HomeAbout/Meet the Staff
SPJ 23 Website

Journalism schools adapt to new technologies, methods in changing world

By Billy O'Keefe

By Michelle Phillips
During what some experts say are monumental changes in journalism, professionals and students alike are struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demands to master new skills.
Using the Internet, social media, blogging, citizen journalism, crowd sourcing and a host of digital gadgets may intimidate some professionals. Student leaders tell another story.
“Students are some of the best assets the industry has,” said Andrew Seaman, a graduate student at Columbia University’s journalism school, and one of two student representatives on the Society of Professional Journalist’s board of directors.
With rapid technological changes catching many veteran journalists off guard, Seaman said students have the advantage of having grown up with the technology.
“It’s second nature to them,” said Tara Puckey, an undergraduate at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the other SPJ student representative.
Both Puckey and Seaman said journalism programs are changing to keep up with the industry’s growing demands on their students. Seaman noted that Columbia has integrated digital media into every concentration and has even added a digital media focus.
Twelve universities have collaborated with professional media in a program called News21 to give students a chance to report on investigative stories using new media.
One of the projects, Breakdown – a collaboration by the college students, the Center for Public Integrity, The Washington Post and MSNBC.com about transportation safety in America – made national news last week.
“Student journalists, with the right teachers, are capable of not just producing major investigative stories, but doing them in new, innovative ways,” Eric Newton, vice president of the Knight Foundation, told Mediabistro.com’s WebNewser blog last week. (See related story.)
“Every industry needs new blood and new ideas,” said Kirsten Lundberg, director of the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia University.
Mary Spillman, an assistant professor of journalism at Ball State University, said her school has adopted a curriculum integrating traditional and multimedia storytelling for a year, teaching students to tell stories on multiple platforms.
“It’s about telling the story in the best way possible using these new tools,” she said.
Neil Ralston, a journalism professor at Western Kentucky University and SPJ vice president for campus chapter affairs, said he thought students could take more risks than they do.
“They’re not responding as many of us would like,” Ralston said. He said many students are still falling back on the old media and prefer to see their name in print rather than online.
Puckey said she finds the multiplatform model of journalism frustrating. She said she came into journalism wanting to write but now finds she must also take pictures for her stories.
Ralston said he hoped that students would find the courage to experiment more with business models. A college campus is a relatively safe environment to test new approaches and might give the rest of the industry some ideas, he said.
Ralston said students have the answers in their heads.
“We just need to get them out of there,” he said.
Ralston also said he worries about fitting all the new technology into his teaching while still covering journalism basics and ethics.
“It’s like being told to fit 30 ounces of water into a 20 ounce container,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty student journalists face as they enter a changing field, students and teachers agree that the core of journalism is surviving the turmoil.
Ralston and Puckey said that SPJ remains committed to assuring freedom of expression on campus and maintaining ethical standards.
“Digital media is just another tool in the toolbox,” said Lundberg, of Columbia University. “We just have to find a way to use it without sacrificing the elements that have made journalism an important part of our civic discourse.”