Pillars to Success in Modern Journalism Education

In  a Poynter. article, Why we need a better conversation about the future of journalism education” (April 15, 2013) author Tom Rosenstiel discussed what is vital for today’s journalism programs, but also how positive changes, and “experiments” to develop more effective journalism curriculum have already begun.

Rosenstiel also talked about Michael Wolff’s attack on Columbia and The New York Times’ David Carr’s response.

For USA TODAY, Wolff stated that Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism was behind the times and an “intellectual failure”. Journalist David Carr stood up for Columbia, but in doing so, inadvertently made some comments that didn’t paint journalism students and educators in the most positive light. Carr stated that, “Journalism education is something of a confidence game,” and “many journalism programs … are escalators to nowhere.”

Whether or not you think pursuing a journalism degree is a good idea, one thing is for certain: journalism education has to evolve. With the ever-changing digital publication world taking over, an education in journalism should reflect this evolution.

In his article, Rosenstiel, who just happens to be the Executive Director of the American Press Institute, shared “four essential components” on how journalism education should change or modernize. Here’s our take-away from this established journalist’s very pertinent advice.

1. Training in modern technical skills.

Now that journalists are required to know more than how to write good articles, their education should reflect this. Web development, graphic design, photography, social media, and using any number of software programs should all be part of a good journalism education. If journalists are going to be expected to be immersed in the digital world upon hire, their education should prepare them for this.

Technical and multimedia training can also encourage aspiring journalists to report stories in innovative ways, said Rosenstiel. He added, addressing the reality that technology is continuously developing, “The key is to teach students enough [so] they can master these tools themselves on their own as the tools change.”

2. Responsibility

Rosenstiel stated that now more than ever is the importance of “responsible journalism.”Courses that make “journalists better,” like those related to history, ethics, democracy and community, should not fall by the wayside; they should also reflect the changing news and media landscapes.

3. The business side of journalism.

With many journalists now having to wear more hats, knowing the business is even more crucial today, from whether a journalist is freelancing (and for all intents and purposes running their own business) to whether they have to be conscious of readership and metrics as they craft their work . Knowing your audience, understanding advertising, and a general knowledge of the business end of journalism should be a staple in modern journalism education.



– William Zinsser is a successful journalist, professor, writer and author of many books, including On Writing Well, what is known as the “definitive guide” to non-fiction writing.

– In 2012, when he was 89 years old, Zinsser won a National Magazine Award for a piece he wrote for The American Scholar. Do you know what the award category was? Digital Media!

– David Cutler’s Edutopia article, “Teaching Journalism in the 21st Century: A Conversation with William Zinsser”, highlights how the journalism veteran has successfully adapted to the online world, but how he continues to emphasize the importance of age-old journalism fundamentals.


4. Making journalism an “ intellectual discipline of verification.”

Rosenstiel advocates for a more scientific, empirical or “evidence and inference” approach to journalism. While independent analysis has always been the mainframe of good journalism, thinking of it as a more scientific type of discipline will help to elevate journalism to even higher levels of excellence.

“At its best, journalistic inquiry is a rigorous, numerically literate, skeptical and independent way of thinking, in the same way we describe law, engineering and medicine as teaching a way of thinking,” stated Rosenstiel. He added that designing a more “intellectual” journalism curriculum also means it being more interdisciplinary, delving into other university departments, from sociology to computer science.

So that students receive the best and most beneficial education for their prospective journalism careers or related paths, J-schools need to continuously adapt. Rosenstiel’s four recommendations make an excellent jumping-off point for educators to come together and recreate, and modernize journalism curriculum. Hopefully educators and students alike take note, and begin to make the changes necessary to continue to cultivate excellent journalists.

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