. She gives us some legal history on how not acting like a journalist can cost student journalists in the eyes of the law:

Given the Court’s recent decisions, it has never been more important to act like an independent journalist, even if you are in school.  Blog, aggregate, heck, maybe even collect data, but make sure to do it and do it on your own.  Akin to what C.J. Chivers was recently quoted saying (“Social media isn’t journalism.  It’s information.  Journalism is what you do with it.”), my advice is that school and social media is there only to facilitate the identity you have already independently asserted.

Steve Outing wants student journalists to be “radically experimental.” And that starts with not trying to emulate “dinosaur news media:”

It seems that many students who join an independent student news organization view it as an opportunity to practice being a journalist in the traditional sense. Get better at reporting and interviewing; learn to hone their writing quality and personal style; practice standing in front of a video camera to impart campus news in the way it’s long been done on local TV news; etc. A common instinct is to look at professional news organizations and try to be like them. A smaller portion of incoming student journalists are more aware that the news industry is in turmoil and that journalism is undergoing reinvention, and these are the few who glom onto innovation experiments and seek out advisers and partners to try new things (especially in the storytelling-technique area).        If the top student editor is of the latter mindset, and has the support of a like-minded professional staff advisor, then there’s hope that the editor-in-chief can rally the news troops to a mission of NOT being a school clone of the local commercial newspaper and/or TV news outlet.

Outing also advises to “ignore the curmudgeons, whether faculty or students.”

Jack Rosenberry says that student media experience must include multimedia and that they must think digital first:

Good writing is essential to journalism and other media genres (e.g. public relations), so learning to work with words and create text is the starting point. But while writing well is a necessary skill to impart a message effectively, it’s no longer sufficient for effective storytelling. Working across media, especially in text and video, is crucial.

One of the two most prominent criticisms I’ve had for the Courier in feedback this year has been, “Why wasn’t that story on the Web?”

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the hiring line in a news organization, but when I talk to friends who still are they emphasize the need for today’s entry-level news professionals to have this sense of digital-first urgency, cross-platform ability and excellent wordsmithing skills underlying it all. Today’s college media organizations need to provide this set of skills if they want to claim they are adequately preparing their students for what lies on the other side of the graduation stage.

Steve Fox is on a quest to “bring responsible journalism to live-tweeting:

There’s a lot being written these days about the future of Journalism Education. Ideas range from teaching students code, data visualization, computer programming — they all jockey for the trending subjects of the day. Which is all fine. I support all of that.

But none of it means a damn if news organizations continue to get it wrong. At times I wonder whether spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism is the wave of the future. Some think so.

Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram wrote last year that:

“The way that inaccurate news reports about a mass shooting in Connecticut filtered out through social media has brought up many of the same criticisms as Hurricane Sandy — that social media isn’t an appropriate forum for journalism. But this is simply the way news works now.”

I refuse to buy that. I’m not going to throw up my hands and surrender to inaccuracies being the norm.

Benet Wilson believes it is time for her school’s student newspaper to shed the past: Become independent from the school, invest heavily in new technology, get rid of the print edition and more:

Third, I would get rid of the Gramblinite’s print publication. Even at my advanced age, I don’t read print publications anymore. And schools, including Baltimore’s Morgan State University (another HBCU) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have done it. My reading is done on my iPad and iPhone. Students these days get almost all of their news online, so go where your customers are.  I’d build a dynamic website that is easily viewed across all digital platforms. I’d include video, audio, photos, graphics, comments and social media.

And speaking of platforms, the fourth thing I’d do is get rid of separate media. No more radio news, television news, print news and magazine news on campus. I would make one converged newsroom to allow students to gain skills across all platforms, and disperse the news accordingly, using rolling  deadlines.

Sue Robinson wants journalists to think of journalism as a process. She says that journalists and journalism educators need “to stop thinking about the news as a discrete product and to start considering its production and dissemination as a never-ending cycle of community dialogue among different platforms:”

Jeff Jarvis first coined the term several years ago (many journalists and mediawatchers have taken it up, as well) and the industry itself has been moving toward this conception. But it’s been slow to catch on among some newsrooms, some professors, and many college papers. In their Carnival posts, Jack Rosenberryemphasized digital first and multimedia, Steve Fox encouraged accurate reporting even on Twitter, and Steve Outing listed ways to be innovative. All of these pieces of advice subscribe to the notion of journalism as process.

