Should entrepreneurial journalists flock to grad schools?

Allow me to play devil’s advocate on this one: I’m not convinced that universities are the best incubators for entrepreneurs.

In the video embedded above, we see Jeff Jarvis sitting in front of a roomful of prospective students, telling them all about CUNY’s new entrepreneurial journalism program. His non-verbal cues say, “I’m the teacher, and you’re the student. Take our courses, learn from us” — and then, I suppose, come out free-thinking mavericks? Hmm.

Although Jarvis mentioned his openness to changing the details of the course (whether they meet on Mondays, for instance) decision-making power is still concentrated in the hands of the course designers. The would-be students were invited to take part by asking questions, but the agenda was already set, the program courses designed, and the available seats ready to be warmed. Here are a few things I wonder:

Lecture Hall by English 106 on Flickr

(1) The pitch and platform matter. Is this really the best they could do?

I doubt that the school’s target demographic would be inspired by this bland lecture format. The room was presumably full of risk-takers with ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, but did their presence matter? Were their responses really part of the event? I mean, it may just be an information session, but if CUNY is trying to revolutionize journalistic pedagogy, couldn’t they have re-imagined the first impression?

As I watched Jarvis pitch the program, I kept thinking about his book What Would Google Do? In it, he extols the virtues of free, open, searchable, linkable media but does so in a print format, available for purchase and decidedly outside of the link economy. (I’m a new media TA, and this irony was pointed out by several first-year students who reviewed his book.)

This isn’t meant to be personal – it may be systemic. As Clay Shirky notes, established institutions tend to show bias in favour of existing systems, which “turns into a liability in times of revolution.” In periods of transition, we witness the mismatched results of applying old logics to new circumstances.

In this case, an old-fashioned presentation to promote a cutting-edge program.

If J-schools teaching entrepreneurialism don’t want to inadvertently become self-parodies, shouldn’t they acknowledge the ways in which they, too, subscribe to the top-down tendencies of institutions?

(2) Do they know who’s in the room?

Rarely do we see classrooms that are pedagogical portraitures of the students that inhabit them. That doesn’t seem to be the point of mass education.

Really, why would entrepreneurial journalists pay tuition to sit in formal classroom settings as preparation for a 21st century market that no one can yet describe? Do they see it as an island of certainty in uncertain times?

Maybe they’re figuring out ways to destroy it from within. I mean, Jarvis does say the course teaches students to disrupt legacy businesses. He later laughs nervously when describing an open-source learning project one of his students is working on, as it may disrupt the in-class model that now employs him.

As Ken Robinson argues in an RSA speech (embedded below), our pedagogical structures have been modeled in the image and interests of industrialism, and built on the logic of the enlightenment. Schools are organized with a production line mentality.

Yes, Jarvis touched on how great student feedback would be – but bringing collaboration to the classroom is about much more than feedback. Entrepreneurs are more likely to be skilled in the divergent thinking (the ability to think laterally and see lots of possible answers to a question) and harnessing that talent should be built into the very DNA of an entrepreneurial program.

To refuse standardization means throwing away the template and rethinking education itself — which leads me to my last question.

(3) Will these schools be as innovative as they expect their students to be?

We may see more of these EJ programs opening up in the next few years (another was recently announced at King’s College in Halifax). I hope their founders realize that teaching this stuff shouldn’t be a matter of crafting a different syllabus, but rather rethinking very basic mechanisms. For instance, they need systems for assigning value to unconventional thinking, deviance, and even failure — none of which are rewarded in mainstream education.

Should EJ school be a place where you learn a new skill set, or should it be about an entirely different mindset? Will the schools recruit non-traditional candidates? CUNY mentions its ethnic diversity and the presence of journalists from under-represented communities, but what about the big filter called capital-E education?

Both King’s College and CUNY have established their programs at the graduate level. Is this too high up? Some famous journalists didn’t even complete high school (June Callwood, Peter Mansbridge). What about mid-career journalists who don’t have undergraduate degrees but do have newsroom experience?

Could EJ school be a place for those who question authority, ask uncomfortable questions, and propose ridiculous ideas? A place for those who resist classroom/newsroom conditioning, and the comfort and convenience of pack journalism? A place of possibility and inspiration, where professors aren’t at podiums and students don’t sit in neat rows?

Ultimately, my question is: are entrepreneurial J-schools just another place where you might go to learn – or do they have to, fundamentally, be a place where you go to unlearn?

What’s more, do these places of learning have to be associated with universities at all?

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Full disclosure: This reflection was originally written to spark discussion in my media ethics and leadership class. If you don’t normally follow my blog, you should be aware that I am in graduate school for journalism. Clearly, I think there are advantages to preparing for the profession through higher education. Still, I am genuinely curious about how entrepreneurial spirit would fare in the ivory tower. I welcome your thoughts!

TWITTER FEEDBACK

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Who are the most promising new journalists?

Former "snowballs" - anonymously submitted student questions, thrown to the front of the lecture hall. As you can see, some students kept it very general.

I have to confess right away: this post will not thoroughly answer the headline’s question —  yet.

Actually, I was hoping to borrow your collective brainpower.  Quick background: I’m the TA for the UBC School of Journalism’s undergraduate New Media course, and many of the students are interested in getting into journalism.

Today we had the students throw “snowballs” (anonymous crumpled up questions) to the front of the lecture hall. It turns out many of them are interested in how new journalists are making their way into the field.

