Dear Dean of the Journalism School…. – Huffington Post
For the past few days I have been writing about the ‘death’ of journalism as a profession.
This morning, I got an email from a classmate of mine at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (Class of 1983).
She wrote: “I Actively try to talk people out of it.”
A career in journalism, that is.
And good advice.
Jobs are few and far between and evaporating all the time.
That doesn’t mean that there is no future to ‘journalism’. There simply is no future to the way that we currently define it, and more importantly, teach it.
Here, I speak from experience. I taught at both Columbia University’s journalism school and NYU’s Journalism School. I have seen first-hand what they teach, and more importantly, how they perceive the profession (or is it a craft?)
Unlike Law or Medicine, professions who have a history of thousands of years (from the Code of Hammurabi – 1754 BC to the first surgery in Egypt under Imhotep 2750 BC); law and medicine have been around for a LONG time. They have history.
Journalism, on the other hand, was pretty much created yesterday.
In 1690, (that would be AD), Benjamin Harris published one of the first newspapers in Boston. The Journalism School at Columbia University was not founded until 1892 by Joseph Pulitzer (publisher of The World), who needed better trained employees.
The education that I got at Columbia was not all that far removed from what Pulitzer’s students were being taught a mere 120 years ago. How to go out, find a story, write it up and turn it in.
That skill (which we called RW1 for Reporting and Writing at the J-School) has not changed all that much – albeit the addition of radio, TV, the Internet and computers. (We learned on manual typewriters, for crying out loud!)
But taking the same basic concept – learning to ‘report’, and jamming in new technology is not really much of a step in the right direction. Rather it is a kind of re-arranging of the 1892 model – adapting it to the perceived needs of 21st Century employers. Except there just aren’t that many 21st Century employers anymore, because there aren’t that many 21st jobs as ‘Journalist’.
Last year, CNBC stated that ‘reporter’ was the second worst job for the future. (Lumberjack was number one worst job). As there is no Columbia University Graduate School of Lumberjacks, we can take pride in our achievement. A graduate school training people for a job with no future (And charging them $63,257 for the privilege. (Wait, let me catch my breath). And who is telling them that there is no future to their ‘profession’? Why, CNBC for crying out loud. A would-be (or would not be) employer. Listen up!
But this does not mean that there is no future for some variant of ‘journalism’, something more in tune with the needs (or architecture) of the post Internet world. Why not change what the school does?
At its foundation, ‘journalism’ is the process of going out, gathering information, organizing it to make it comprehensible, and distributing it to those who need it.
Does this sound familiar?
Isn’t this what Google does? Isn’t this what Facebook does? Isn’t this what Airbnb does? Isn’t this what Tripadvisor does?
You bet it is.
So ‘journalism’ DOES have a place in the world of today (and tomorrow -as they say at Disney).
In fact, if you look at it that way, ‘journalism’ is (or could be – or SHOULD be) the very core, the very foundation of the Digital Revolution.
It is what we do!
It is what someone has to do.
But since we have refused to pick up the challenge, since we cling to being ‘reporters on the ‘beat”, we have abnegated that very key role and left it to … the software engineers (!) to own.
Those geeks (nothing personal) with their pocket pen protectors.
What in the world do they know about content and information and creativity?
Would ‘nothing’ be a good answer?
But that is exactly what we have done.
We have walked away (run away) from the crying need for someone to step up to the plate and create the standards and own and control the future of information and content processing.
But THAT is what ‘Journalism’ for the 21st Century SHOULD BE.
And lemme tell you something – go there, stake that out, make your school into something that stamps out the next generation of leaders in information and content gathering and dissemination and you won’t have any shortage of jobs for your graduates.
In fact, they will own the world.
And write you big checks as alumni.