Conflicting stances of two elite U.S. journalism schools on direction of journalism education

In two recent developments, j-school at West Virginia University dropped “journalism” from its name, and j-school at University of California at Berkeley cut its sponsorship of a community news operation so as to focus on journalism. So, what shall we teach next generation journalists?

WVU Journalism School is now College of Media

In February 2014, the 75-year-old journalism school at West Virginia University renamed itself College of Media. The primary reason for this name change, as explained by the dean, is that “We sensed that the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism wasn’t resonating with future students and seemed old-fashioned and very limiting.” On the other hand, the dean said, “What we felt like was that everything – all of our disciplines that we teach – intersect with media.”

The dean said, in a separate interview, “In addition to being skilled in the basics of writing, reporting and content production, today’s graduates must also be able to engage with audiences across both traditional and emerging media platforms.” To that end, the school has implemented some significant changes to its programs, which include

launching a new Strategic Communications major; developing new courses in blogging, interactive journalism and content curation and new minors in areas such as strategic social media and interactive media design; creating the nation’s first online master’s degree program in Integrated Marketing Communications; and launching a new Innovator-in-Residence program to bring to campus high-level media professionals to develop innovative projects and curricula.

 UC Berkeley J-School to focus on journalism education

Also in February 2014, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism ended its sponsorship of Mission Local, a neighborhood website that focuses on San Francisco’s Mission District and operated by j-school students since 2008.

Mission Local features regular digital and multimedia contents and, as a Nieman Lab article says, has been cited favorably as example of the “teaching hospital” model and of university-sponsored community website.

In his memo, the j-school dean cites three reasons for cutting loose Mission Local: it’s expensive, it keeps student away from campus, and it doesn’t fit into Berkeley’s curriculum.

At issue: What to teach next generation journalists?

The reason why Mission Local doesn’t fit into Berkeley’s curriculum, as described in the Nieman Lab article, is,

Over the course of its existence, Mission Local has evolved into a full-fledged media organization requiring marketing, ad sales and other business side activities, which aren’t part of the school’s curriculum, Wasserman wrote. Mission Local has produced a print zine, it created an app that gives tours of the Mission District, and it’s even launched a Spanish language version of the site. “Those are specialized areas, and the J-School doesn’t have the instructional capacity to teach them to a Berkeley standard of excellence,” Wasserman wrote.

He added: “What’s more, our students wouldn’t have the curricular bandwidth to learn them—not unless we pared back other areas, and redefined our core mission as something other than journalism education.”

The dean seems to suggest that business skills are irrelevant to journalism, and I cannot agree with him. Traditionally, it’s church and state between editorial and the business side; however, as a Nieman Lab article says, more and more newspaper companies are creating or restructuring positions that report to both the editorial side and the business side.

Such dual-report experiments have not yet changed news media hiring practices; however, as is said in an article about the myriad skills media employers now expect of journalism graduates, employers now do expect journalism graduates to possess “unconventional skills” such as:

  • Audience development skills (formerly known as marketing and circulation) such as managing online communities, interpreting data on audience behavior, crowdsourcing for information, interacting with the audience.
  • The business of media. Journalists can help a news organization generate revenues without compromising their ethics, and today that skill is more important than ever.

Moreover, with the growth of social and digital media, social institutions and the public can bypass the mass media and directly reach the target audiences. For such communication efforts to work, and work well, the new generation of communication workers need content production skills (journalism) as well as content marketing skills (business).

And this is something that is missing in both WVU and Berkely j-schools’ visions for the future of journalism education. Though WVU j-school dropped “journalism” in favor of “media,” its curriculum still does not reflect this significant shift in market needs for journalism graduates.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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