More specifically, they want suggestions on who to watch – emerging journalists that they can see as mentors. (You know, “most likely to succeed” high school yearbook style.)

I have a few names in mind, but I’m really hoping to get peer input on this one. I’d love a good cross-section from various backgrounds and J-schools (although, more than formally studying journalism,  it’s important that they excel at practicing it). I’m also hoping to include many approaches to the craft, and I’m open to suggestions outside of Canada.

If you have anyone in mind, I’d love if you could fire off any/all of the following, where applicable:

  • Name
  • J-school
  • Current/Past employers
  • Publications in which their work has appeared
  • Platforms they work in
  • Blog/twitter feed/website
  • Link to a good sample of their work <–very important!

The only requirements are that they are new to the industry – which may or may not mean they’re twenty-somethings – and that you really think they show great potential. I’ll be sure to post the list I come up with, with priority to those that send me cross-platform samples I can show the students.

Please comment below or email me at ef (dot) carletti (at) gmail (dot) com

Thank you immensely everyone! And congrats to those already recommended by their peers!

-Fab

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JOURNALISTS SUGGESTED SO FAR

So far I’ve including all the names suggested to me by people who have read the criteria above. I’ll include more details about the journalists I highlight in my follow-up blog post, but for now, you can:

Find them on twitter!
@jesse_mclean @buhfy @jtwittah @amp6 @AdrianMorrow @ChrisJai @DakGlobe @metrolens @StuartAtGazette @jayme_poisson @writefullydevon@LaurenAtGazette @tamara_baluja @liemvu @ziannlum @NicoleatTheSpec @robyndoolittle @klaszus@l_stone @cfedio @dylan_robertson@JodieMartinson @ardenzwelling @sarah_millar @ddale8@nonstopnicktv @erinmillar @jesslinzey@Eric_Szeto @jesseferreras @EBDuggan@allisoncross @katecallen @sunnyfreeman @thesunnydhillon

THE NEW FACES OF JOURNALISM

Jesse McLean

Jennifer Yang

Justin Tang

Anna Mehler Paperny

Adrian Morrow

Dakshana Bascaramurty

Beth Hong

Stuart A. Thompson

Chloé Fedio

Jayme Poisson

Amanda Ash

Devon Wong

Lauren Pelley

Tamara Baluja

Dylan C. Robertson

Liem Vu

Robyn Doolittle

Nicole O'Reilly

Jeremy Klaszus

Laura Stone

Jodie Martinson

Jessica Linzey

Zi-Ann Lum

Sarah Millar

Arden Zwelling

Liam Casey

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

Erin Millar

Kate Allen

Allison Cross

Jesse Ferreras

Eric Szeto

Rebecca Lindell

Evan Duggan

Daniel Dale

Chris Jai Centeno

Sunny Freeman

Teri Pecoskie

Iain Marlow

Journalism? Are you crazy?

What do you mean watchdog? I'm obviously a parrot! (Many thanks to my dog for modeling)

I recently began my job as a teaching assistant, and I’ve already had to clarify that I’m not a madwoman.

I’ll explain momentarily, but here’s some background: I’m assisting in the UBC School of Journalism’s only undergraduate course. The subject is New Media, and the class has proven to be a magnet for students who want to figure out if this field is right for them.

One such student interjected during the most recent lecture. We were looking at the Newspaper Death Watch website quite generally, but a specific poll caught the student’s eye.

“How would you answer that question?” she said to the instructor, Candis Callison.

The question: What would you tell a college student considering a journalism career?

The options:

  1. What, are you nuts?
  2. It’s a noble profession, but be prepared for a life of poverty
  3. You can make a decent living, kid, but you’d better specialize
  4. Go for it! This is a great time to get in on the ground floor.

Candis smiled and turned to me. (I am, after all, a student who decided to get into journalism despite the terror in my grandmother’s eyes.)

“What do you think, Fabiola?”

Well, I denied being “nuts” (though I did joke about embracing my status as a child of chaos) and wrote a follow-up forum post for the class. I started by saying that there is no short answer. Instead there’s a fascinating and ongoing debate. In fact, smart and experienced people hold a wide spectrum of views.

Although this is clearly dodging the question, I’m glad a student raised it so early in the semester. We’re going to revisit it often and, as we navigate the variables, I’d wager that opinions will change several times throughout the course.

In the meantime, I mentioned one point I’ve found interesting: CBC journalist Ira Basen believes that the “crisis in journalism” is not just economic but also existential. In fact, his two-part podcast on “News 2.0.” is a great entry point into the debate.

Part One

Part Two

I encouraged them (and you!) to take a break from the books and check it out. It’s a great overview of a complex landscape.

Some friends on twitter also weighed in:

It’s too early to give away my thoughts on the matter, but clearly I was not deterred – even after attending many harrowing lectures and conferences, and reading tons of doomsday material.

Jesse Brown, for instance, started a speech for a room full of student journalists called “The Future of News.” He laughed at us as we leaned forward in our chairs and then told us the real title of his presentation, captured in the following photo:

Jesse Brown dashes dreams, but makes it damn funny.

(Spoiler alert!) Fabiola Carletti went to J-school anyway and, nearing graduation, still really wants to do this thing. She also thinks a lot of the journalists she admires are, well, just a little crazy — and she’s okay with that.

Note: Fabiola also lapses into the third person, from time to time.