Poynter: Traditional Colleges Unsustainable

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

In a webcast held by the Poynter Institute’s News University entitled, “The Future of Journalism Education,” Howard Finberg discussed the changing environment of journalism and the future of education. As evidenced by Finberg’s presentation over the internet via webcast, technology is changing the face of journalism in addition to the value (or perception of value) of a journalism degree.

Finberg opened the discussion by saying that the two major issues facing journalism are technological shifts and the pressures of today’s economy, which has struggled for the past several years to regain momentum. While Finberg refrained from placing blame, he acknowledged that the economy has hit journalism the hardest.

The fact that traditional colleges and universities missed the initial wave of technology caused the entire college business model to shift to Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s, and other online learning models, argued Finberg. This is in part due to the traditional news media that refused to embrace the advances of technology. In Finberg’s words, the news industry “thought it could hold back the wave” of free exchange of information on the internet by hiding behind paywalls and restricting the flow of information exclusive to their newspapers. He said, “This is not how we can stop it from happening.” Instead he urged the “embracing” and then the integrating of technological changes into the journalism environment.

The reason why journalism and traditional colleges struggle with technological advances is that these changes came “a lot faster than people are comfortable with.” Today, the discussion has evolved from focusing on the value of education to the value of having a four-year college degree in journalism, which Finberg said should not be the focus of the discussion. Rather, he suggested that competency, or whether someone knows how to be a journalist, should be the leading issue in the discussion.

The changing college model is putting more emphasis, said Finberg, on what one is learning in college and a work environment rather than the name on your college diploma, said Finberg. “It’s about digital literacy, not digital fluency,” contended Finberg. He pointed out that experience and learning how to speak the language of coders and programmers are both essential to journalism’s survival.

But, the traditional college model still depends on the importance and value of the institution’s name, not experience. This, coupled with journalism professionals who are ignoring the future and are not pushing reform in academia, has created today’s struggling journalism profession. “Professionals need to pay more attention to the academy (he means academia)” and not “just wish [ourselves] back to the 1990s”.

When Finberg did a mini-poll of the audience, asked the question “What’s holding back change at your school?” 47.54% of the respondents blamed their fellow faculty members. Sixteen percent blamed college administrations and both accreditation committees and chairs or deans garnered almost 5% of the vote respectively.


Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.