Digital training for J-students lacks in comparison with digital training for working professionals

Survey shows that working professionals have strong demand for digital journalism training and increasingly turn to training organizations for help. Journalism schools, on the other hand, face obstacles to offer similar trainings which can better prepare their students for a digital career.

Journalism professionals demand digital training to stay current

In August 2012, Knight Foundation conducted a survey of 660 journalists to find out the needs for digital training among working professionals. Here’s some interesting but important findings in the survey report:

  • 63 to 71 percent of the U.S. journalists said they would benefit from digital media training, including technology, multimedia and data skills. Only some 40 percent said so in a similar survey in 2006.
  • On top of the list of training topics that journalists say would offer benefit are: technology (78.8%), multimedia (76.8%) and data skills (75.3%).
  • Most journalists surveyed give their news organizations low marks for providing training opportunities.
  • Online classes are gaining popularity as a cost-effective way to reach more trainees.

Training organizations are adapting to the digital age

Popular media institutions such as Poynter and have been offering digital trainings both in-person and online.

Poynter is a Florida-based non-profit school for journalism; it has trained thousands of journalists and educators since 1975 through in-person seminars, workshops and on-site group trainings. Take a look at two screen shots of Poynter’s “popular courses” and “newest courses” as of November 2012. Pay attention to the digital- or technology-related courses:

According to the above-mentioned Poynter survey,  online classes are gaining popularity as a cost-effective way to reach more trainees. Significant numbers of journalists who have participated in online classes say they are as good as, or better than, conventional training in the classroom.

Poynter’s “Online Training” offers innovative journalism training in the forms of self-directed courses, webinars and online seminars. Take a look at a partial list of online training courses they offer (as of November 2012); again, pay attention to the digital- or technology-related courses:, a London-based website, is popular among media professionals for its reports, news, tools and tips for journalists and publishers. They have been offering mostly in-person journalism training on a variety of topics. It is interesting to note that, among the course offerings for November 2012 and later, the four courses that are sold out are “Online Video Journalism,” “Essential Twitter Skills,” “Advanced Twitter Skills” and “Advanced Research Skills.”

When we look at the training formats and topics by and Poynter, two characteristics stand out:

  • The courses are short. The in-person courses are usually one day or one evening; the online courses are usually one or two hours in length.
  • The topics are up-to-date. The course topics are usually subjects of latest development in the industry and journalism practices.

Journalism schools/programs face challenges offering similar digital training to J-students

As I wrote in a recent post, there’s a growing gap between journalism education and journalism profession. Unfortunately, several issues prevent journalism schools and programs from offering digital training to their students in ways similar to what and Poynter have been doing.

  • J-schools don’t have the flexibility in their curriculum design. A for-credit journalism course is usually structured as a semester-long course, and it takes time to get a new course approved and incorporated into existing curriculum. Thus j-schools are not in a position to offer fresh and short courses on new topics as they arise.
  • (some) J-schools don’t have instructors capable of teaching digital journalism. Digital journalism is a phrase and practice that has not been clearly defined. As I wrote in a recent post, digital journalism courses come in a vast variety of names at different colleges and universities. Adding to that ambiguity, some instructors themselves are not clear what to teach in a digital/multimedia journalism course, as I pointed out in another post analyzing some 30 course syllabi in this area.
  • (many) J-schools don’t have the mindset to adapt to digital changes. In my study of more than 500 journalism and communication programs in U.S., only 108 programs are fully or partly integrated with digital or multimedia journalism in their curriculum. My criterion for a digital journalism program is simple: at least one dedicated digital journalism course that is required of all students.

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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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