How do you do this? All of the blogs in the Carnival will have great suggestions, given the incredible breadth of experience represented in this group. You can find a round-up of them here this weekend. It’s not just about doing video with your story. It’s not just about slapping a commenting section under your articles or a forum on your site. It’s not just about pushing your stories in your social-media platforms. It’s about embracing in a real way the (actually VERY) traditional notion that journalism is about inspiring citizens so that they become more civically engaged in democracy and public life on all of its levels — politically, culturally, socially. It’s about not only informing people with the who, what, where, and why, but to provoke thought, encourage conversation, and improve our public deliberation so that we can have better government and also just be better people. We have more ways of doing that than ever before.

Paul Bradshaw says there is no such thing as a ‘student journalist:'”

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

Emma Carew says student publications should be a playground, a place where it is safe to fall and get hurt. She also says students need to graduate with “a deep and diverse portfolio:”

I would love to see student publications require all staff to spend their first year rotating through different positions in the newsroom: copy editing, web desk, visuals, multimedia, etc. And I believe student publications benefit from having the involvement of a professional journalist on some kind of advisory level. We joked about our newsroom being “Kid Nation,” but there were definitely times when it wasn’t a joke, and things really did feel all Lord of the Flies.

But the end game is this: students need to graduate with a deep and diverse portfolio, which many are failing to do. Stories about the Math department offering free pizza on the lawn and canned classroom exercises aren’t enough to instruct the next generation of journalism. Publication and creation must be mandatory for students graduating with a journalism degree.

Aram Zucker-Scharff wants college journalists and student media organizations to know that you’re the local journalism now:

With the collapse of Big Media hyperlocal (Patch, EveryBlock and the continuing compression of Gannet local papers) there isn’t anyone covering most of the communities that surround campuses.

The biggest missed opportunity in student journalism is that they are perfectly positioned to step in to hyperlocal with commercial success.

College media should cover beyond the campus borders to everything that is relevant to students, which absolutely includes the community surrounding campus.

More than that, they should be a news organization for the local municipality because there is a journalistic responsibility to cover local that has been falling by the wayside.

Finally, they should do so because there will be no better way to get the clips, skills, experience and hand-on knowledge that they will need to succeed once they leave campus.

Kathy E. Gill asks, “what is the role of journalism education:”

But if we think about the public nature of many – not all, but many – institutions of journalism education, then to me there is a clear path. The academy has a responsibility to the public, as do students.

This means that there should be an emphasis on watchdog journalism and the role of a free press in a democracy. The academy should be serving the greater community by doing investigative or informative work that is no longer performed by the commercial press. Surely the linkage of NPR radio stations and university campuses reflects this ethic.

Carrie Brown wants to see college media organizations reinventing themselves like startups:

This doesn’t mean that they have to or should throw out everything that they are doing now, but it does mean that they need to do some hard, creative thinking about the audiences – and the advertisers – they serve, what their needs and problems are, and what kinds of key digital products and features they could offer that will meet those needs.

In other words, instead of getting mired in the endless debates about what skills they need to master [are blogs journalism? do you need to code? etc. etc.], they can learn the PROCESS of innovation , and THEN develop the skills they need to make the create the kinds of news products they and their audiences decide they want.  Bonus is that it is far more motivating to learn skills in this context than purely in a classroom setting, and as a professor, I’d also be happy to adjust my teaching to what students told me they wanted to learn for this purpose.

Shaminder Dulai wonders about the wisdom of getting wrapped up in tools when they are changing so quickly:

Rather, let’s teach students the fundamentals of how to gather and report information. How to look for information, how to gather it, what to look for and how to conduct yourself ethically.

Journalism is no longer a ladder, it’s a gauntlet. The old model: get an internship –> start at a small paper –> medium paper –> large paper –> retire and write a book or something. Those days and that model of paying your dues are gone.

Today it’s about finding the means to tell the stories you want to tell and finding ways to pay for your next story. Weather that’s inside a news org or as an independent, it’s largely driven by you and it’s not an easy road to navigate.

Jonathan Groves says that j-schools need to teach the art of curation and the importance of verification:

Good curators such as Maria Popova ( and Nathan Yau ( are creating something new in their compilations. You hear their voice in their posts and glean insight from their analyses. In Yau’s case, he weaves his own posts about data analysis and visualization into the mix. As I noted in an earlier post on curation, the curator is adding something of value to the collection process.

