Monday, April 20, 2009

What Matters More: The Soup or the Bowl?

Excellent article in the N.Y.Times regarding the confused state of journalism education: "Professors are hustling to figure out how to teach journalism at a time when the field is undergoing a sweeping transformation."

The debate is no longer over whether the subject should be taught academically or vocationally -- it's over how to best prepare students for what could either be an extremely promising or dubious career choice, depending on which way the economic winds blow in the next few years.

Journalism students (and their departments) are hedging their bets with courses in public relations, advertising, and even the vaguely labeled "communications." Best part of the article is towards the end, addressing the extent to which new (and soon-to-be-outmoded) technologies should be part of the curriculum:

Fundamentally, J-schools are about teaching students how to be storytellers, says Tom Fiedler, the dean of the College of Communication at Boston University. He subscribes to the philosophy that “it’s the soup and not the bowl that provides the nourishment we need.” He adds: “We want to teach our students to make a great soup. What they serve it in matters little.”

Rich Beckman, a professor of visual journalism at the University of Miami and a guru of new media education, would beg to differ. The new media, he says, have required professors to revise their classes on media ethics and law. Multimedia reporters must know how to edit audio and video without taking quotes out of context, and to abide by copyright law when incorporating music. In updating a blog post, they must recognize when a formal correction is warranted. They are called upon to alternate between objectivity and self-expression — a new New Journalism enabled by the Web, for a generation raised on Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.
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