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Journalism schools must adapt to remain relevant

As journalism evolves rapidly, journalism schools are racing to keep pace.

The Knight Foundation is one of the groups advocating for the "teaching hospital" model.  This graphic from their website illustrates the complexity of the field of journalism.

The Knight Foundation is one of the groups advocating the “teaching hospital” model. This graphic from the foundation’s website illustrates the complexity of the field of journalism.

Before the Internet, journalism professors didn’t have to teach their students the difference between writing for print and the Web.  Now they do.  Before social media, assignments involving Twitter weren’t in the curriculum.  Now they are.

As journalism becomes an increasingly diverse field, educators are confronted with how best to prepare students for future jobs.  An approach that some are advocating is the “teaching hospital” model.

This model focuses on giving students hands-on, real world experience as a part of their education.  Instead of learning primarily in a classroom setting, students produce journalism for the public while being supervised by professional editor-teachers.

“We believe journalism and communications schools must be willing to recreate themselves if they are to succeed in playing their vital roles as news creators and innovators,” said a group of foundation funders in a letter advocating this approach to almost 500 college presidents last year.

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is already using the model.  Journalism students produce content for newspapers and television stations in Arizona and even produce nightly newscasts on the state’s largest public television station. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, students produce coverage of state government through the Nebraska News Service class. Their stories are distributed to more than 100 newspapers.

The “teaching hospital” model addresses “the need to raise the degree of mastery that journalists bring to the field and a new level of analytical skills that are needed to explain a complex world,” said news leaders interviewed by the Carnegie Corp.

Although many industry professionals advocate this model, others remain skeptical.  Researchers David Ryfe and Donica Mensing of the University of Nevada’s Reynolds School of Journalism said the “teaching hospital” model doesn’t address how rapidly the field of journalism is changing.

Ryfe and Mensing said that this model encourages an incorrect view of journalism: Namely, that the field has clear rules and boundaries and simply practicing the basic skills over and over will ensure success.

“Put simply, it makes it hard for students to think differently,” Ryfe and Mensing said.  “At a teaching hospital, students are instructed on what is known.  But in journalism, there’s a lot of uncertainty and change on every level.”

Then what should be done instead?  The jury is still out.  But, although experts don’t quite agree on a method for keeping journalism education current and relevant, most agree that change is necessary.

“Journalism education is at an inflection point,” said Howard Finberg, the director of partnerships and alliances at The Poynter Institute.  “We are at the point at which we need true educational innovation. Some will do this. Others will be left behind.  It is time to seize the future.”

_Kathleen Anderson

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