Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What should we teach tomorrow’s Journalism students?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 4, 2009

I was invited yesterday to join other journalism lecturers from Kingston University and advise them about the future of journalism.

Wisely, they’re getting together now to think about what the media landscape might look like in five years time, and working out how to adjust their teaching accordingly.

We went through lots of different scenarios, and I highlighted some of the following, which I think will be important skills for the J-students of the future:

Entrepreneurial skills

Jeff Jarvis, Hannah Waldram and others have already written much more about this, and I put myself firmly in this camp. Jarvis says it plainly: “The future of news is entrepreneurial.”

The monetisation of journalism will come from journalists, young or otherwise, launching their own enterprises serving a demand from a specific audience. It might be hyperlocal, or it might be niche.

But to achieve this, students will need to be taught these business basics: how to launch a start-up, how to manage money, where to get investment. And even: what is a good business idea?

The future media landscape won’t consist of a few big giants, but many, far smaller, enterprises. And tomorrow’s journalists must be prepared for this.

Social-network skills

Next, I pushed journalism students need to be social-media mavens. It is not good enough to be aware of blogs and Twitter. Or even to have a rarely used account. Journalism students must be fully immersed in these platforms (and what follows them).

They need to understand how they can create a community around a specific topic.

They must have experienced the exhilarating feeling of getting a spike in blog readers when they publish good content.

And they must know how social media markets their work.

New technical skills

I’m talking video shooting and editing, basic photography and photo editing and website design. HTML and CSS would be ideal. Simply because other journalists will have these skills – and you can’t afford to be left behind.

Old journo skills

And here I mean good writing, good storytelling. We talked a lot about what separates a journalist from a citizen journalist. I think the answer is the ability to identify news, to source it, to find people…and to publish it into good content.

…and the drive

You can’t teach this to kids, but you can try to instill some enthusiasm. It is no longer good enough (in any walk of life, save I dunno, chemistry, engineering etc) to walk into a degree and hope to walk into a job. That attitude will earn you a McDonald’s badge and not much else. Students themselves must crave success, and as Hannah Waldram puts it: “get-up-and-go to take them through the difficulties and pressures of doing something on their own…”

The fact journalism course are looking to the future now is a small, but important step in the right direction. What skills would you put on the curriculum?

Disclaimer: I am a part-time lecturer in Video & Photojournalism at Kingston University.

10 Responses

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  1. Craig McGinty said, on November 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I’d like to squeeze in a mention of the value of copyright.

    I get paid once if I write an article for someone else; I can sell advertising and other products/services around the same piece every day if it is on my own site.

  2. Will Peach said, on November 4, 2009 at 11:25 am

    As many have already mentioned, I think it is largely up to the individual rather than an institutional course to educate. Even the guidance a journo-lecturer distills is slowly being substituted by that of posters (who coincidentally sometimes are lecturers) like yourself, who are providing comprehensive, accessible and most importantly, free up-to-date information.

    In my opinion a j-course can never hope to keep up with a web that is consistently opening up new technologies, social media platforms and freelance job opportunities in various areas.

    Those interested in journalism should make the most to harness all the information (it IS out there!), ring fence it and immerse themselves in independent development.

    The best thing about learning HTML/CSS, general design and video skills is that it opens up doors and creates niches that you never otherwise thought possible.

  3. adamwestbrook said, on November 4, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    @CraigMcGinty good point, awareness of copyright (& wrong) is very important

    @WillPeach you could argue you don’t need a journalism course to get these kind of skills. As you say the internet is full of guides, videos etc to teach the practical skills. Many people get one to get an NJTC/BJTC qualification…is that redundant in the future?

  4. Sara McConnell said, on November 4, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I found your blog post when I was writing my own entry for yesterday (check out http://predocsblog.blogspot.com/). Good stuff and thanks for a good session yesterday. A couple of points – I’m teaching my MA Journalism students how to use Twitter/ blogs etc as journalists do (to find sources, generate conversation and collaborate etc) and I was quite surprised that most of them found it quite a new experience, not having blogged or used Twitter before. Now we’ve started I’ll make sure they continue.

    I would agree with the other comments that you don’t absolutely need a journalism course to become a journalist (I trained on the job) but that qualifications (especially NCTJ) and an intensive course go a long way in a competitive industry.

  5. teachj said, on November 4, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I have a few comments about this future.

    1) Journalism will be only for the well-to-do. Students from poverty or even the middle class don’t have the money to burn as a start-up or waiting for advertising to finally monetize their content. They can’t afford to do journalism for free until the revenue finally shows up.

    2) Lawsuits are going to wreck whatever’s left of journalism. A backpack journalist with a blog will be murdered by a well placed lawsuit. This goes back to my first point. Few of us have the capital to afford hiring a lawyer to fend off corporate or government legal arrows.

    3) This really hurts the non-Entrepreneurial types who are great at editing, writing, shooting and creating content. Some of them don’t WANT to sell ads or stump for grants, subscriptions, etc. It’s a lot of work and not everyone is good at it.

    Just something to think about.

  6. […] more to the list in the comments below if you have any. And while you’re here, read the comments of one reader on an earlier blog entry. Some interesting criticism of the notion journalism is entrepreneurial at […]

  7. […] has been another area that seems to be a recurrent theme this week.  I can’t agree more that we need to teach the skills and journalists need to learn them, but salesmanship is also an art.  I worry that the focus on being a writer, videographer, […]

  8. jonesthenews said, on January 1, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Personally, I think any reasonably intelligent and enterprising youngster can (and probably should already) have learned about social media and online skills from the internet itself.

    You can learn online stuff in your own bedroom, just by doing it. And 95% of teenagers will know this already.

    So IMHO if you’re charging people for a journalism course, you need to teach them the things they can’t get elsewhere – the journalism ethics, hardcore reporting skills, understanding of news and so on. You are very unlikely to learn this anywhere other than a course.

    I did one of the leading journalism courses and although it did teach a bit of blogging, I found that dull and pointless. The technical skills, shorthand and old school reporting tricks of the trade were invaluable, and are what separate the professionals from the amateurs.

  9. Collen Magnetti said, on January 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Sorry, aber das bezweifel ich ganz stark…

  10. Janet said, on January 29, 2010 at 4:53 am

    Found your blog on Yahoo and was so glad i did. That was a warming read. I have a small question.Is it alright if i send you an email???…


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