Shaping 21st Century Journalism

Policy Paper
Oct. 27, 2011

As the media industry evolves to meet the challenges of the emerging digitally-networked era, so too are journalism schools. Democracy and healthy local communities require this evolution. As the media industry reshapes itself, a tremendous opportunity emerges for America’s journalism programs. Neither news organizations nor journalism programs will disappear, but both must rethink their missions, particularly now that many more people can be journalists (at least, on an occasional basis) and many more people produce media than ever before.

Journalism education programs have an opportunity to become “anchor institutions” in the emerging informational ecosystem. Many schools have long embraced elements of this vision, but satisfying the information needs of communities will require schools to take on all the challenges of engaging as serious and valuable producers of meaningful journalism. To date, some programs have avoided or shirked these responsibilities, failing to leverage broadcast licenses as part of their educational mission or inadequately supporting the pursuit of meaningful journalism by students. A move to embrace a community news mission would add a powerful momentum to the recommendation of the Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Democracies that “higher education, community and nonprofit institutions [should increase their role] as hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.” This call was echoed in the recently issued Federal Communications Commission report on the changing media landscape in a broadband age.

Many larger schools have taken significant steps in this direction already. However, for this movement to have real impact, these changes need to comprehensively permeate all types of journalism programs. As Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, has written, “Like teaching hospitals, journalism schools can provide essential services to their communities while they are educating their students.” Just as teaching hospitals don’t merely lecture medical students, but also treat patients and pursue research, journalism programs should not limit themselves to teaching journalists, but should produce copy and become laboratories of innovation as well. They should beta test new models for journalism and understand how journalistic ecosystems emerge as well as contribute to the policymaking process that underpins them.

For organizations that have occupied a position between journalism students and the journalism industry and have, for the most part, resided at the periphery of universities, this change will require leadership and risk-taking. For schools and programs often looked upon, sometimes disdainfully, by university administrators and other academic units as “professional programs” and considered to make only a small contribution to the overall university mission, this change provides a chance to build considerable value. Journalism education programs will likely operate within an institutional environment where financial resources will be limited and where increased legitimacy with local communities might become highly valued and university presidents could find a broader set of activities attractive. For this to occur in a cash-strapped environment, however, a shift in funding streams will be required to sustain diverse, robust journalism; community-based reporters; and research to support further development.

We call on all journalism programs within higher education institutions to:

  • Redraw the boundaries of journalism education so that programs provide a broader set of skills for the multiplatform (often entrepreneurial) journalist of the future.
  • Extend and increase partnerships among journalism programs and other programs within the university and college.
  • Increase coverage of local communities outside the university or college in conjunction with local media.
  • Collaborate with other journalism schools on state and national news bureaus.
  • Collaborate on adoption of open education materials and freely licensed open software platforms.
  • Experiment with ways to move aspects of journalism education to the center of undergraduate core curriculums.
  • Extend and focus research towards an agenda that clearly locates journalism in relation to its role in local democracy.

We call on the media industry to:

  • Make a stronger financial commitment to supporting innovative thinking, research, and curriculum development in the journalism field.
  • Partner with journalism programs in providing formal internship programs and accreditation of work experience.

We call on local community foundations to:

  • Provide funds for support of community media outlets through journalism programs.

We call on the federal government to:

  • Create a special fund for journalism scholarships to support participation in media production, especially for disadvantaged students, through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). • Support new partnerships between universities and private and public broadcasting entities such as NPR, PBS, and the CPB, and also between local stations and journalism programs.
  • Fund further research through the National Science Foundation to understand the role of community media outlets.
  • Look favorably within the Federal Communications Commission on experimental license applications from journalism and communications schools to explore new forms of media distribution.

We call on regulators and lawmakers at all levels of government to:

  • Regularly call on expertise in journalism schools at hearings and in requests for comments.
  • Support journalism programs so that they can be fully engaged as producers of community journalism, not simply as teachers of journalists.

We hope that journalism programs will embrace the challenge to reinvent themselves in an increasingly digital century.

In a world of proliferating communication technologies, journalism schools have the opportunity to become the anchor for essential community journalism in the 21st century.

The full report is available in a pdf here.