Friday, March 28, 2008

Growing New Revenue Sources

I got back not long ago from a visit to a public university where I was asked to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the journalism program.
The program was a lot like ours at USU. There was a premajor core for students who were trying to get into the program. Then the students had to declare which sequence they wanted to go into.
The program had a relatively small number of faculty, but it was popular with students and there was good demand for classes. The faculty were hard working and dedicated to education.
The big difference?
This other program had a nice, private nest egg. A donor had given a large donation, and the university was able to use the interest off that account to pay for new hardware and software, as well as the salary of a brilliant professional who could teach students how to use the new toys. That donation made a big difference at that university.
Oh, for a friend like that!
It amazes me sometimes how closing the gap between adequate and good, or between good and great, can come down to one or two people who make a difference with private financial donations, or one or two people who make a difference in instruction or administration.
Typical public universities are getting only a fraction -- less than a quarter -- of their operating money from tax dollars. Where does the rest come from? Government grants, investments, and, to borrow a phrase from PBS, people like you.
The hard sciences have an advantage in bringing in a lot of external money. Soft sciences and liberal arts struggle a bit. And then there's journalism. Many journalism programs go begging. Why should it be a hard sell to get people to invest in good journalism? I know journalism has its problems -- what part of society doesn't? -- but I cannot imagine that the world would be better if journalism schools were allowed to wither from neglect.
J-schools now, more than ever, must teach the three R's of journalism -- readin', ritin', and revenue.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why "30?"

Why does my blog URL contain the number "30?"

Old-time journalists know.

From the days of "hot type," the number "30" at the end of a typewritten story indicated "the end."

The Future of Academic Journalism

I've asked the faculty. I've asked the department's professional advisers. Now I'm asking you.

What new directions should college journalism programs take in the next 10 years?

On one side of the discussion are those who are convinced that changes in the technology of communication will fundamentally alter the way news is gathered and distributed. They point to the use of blogs, discussion boards, cell phones, video cameras, etc., to argue that more people will, and must, become integrated into the process of creating news. And they certainly have a point. Many stories today would not exist, or would be less complete, if not for citizens taking on the role of watchdog journalists. But to what extent should journalism schools teach students to integrate such practices into what they do? Do the uses of these new communication devices fundamentally change the way "professional" journalists are taught how to recognize and shape news stories for a mass audience? People in this camp tend to favor a curriculum that is more broad than deep, exposing journalism students to a variety of ways to shape a story for the eye and ear. Many suggest every journalism student should be highly competent with a digital still camera, digital video camera, Web-authoring softwares such as DreamWeaver, design software such as InDesign, etc. Products of such journalism programs would be expected to write it, shoot it, edit it, get it on the air, on the Web, in the paper, etc.

On the other side are those who say journalism programs shouldn't worry so much about the changing technology of the day as much as they should focus on the skills necessary to tell a good story, and how the new technology augments this process. These kinds of people favor a curriculum that has a broad slice of liberal arts, but a deeper emphasis in one particular area of journalism. To tell a story really well, they suggest, requires a thorough grounding in one particular medium, such as print. They believe it is probably impossible to be a great journalist across all media; better, they say, to demonstrate excellence in one area and competence in others. The product of this kind of program would be slanted toward employment in a more traditional slice of the journalism industry, but would adapt to changes as they come.

We are grappling now with deciding how much to adjust the curriculum in response to these new communication methods and media.

My own bias? A confession. I am a "late adopter." I'm the last person who bought a cell phone, a personal computer, an iPod. To some degree I am a traditionalist. But I am not a dinosaur.

..Mike Sweeney, journalism professor, Utah State University