J-School Modernizes…Eventually

, Don Irvine, Leave a comment

The University of Colorado is considering shuttering its School of Journalism  and replacing it with a program that is better suited for the digital age.

From the Denver Post:

“The University of Colorado is working toward replacing its School of Journalism with a program better prepared to shepherd students into a news industry trying to keep pace in a digital age.

“CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced Wednesday the formation of a committee to consider how to organize a new information, communication and technology program.

“In the meantime, shuttering the School of Journalism in its current form — a process called “program discontinuance” — will begin, although the committee could potentially recommend that the school remain as it is, DiStefano said. All current students will be allowed to complete their degrees, whatever the changes.

“‘Discontinuance’ is an unfortunate legal term, said journalism-school dean Paul Voakes.

“‘It implies that we’re shutting down, when the opposite is true. Discontinuance is the necessary legal process that would enable us to create the innovative new programs our students need,’ he said.

“DiStefano said he doesn’t know what form the school eventually will take. The committee could recommend it remain as is, or pieces of the curriculum could be folded into the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society Institute (ATLAS), which includes programs enabled by information and communication technology.

“The CU Board of Regents would decide whether to close the journalism school.

“More than 30 schools, including Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley, have revamped their journalism schools to keep up with the evolving industry, DiStefano said.

“Berkeley started its Berkeley Center for New Media in 2004. In recent years, the Cronkite School at Arizona State University has launched its New Media Innovation Lab for research and development of multimedia products, and it is part of News21, an experimental program that trains students to present news in innovative ways.

“‘I want to make sure our students coming into the university who want to have careers and major in communications and information technology have the right curriculum and technology,’ DiStefano said.

“The exploratory committee will make a recommendation by the end of the year, and a final decision on whether to close the J-school could be made next spring, DiStefano said.”

Colorado is a little late to the game but still far ahead of most schools in recognizing that thanks to technological advances journalism has changed and that the traditional J-schools are now hopelessly outdated.

For many years J-schools have been operating with blinders on as newspapers, television and radio have cut jobs as demand waned for their products and services , treating this as a temporary blip and preparing students for jobs that no longer existed.

Now that the light bulb has finally gone on in their collective heads the question is can the schools change or adapt their programs to the new world order in journalism.

One potential roadblock to a quick change is tenure which basically guarantees professors a lifetime job.  Many of these tenured J-school professors are children of the old media or traditional  media world and are not prepared or equipped to teach their students about the rapid rise of new media which is where journalism is headed.

That means that even if schools wanted to shift their programs they can’t unless these professors retire and that could still take several more years before the baby boomers are ready to retire from these cushy jobs.

It’s probably safe to say that most students already possess more knowledge than their professors about social media and digital journalism.

In the meantime aspiring journalists will take matters into their own hands and find what they need elsewhere on the internet or through the multitude of activist organizations that hold social media seminars and classes which will lead to lower enrollment at J-schools as time goes on.

With the old media in a rapid decline and the demise of newspapers predicted by the end of the decade if not sooner what is the value of a Journalism degree anyway?

Based on the number of unemployed journalists these days I would say not much.

Don Irvine is the chairman of both Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.