What students need to know: Academic Summit

What do 2007 graduates need to know to succeed in journalism jobs?

That was one of the overriding questions of today’s day-long California Journalism Education Coalition (Cal-JEC) Media Industry/Academic Summit held at the Orange County Register. Twenty media professionals and educators with a respect for tradition, but open to change were invited to participate.

Wow, is there a lot to digest from the meeting and I can’t do it justice this quickly; I’ve got pages of notes. But below are a few of the thoughts that I marked with an asterisk as we went.

Photo from summit
Jay Harris makes a point while Linda Bowen watches on.

The assumption of the day was that the industry is changing rapidly, so we focused on what current graduates need, not what they will need three years from now. But that snapshot look can point us the right direction. And while the assumption was to consider the four-year graduate, I think there is a lot in the results for community colleges to think about.

  • Students need to know more about the Constitution and about how city’s work. They should know about our legal system, civics and “cultural touchstones.”

    It is not that they need to be experts on everything. Jay Harris made a telling comment:

    “We have to realize that young reporters are human. They still have to grow up. (There are some things they don’t know and have never known when they start.)”

    A lot of good experience comes from students working on our student publications, but they’ll always be learning as they mature.

  • Students/reporters need to understand better and to connect with their readers.
  • Students need to understand that they need to develop enterprise stories, not just wait for assignments. It would be a good idea for them to learn how to develop and cover beats.

    It was pointed out that younger writers more and more are writing to older audiences who actually are more likely to read newspapers. Someone suggested that for students to better connect with the readers they need to be paid well enough to buy homes.

    I already require my returning students to create blogs if they want to be in line for an A (returning students need to be challenged, not just keep doing the same stuff). I think I’m going to alter that in the future to require them to develop a campus-related beat as the subject of their blogs.

  • Students need coursework on what to expect with their first job. Sure, internships can help with this, but students need more, including understanding the economics of the businesses they will be working for and how to deal with office politics.
  • As educators we need to be emphasizing community journalism more. Students need to understand their communities and how they work. Specialty reporting can and should come later.
  • Ethics and values are important and need to integrated into all courses, not just added on as separate courses.
  • We need to break out of some of our rigid writing styles we teach and look at how our students and their peers consume news; we need to include those forms in what we teach or what they practice on our papers.
Photo from summit
Jeff Pelline listens as a point is made.

We tried to put together one cohesive statement or set of skills/values that encompassed all this and more. We started with the list that comes from the 2006 Carnegie Report on “Improving the Education of Tomorrow’s Journalists” and it went wild from there. A later report will try to put it all together coherently. But here are some of the things discussed:

  • Basic reporting and conveyance skills. We liked the word conveyance more than writing because there are different ways to convey the story and students need to know them. They must know how to gather not only the standard information for writing a story, but how to gather video and audio and photos and how to edit it all. But they also need to know the best way to convey the information; it is more than just the tech skills, it is journalistic skills of what is the best method and what needs to be included that counts. The term infosynthesis was coined by Holly Heiser. All this is important, but text still is the most important conveyance.

    Of course, the basic interviewing, writing and editing skills apply here, as does developing deep Internet search skills: getting beyond Google and into public records.

    One area that probably should be included here, the group felt, was more instruction on writing from public documents. A lot of discussion took place about understanding budgets, too.

  • Understand citizen and community journalism.
  • Understand cultural touchstones. Understand the mechanics of civic organizations, understand the Constitution, understand history of journalism and role of journalism in society, understand analogies from literature and pop culture. Understand that perhaps journalism is not mass media any more, but instead you are reporting for multiple smaller audiences.
  • Understand what is news. This definition may be changing today.
  • Develop personal characteristics. Be open-minded, be eager to learn, be curious. Bi-lingual is a big advantage; be able to converse and write in a second language. Have a broader perspective of the world. Learn math basics and HTML basics.
  • Develop ethical values. Ethics is like muscles. You need to continually flex them in all courses. Areas we discussed included plagiarism, attribution education, how to treat sources, respecting your community, situational ethics, avoiding conflicts of interest and focus on overcoming who you are not.

There was so much more we discussed, too. For instance, we discussed constraints colleges face, some imposed by AEJMC accrediting standards. Maybe that’s another entry, though.


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