Friday, March 17, 2006

Students, teachers and visionaries

The annual convention of College Media Advisers is here in New York this week. And if I finish this post and a few other items in a timely fashion, I may make another trip in to Manhattan to hear some lectures and talk to some of the roughly 1,500 college journalists who attend the convention.
I was at CMA earlier this week (I'm on the association's professional advisory board.) Last week I visited Northwest Missouri State's new media program (I'm on a similar board there.) So I've been giving a lot of thought of late to the next generation of journalists.
And much of what I've been thinking hasn't been positive.

Perhaps the strangest thing I've run into is what I've come to think of as the silo student. Kids keep handing me resumes that look like they were written 20 years ago. They mention the student newspaper, the yearbook and the college literary magazine. But they don't mention Web sites, blogs, email newsletters, podcasts, html skills, citizen journalism projects, video, etc. And when I ask the students about their online experience, I get these weird responses. Lots of them tell me "I only want to work for a newspaper." Lots of them say things like "I'm going to be a writer, not anything else." Some seem genuinely perplexed and ask me if I think "most newspapers have Web sites?" or if "reporters need to do things on the Web?"

When I asked teachers what they thought about this, I found that they were as upset as I was by their students' disconnect from the realities of media today.
Teachers told me over and over again that their students were adamantly opposed to converging news operations at their schools. The print kids don't like the TV kids; the Web kids don't like the print kids, etc. The "cultures" don't mix, so the products don't mix and the students don't develop multimedia skills. Remarkably, as one teacher pointed out, few print students actually "lived" in the world of old media. They all owned iPods. They snap photos with cell phones, communicate with Instant Messenger and join social-networking sites. Yet they expect to work in some sort of old-fashioned land of ink and paper.
A number of teachers blamed the disconnect on their peers in college journalism programs. Many programs are dominated by older, established teachers who haven't worked in the press for decades and have an open contempt for newer forms of media. And no doubt such elitist dinosaurs are helping to create a new generation of unemployable followers.

If you take a look at what I wrote on this blog a year ago today, you'll see that the silo student is not a new phenomenon.
And longtime readers of this blog know that I still find silo professionals as well -- veteran journalists who have failed to develop new media skills -- and that I urge publishers to fire them.
I take a similarly harsh stand with students. As I told the folks at CMA, I have no interest in even talking to a student who has neither the curiosity to acquire basic new-media skills nor the common sense to understand that the industry is changing.

The person I did want to talk to -- the king of new media skills, the visionary who has taught us much about change -- wasn't around. Rob Curley is also on the professional advisory board, but he didn't make the meeting. Although I'm a fan of Rob's, we've never met in person. And I had been looking forward to being as star-struck as this guy was.

tags: , , , , , conversational media, ,


  1. I love magazines. I went into the J-School at KU with a mission to work on magazines. I didn't like the quick newspaper style. I had no desire to do TV. And the web? I’d never heard of anyone going to school to be an online journalist. I wanted to write and edit for magazines.

    And here I am today an editor on a trade magazine with an active website and 14 e-newsletters (yes, 14, and most of them are biweekly). And I recently took the lead on starting a blog for my ASBPE chapter (

    Working with the blog, in particular, has been a lesson in the fluidity of journalism. I can adapt my magazine writing and editing skills for the web. I wish I had learned this lesson while still in school, but I don't know that I was ready then. I don't know that most journalism students are ready now.

    A little more background: I was one of the guinea pig students in the first convergent media classes at KU. I now see what my professors were attempting to accomplish, but I didn't get it then. I think there were three key reasons.

    First: This was their first try at mixing print, TV and web. The waters were bound to be choppy. The future of media convergence was unknown. How media would integrate was anyone’s guess. So we were taught each media, for the most part, separately with a bit of crossover in story topics.

    Second: The classes focused on convergence before they focused on the basic foundation all media shares: good writing. Solid writers can transfer their skills from one media to another. But I hadn't acquired those skills yet. I was lost and frustrated trying to write across the media before I could properly write for one.

    Third: I didn't see how it applied to me. The mix of newspaper reporting; TV script writing, filming and editing; and a bit of web work seemed like an overview course of all media that I wanted to avoid. (Apparently, this whole convergence thing wasn’t really going to apply to magazines.)

    Now I’m getting a better idea of how magazines fit into this new media world. I’m looking to see how I can expand the brand and my talents beyond the monthly print cycle.

    My concern is that journalism schools are neglecting or rushing the basics to provide a crash course in all media. Being flexible in all media may be necessity for long-term survival. But a solid, focused foundation is the key, in my opinion, for a good start.

  2. Hi guys,
    Thanks for your comments.
    Spring, you raise an interesting point about creating a "solid, focused foundation." I would prefer that journalism schools put more emphasis on the most basic of our skills: reporting. Give me someone who can report, and who can do the basics (write, post a story, record an audio file, etc.) and I'll show you someone who can make it in this business. What I don't need is someone with "advanced" courses in a single medium. I need someone who can work a phone, take notes, shoot photos and record sound.
    Ed, I hadn't realized that things were just as strange with the P.R. and advertising students. So do folks at those big agencies in New York find those kids as unemployable as I would?

  3. I just worked with two college students who helped me blog Commodity Classic in Anaheim, CA. They did a great job but had no exposure to blogging as far as I could tell in school. Both are ag journalism majors. You can see
    their posts from the event using the archives we created for them on
    > Margy Fischer: University of Missouri Senior -
    Mary Irelan: University of Illinois Sophomore -

    Margy just informed us that she accepted a job upon graduation which I posted today:
    I'm wondering if her new employer (Farm Journal) will provide her with a blogging opportunity! As our business grows we're going to need talented multimedia-trained reporters who have an open mind about the opportunities.