Future of journalism education lies in content training for institutions, not journalism training for news media

Growing demands for journalism training will come from institutions that are eager to reach and engage the public. To stay ahead of the curve, a journalism program needs to expand its curriculum focus to include content training for institutions, and to offer such training to both degree and non-degree students.

The diagram below compares the focus of journalism education before and after the explosion of web, social media and mobile devices:

journalism skills

Then and recent: J-schools train journalists for news media – now a shrinking job market

In the pre-Internet era, legacy news media (newspaper, radio, TV) were the only viable means for institutions (businesses, non-profits, government, etc.) to reach the public – there were no other ways for institutions to bypass news media and reach mass audiences. This monopoly made news media a stable industry with steady needs for trained employees – reporters, editors, photographers, designers, etc.

That has been a golden time for journalism schools. Everything was established, stable and predictable – jobs were there, curriculum was created, and sub-disciplines were well-established (photo journalism, magazine journalism, etc). For a long time, the focus on training journalists for news media has served everyone well – j-schools, j-students and  media employers.

However, with the ongoing explosive growth in social media and mobile devices, journalism is being disrupted in big ways and journalism schools are also caught unprepared. For one thing, how can we convince a student to choose journalism as his or her major when all we’ve been hearing is newspapers being closed, reporters losing their jobs, and newspaper reporter being ranked the worst job in 2013?

The answer to this plight of journalism education is to expand the curriculum focus from training journalists for news media to include training content producers and marketers for institutions. That’s where the brighter future of journalism lies.

Now and future: J-schools train content producers and marketers – tremendous demands ahead

Today, institutions have an unprecedented array of channels to directly reach mass audiences, altogether bypassing the news media. However, reaching audiences is not the same as engaging audiences – today’s audiences will ignore sales pitches, press releases or anything that looks like an advertisement.

Institutions thus have the need for trained people to produce and market contents that engage audiences. That’s why you may have been reading about buzzwords such as “brand journalism” or “content marketing.” A detailed discussion of brand journalism is beyond the scope of this post, but a recent article on brand journalism has a “definition” that I want to quote here:

What exactly is brand journalism? It combines the approaches of professional journalism and brand storytelling to create, curate and share information, looking to engage and educate the brand’s target audience with relevant content, but without being too ‘salesly’.

It’s not just big brands such as Adobe, Cisco or Coca Cola that have the needs to “engage and educate the brand’s target audiences,” most other institutions will also have similar needs. And this is why I’m so confident about a rosy job market for journalism majors – the institutional demands for trained content workers will more than offset the decline on the news media side.

What are the types of training for content producers and marketers?

What are the skill trainings tailored more for content producers than for journalists? Let’s consider the needs of Jane, a fictional but typical staff member at a small nonprofit organization. Jane is in her early 30s, married, English major, and is charged, unofficially, with communication and marketing needs of the organization. Jane needs help creating contents that engage audiences, but she doesn’t need a formal journalism degree.

For a long time in the history of this nonprofit, they’ve been literally invisible in the commercial news media – they don’t have the budget to advertise; their occasional publicity needs and limited budget won’t allow for a full-time PR staff member, either. The best Jane could do has been to write a press release which the media seldom picks up, and to post some textual information on their website, which is a simple site created by an intern a few years ago.

Without relying on the news media, what does Jane need to learn to reach and engage her target audiences? Here are some digital skill trainings, among others, that a j-school can offer both journalism students and non-degree-seeking students such as Jane:

  • How to start and grow a blog: SEO skills, web writing skills, content strategy.
  • How to create quality multimedia contents (audio/video/photography) using consumer cameras/camcorders and free software – Jane and the non-profit don’t have budget for professional gears.
  • Mobile content gathering: techniques in using smartphones and mobile devices to collect and share multimedia contents at events.
  • Digital storytelling tools: use popular tools to create features such as audio slideshow and data visualization.
  • How to promote on social media networks: e.g., it’s not just what Twitter is, it’s the strategy behind how to best use it.

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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 (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), 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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