Should photography be a core course for digital/multimedia journalism education?

The web and the digital media are getting more and more image-driven; yet photography is not considered an essential skill by many journalism educators – only a small number of journalism programs list photography as a core/required course in the curriculum.

The web is getting more and more “visual”

Image is being produced and shared at an unprecedented pace, aided by the ever-increasing availability of digital cameras and smartphones, the viral image-driven social media such as Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the improving availability and quality of broadband Internet access. The phenomenal growth of Pinterest and Instagram this year has made 2012 the start of “visual web” era.

According to a recent study by ROI Research, when asked what people enjoy the most about contents their friends posted, it is pictures that top the list. In another survey of media professionals80 percent of journalists polled say it is important or very important to have access to photos and visual images. Visual contents are not only popular – they drive traffic; visual storytelling works better than text stories.

Lack of on-job training for working journalists to go multitasking

We have been bombarded with news about how the newspaper industry is struggling to stay afoot and how more and more newsrooms are downsizing. The shrinking size of newsroom staff blurs the line between reporter, editor, photographer, etc. A journalist now needs to be capable of multitasking, and taking photos is a big part of multitasking.

However, according to a national survey of journalists in 2012, the biggest complaint of U.S. journalists is lack of training, ahead of pay and benefits. Due to budget and time restraints, there won’t be any quick remedy for this no. 1 source of job dissatisfaction.

Shall we expect journalism schools to fill in the blank? 

Only a small number of journalism programs deem photography as essential

Photography should be part of the essential skill set for journalism students; that it should be a core/required course in a digital or multimedia journalism program which strives to train”digital journalists.” However, journalism educators seem to think otherwise.

Among the 47 “fully integrated” digital/multimedia journalism programs, identified out of more than 500 programs in U.S., only eight (8) programs have photography as a core or required course; most other programs have photography as an elective course. The eight programs and the course titles are listed below:

  • University of Texas El Paso: Digital Photography
  • University of Texas Austin: Reporting: Image
  • Central Arkansas University: Basic Press Photography
  • Auburn University: Photojournalism
  • Spring Hill College: Photography
  • Berry College: Photojournalism
  • Jackson State University: Photojournalism
  • University of Nebraska Kearney: News Writing & Photography

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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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6 Responses to Should photography be a core course for digital/multimedia journalism education?

  1. LisaParisot says:

    Yes, basic photography skills should be required in news and strategic communications programs in journalism schools. I am a visual storyteller with more than 30 years experience who was trained to report, write, shoot video and stills. It wasn’t called multimedia storytelling, just basic journalism training. My career path took me from broadcast news, to documentary and now on to producing visual stories for clients to use online with social media.

  2. mulinblog says:

    That’s also why I advocate that all journalism programs merge the conventional tracks such as broadcast and print news; whereas broadcast students may learn the basics of photography in a video production class, print news students are left without any photography training.

  3. Pingback: » Should photography be a core course for multimedia journalism education?

  4. robert hart says:

    I teach digital photojournalism at two private universities in Dallas-Fort Worth and there’s always a waiting list for my classes at both schools. As a former director of photography and director of online content, I’m convinced that students aren’t properly suited for the current job market without a photojournalism class. They should also understand and be able to write basic HTML and basic CSS.

    (Hey there, Lisa).

  5. Pingback: Photography’s Importance « Multimedia Journalism

  6. Here at UNCP Pembroke we took the step to make photojournalism a core course in our journalism track a few years ago. The sections always fill up and often overflow. Now I also am incorporating production of videos and data visualizations in my journalism courses.

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