It’s a skill necessary for developing your own journalistic brand. You learn what your audience wants to know, and you provide value by scanning the information-overloaded landscape and teasing out the valuable tidbits. Though journalists have been doing this type of work for decades, it is more difficult today to find the uniquely insightful slices that haven’t already gone viral and provide value in the collection.

Sheree Martin has a list of “10 things we should be teaching today’s college students. Here’s a taste:

9. We have more opportunities today than at any time in history.

Today, it’s possible to create our own media empire using free tools readily available on the internet.

For the price of less than 2 lattes each month you can buy a custom domain and a web-hosting package to create an online portfolio and/or business and, with desire, effort, and perseverance, create a life you love.

Paul Bradshaw was so inspired by this conversation that he wrote a second blog post, “We’re not just teaching journalists any more – we’re teaching citizens #Jcarn:

Kathy Gill has written a rather wonderful post about the public service responsibilities of journalists educated with public money. It’s worth reading in full (that summary doesn’t do it justice) – and I wanted to add my own experiences around a change in journalism education which I only realised a few years ago.

It is often overlooked when people talk about journalism and media degrees that many students realise during the course of their studies that the journalism profession is not for them.

Donica Mensing writes about the ebbs and flows that student media experiences when some years editors and staff members are engaged and others they are not. She has some suggestions for how to spur innovation in college media:

Value the work: Consider offering course credit or internship credit for participating in campus media. This would enable students to commit more time to their efforts and cause educators to take the work more seriously.

Improve recognition of high quality, innovative work: When students produce exceptional work, take notice. When they do something radically experimental, recognize it. Encourage regular post-production quality review; build a school culture that recognizes and makes explicit standards of excellence in regards to journalistic quality and to innovation.

  • rosenblum

    Actually, I am not a big fan of ‘experimentation’, except on your own dime. When it comes to new employees, I tell them on the first day of work “I ask only one thing of you and that is perfection. If the product you are making is not perfect, I am not interested in it. If you shoot something that is less than perfect you have two choices – either include it in your final piece and mess it up, or don’t include it, in which case shooting it in the first place was a waste of time.”

    I spend an inordinate amount of time with new hires screening all their raw material. I expect that every shot in the raw is going to be perfect. The edit is not a place for a rescue.

    This is about instilling a sense of discipline and very high standards. I call these sessions ‘public praise, public humiliation’.

    But it works. In time almost all the peole who work for me shoot almost 1:1 ratios and have a real sense of discipline and order and deep organization to their work.

    • Patrick Thornton

      I think there is a big difference between new employees and college journalism students. I took your post to be advice to go out there and do real journalism and experiment. That experimentation could be learning to shoot video and making a compelling product with it, for instance. College is a good time to learn new skills and work to hone them.

      To me, college is a good time to try to find out what you enjoy and what you’re good at. Some student journalists will naturally have strengths and weaknesses. I wouldn’t advise waiting until you apply to jobs to start finding those out.

      You also mention doing it on your own dime. It’s easier than ever for students to experiment with new storytelling tools. A Web server can be had for $5 a month and a lot of new tools are pretty cheap to buy and even cheaper to rent. If your student news org is not giving you opportunities to learn new skills that employers want, there is no reason not to try on your own time.

      • rosenblum

        Absolutely. I am a big fan of going out and doing it on your own. But I am also a very big fan of discipline. I have seen too many ‘student films’ that are a mess. :)

        • Patrick Thornton

          I worked on a few back in the day, of varying quality and merit…

          I will say this, while those films could have been better, it did give me the push to learn more about video editing and to produce much higher caliber work.

          I agree with the insistence on high quality, and it’s something that student news organizations should take to heart. Your users want high quality work: Writing, photos, video, Web design, etc. Sometimes that work just needs a bit more polish. I often see photos that could use a bit more editing and cropping, and they would look a lot better displayed bigger. It’s that last 10 percent that can make a big difference.

          I like to harp on execution and following through the entire project. In my experience, a lot of student news organizations do have most of the pieces, but they need more guidance in how to put it all together for high-level execution.

  • kegill
  • Guest

    Even later than the late ones!
    What can journalism educators do to facilitate more innovation in college media?

  • digidave
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