There’s a great back-and-forth in the comments on my post below about new media skills and journalism schools.
As my former colleague Damien Cave says, journalism schools ought to be teaching students to ask, “What’s the best way to tell this story?” and to become adept at finding, and executing, an answer.
Plainly some students want more of a new-media focus than they’re getting. There’s an interesting contrast between what some of the recent Columbia grads posting are saying (in essence, that the school isn’t really keeping up) with what faculty member Paula Span says (they’re working like crazy to keep up). Maybe the incoming students today are getting a different experience from their recent predecessors. Schools don’t change as fast as the Web does.
“Cranky” asked me, “Universities are not vocational schools. Where did you learn your Web skills, Scott? On the job, right? Just the way it should be.” It’s sort of a moot question in my case, since the Web didn’t exist when I was in school. But I didn’t expect the university to teach me to type, either, so point well taken.
I agree with those (including, I guess, Lemann himself) who say that a journalism school shouldn’t be in the business of teaching technical skills. But I would always have expected any professor teaching me about writing to be familiar with the experience of typing, and understand how the process of typing affects the form and function of producing journalism. Similarly, you would expect someone teaching reporting, then and now, to understand the telephone and its role in putting a story together. You didn’t need to know the technical underpinnings of the phone system then, any more than you need to know how to program Flash now. But you needed to understand how to make a call, and how the phone fit into your journalist’s job of story-finding-and-communicating, just as you now need to understand how different forms of Web communication fit into that same job today.
We do not expect journalism professors to be programmers. But I think we have a right to expect them to be conversant in the media universe in which their students will be working. To teach journalism and still be ignorant of today’s Web would be like teaching journalism 30 years ago while being ignorant of the typewriter and the telephone. You still might have some wisdom to impart to your students, but you’d be operating at a significant remove from the real world in which the craft is practiced.