The gap between journalism education and the (changing) journalism profession

Journalism education needs to incorporate more “new skills” to catch up with what is expected of the next generation of journalists. This is an observation based on a comparison of skills emphasized by media professionals and skills being taught in journalism schools.

25 Essential Skills for Student Journalists

I have seen many lists, in various forms, of skills expected of future journalists; I found this list of 25 skills proposed at a training seminar to be more inclusive and relevant. This seminar, Teachapalooza 2012, is organized by Poynter and attended by journalism educators and professionals.

For purpose of comparison and analysis, I roughly put these skills into two categories: “Old” Skills and “New” Skills. As one can see, the “old” skills are those that have traditionally been taught in J-schools; the “new” skills are the emerging digital skills.

I then compared this list with my survey of multimedia journalism degree programs in U.S., and tried to answer two questions: (1) how many journalism programs are incorporating “new” skills in the curriculum, and (2) specifically, how much of the “new” skills are incorporated in the programs that do offer multimedia journalism courses.

Observation and conclusion: “New”, digital skills are not being adequately taught in J-schools

More and more journalism schools and programs are starting to incorporate multimedia or digital journalism contents into curriculum: a few elective courses, a dedicated track or concentration, or a completely overhauled degree program.

Depending on how multimedia or digital journalism contents are incorporated, in my ongoing survey of multimedia journalism degree programs in U.S., I categorize a journalism program as “fully integrated,” “partly integrated,” or “silo.”

A general observation is that only a small number of journalism programs are “fully integrated” with multimedia journalism.

Going further, I took a look of what skills are being taught in a multimedia journalism course. In another post, I analyzed 30 selected syllabi of multimedia (digital/online/convergent) journalism, and found the common components in a typical multimedia journalism course to be blog, video, audio, audio slideshow, social media, photography, data visualization, and web writing.

The issue is:  if I need to nail down the truly most common components that appear in almost every syllabus, they are blog, video and audio.

When compared with the “new” skills on the list of 25 skills mentioned above, it is obvious that existing multimedia journalism courses do not adequately address the “true”, emerging digital skills. For instance, data journalism only appears in a few syllabi. Other skills such as “mapping & geotagging,” “real-time reporting” and “SEO & audience building” are not being taught at all.

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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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7 Responses to The gap between journalism education and the (changing) journalism profession

  1. Dave Cornelius says:

    In all fairness, as far as I can tell you only looked at our intro online media course. I totally agree with the new multimedia skills you recommend. In fact they are embedded in all we teach. I for one spend quite a bit of time on SEO as part of building community for instance.

    Real time reporting is part of our reporting classes. We have made a strong move to mobile device reporting which includes geo tagging. Crowd sourcing is specifically part of our research methodologies and data journalism courses but is applied in all we do.

    • mulinblog says:

      Thanks for the comments. The “gap” I referred to in my post was based on an analysis of 30 syllabi I managed to put my hands on, which is not a representative sample and does not include one from ASU. Actually, in several instances when I converse with people online, I refer to ASU as a “model” in multimedia journalism education. Wish I can see more in person what you people do over there.

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  3. Sam Porter says:

    I am a technologist (PhD + industry experience) who was hired into a journalism program. There exists a repeated misconception among non-technologists that journalism students have the ability to create mobile apps. (by themselves, without having any knowledge of programming or design whatsoever).

    We hear that “mobile apps” are all the rage…. so I understand why many faculty would think we should further shove this skillset into an undergraduate program.

    What advice do have regarding how to address this? Because when I say, “It’s totally unrealistic to think that an undergraduate journalism major can design the app itself in addition to all of the content (graphics and text/writing)”, I get major resentment sent my way.

  4. mulinblog says:

    Sam, thanks for the comment. I don’t think a journalism curriculum should focus on teaching students how to develop an app; instead, the focus should be on keeping students abreast of the latest apps and tools in the industry, how to use them, and at times, how to tweak them to get a particular task done.

    If you have been following the trends in our industry, new digital reporting tools are coming out almost on a daily basis lately, and this places a demand if not a burden on the journalism instructors to keep pace with them and incorporate them in teaching. I personally have been blogging about tools and services for interactive maps, timelines, multimedia presentations, etc.

    I believe and advocate that the next generation of journalism students should be code-literate, but not necessarily to be a coding expert; for instance, they don’t need to create a javascript-based slideshow from scratch, but they should be able to understand the codes developed by others, and make changes where needed, so as to achieve a particular look and function they desire.

  5. John Russial says:

    You make a number of assumptions that I find highly questionable.

    1. Everyone in journalism needs all of these skills. They don’t, and several national studies make it clear that skills vary depending on the job. There are a couple of studies that concluse that the “old” skills are more important than the “new” skills for ONLINE journalists. A few examples: Why would a copy editor need to have backpack journalism skills? If you work as a designer in a design studio (such as all designers who work for Gannett newspapers), why do you need social media or web coding skills? Why do all print reporters need video skills if video is exclusively shot by photo staff, as it is at many newspapers? Backpack journalism itself, listed as one of your new skills, is something of an anachronism. It was a flash in the pan, and though some still practice it, others are doing better multimedia with teams of professionals who have different, complementary skills. Coding is very much a specialized skill–should everybody be trained as a coder, or should a more limited number of students or staff members who have an aptitude and an interest be trained in coding? Does every staff member need to know geotagging? I could go on.
    2. That there is space in the journalism curriculum to teach all students all of these old and new skills. There isn’t, especially at ACEJMC-accredited programs, unless you’re talking about such an incidental exposure that it would not represent meaningful “training” at all.
    3. You can characterize what programs do by titles of courses, or of programs, or by a handful of syllabi. Examining 30 syllabi cannot possibly give you a generalizable picture of the whole, which you acknowledge in another post, but the overall impression given is that you’re saying something about J programs in general. I build a number of new skills into coursework, but they will not show up in a course title, and you won’t find them in a syllabus unless you happen to look at mine–one of dozens in a given school and not one that has “multimedia” in the title.The school where I teach has a three-course required sequence that focuses on multimedia. All students must take it, yet my school does not appear on the map, possibly because the words “digital” or “multimedia” appear nowhere in the course titles. It happens to be called “Gateway.”
    4. Silos are bad. I think the word silo is used to make something that isn’t inherently bad sound bad. A program that strives to provide depth in an area is often more valuable for students who want to find jobs than a program that provides a grab bag of largely superficial skills or skills that are not fundamental for a given type of position. The former would probably fall under your heading of silo; the latter, I suspect, would be a “fully integrated” program.
    5. Storytelling is a “new” skill. It’s as old as the hills and has been taught forever.

    John Russial
    University of Oregon

  6. mulinblog says:

    John, thanks for such a thoughtful response. Your comments are the type of discussions I expect in exploring a begging question that I had: what digital journalism is and how to teach it; that’s what prompted me to start this project.

    As I said in another post, digital journalism is a practice that is still evolving and has not been clearly defined, which leaves it open to discussions and experiments.

    For “storytelling,” I was actually referring to “digital storytelling.” And, hmm, I didn’t realize the word “silo” may make it sound “bad”, what word/phrase would you suggest that may sound more “neutral?”

    By the way, I added some language in the “disclaimer” on the project page that the project (map) was not able to include courses that are dedicated to digital/multimedia journalism, but don’t have an explicit title indicating its actual contents. You know, looking for an explicit course title was the only viable method for me to collect such information.

    Thanks again for the feedback and thoughts.

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