Getting beyond "Do you want fries with that?"

So now the can of worms is opened. As expected, newspapers are closing. Many print journalists are inexplicably in shock. Their next paid employment may well include the words, “do you want fries with that?”

And that, truly, is devastating.

But we still have new people entering schools, wanting to be journalists. Play with me here:

Let’s say we have a new intake this year. They’ll be trusting us for the next four years to prepare them for employment. Beyond fast food. And so the question for educators is specific. What are the best journalism schools teaching now? What should they be teaching?

Be specific! I’m not interested in opinions that simply state “they need to be prepared for the web.”

Here’s a few of my views. We need to:

a. Teach the very real and vital aspects of the role of journalism, its values and role.

b. Equip students with these values as paramount, above and beyond the role of the media they work in. We need them to see the media they work within never compromises or changes their values as journalists.

c. Move away from teaching print media with a concentration on newspapers as the standard, and instead move towards the web as the standard media format.

d. Continue to teach content creation for broadcast and radio, and print magazines. And equip every student for a start in any of those formats.

e. In their first semester, teach students about the real possibilities of independent blogging, microblogging, podcasting and vlogging and insist they do all of them.

f. Instill in them all an awareness and practice of newsgathering and research in a new media environment.

What do you disagree with? What is missing?


  • Couple of ideas:

    – Explore the possibilities of data-driven and visually-driven journalism. Get young journalists to understand the basics of data feed structures and the opportunities of presenting stories in a visual, interactive way. And get them working on projects with students from design and IT courses

    – Look at how technology changes newsgathering, participation, and conversation with audiences … what was once the letters page is now talkback radio, SMS, email, and social media conversations

    – Instill an understanding of marketing and connection – it’s not enough just to publish … journalists need to take their stories to their readers – they won’t just read, listen to, or watch what you make public just because you have.

  • As a Broadcast/Film Major, I’d say you have a great list so far.

    Here’s what I would add :

    * Follow the leaders. Talking about Murrow. Brokaw. Russert. Do it for the love, not the notoriety.

    * Deglamorize the field. Not everyone will be a rich and famous talking (or writing) head. Again, goes back to do it for the love and the passion you have for the craft.

    * Have your own voice and your singular style. Be innovative while never straying from journalistic ethics.

    My 2 cents, fwiw.

  • I was hoping you’d have the word “story” in there at least once. I’d add a story specific piece:

    “Teach students that as journalists they are story tellers and support them to find the narrative arch in every piece they do.”

    We read news because we are addicted to stories, we always have been, before people could write them down – they were telling stories. It is how we learn, make sense of the world and it is what a journalist really is.

    Electronic, print, blog, vlog – these are all just the mediums. To me these are secondary to the core skill of telling a story.

    I think this is becoming more clear and over at Dometic Father blog, he has through a co-incidence had a “story consultant” support his blog writing and it is doing wonders –

  • deglamorizing the field is definitely important.

    every single person who walks out of a j-school should know: how to write a breaking news, wire-style piece (cut and dry), feature, shoot video, put together both narration and narration-free packages, take photos, AND start a Web site from scratch.

    they should also be tough. be able to work 12 hour days, weekends, etc. they HAVE to ask the tough questions — i cannot tell you how many people i run into at j-school who are afraid to ask important questions like, “so how much does your company make?”

    also, i hate to admit this — HATE to admit this — but i kind of think you need to major in something other than journalism. a language, politics, east asian culture — whatever. because in the end, journalists have to be experts of everything.

  • Teach them that they are storytellers. Teach them how to tell stories. Teach them that there are different ways to be a storyteller. Teach them that some of those ways require them to be able to spell and to parse a simple English sentence.

  • Hi Jo. My first comment on your blog, which I am enjoying, as well as your Tweets – and a big Thank You again for your support of the bushfires 5K fundraiser.
    I think all of your points are on target, but I think the “would you like fries with that” is a stretch.
    I say this because the journalists left on the curbside in this downsizing of traditional media will not be working at Mickey Ds. They will be utilized in higher-level capacities, although it certainly might take a while for them to land new gigs in this job market. But they WILL land good positions because their skills are increasingly needed in our info-crazy world. These skills translate into so many other possibilities, whether continuing to tell stories of public interest via new media or working in government, business or the non-profit world.
    After 15 years as a professional journalist ( most as a business news reporter), I started my own business. I went to the “dark side” – PR.
    Now, making the change certainly stirred a huge identify crisis for me. I will always be a journalist at the core who frames situations as potential stories. But almost two years into the change, I am thrilled to find my skills highly valued and helpful to companies and organizations with good people doing good work. It is a worthwhile endeavor.
    I, like many others in the field, struggled to strike a healthy family/work balance. I’d worked too many hours for too little pay for too long, especially after children came along.
    I share this because while I appreciate the sentiment behind the comment about journalists being “tough” and wanting to work 12-hour days, that extreme view isn’t helpful to journalism as a career.
    It does not serve the public or the field for journalists to continue to walk about as underpaid, overworked martyrs with maybe a touch of celebrity. Journalism needs people in the business who have rich lives outside the newsroom.
    I would tell journalism students today: Work hard, LIVE FOR THE STORY , but have a life outside the newsroom. Elevate the respect for your field. Emphasize its importance to the general welfare. Champion the cause of free speech. The public will place greater value on your time and skills when you do.

  • some good items on this list and some good feedback…

    i maintain that the future of journalism is journalism – telling stories and giving reports that citizens need to make decisions in a democracy.

    these days, they need to know how to tell stories in a variety of platforms – but writing is still quite important, especially to employers i talk to.

    another aspect: not all students realize that reporting is HARD sometimes – and they need to get some of those experiences – talking to people they’d never meet up with in their cushy lives, going somewhere uncomfortable – in school so they can mess it up, learn to cope etc.

    on a more practical level, we need to teach business skills. a friend said this week “This industry lacks anyone who knows about business.” and that is true. many avoid talking about it altogether (unless they’re pining for socialism). we need to teach students the past, present and the potential future of the business, get them imagining and experimenting with business models, and give them an idea of how to survive on their own.

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