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Are J-schools pulling their weight in inventing the future of news? 5/23/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in J-schools.

Maybe it’s just me, but I am starting to sense a disturbing trend in the way j-school leaders talk. We know the complaints students often have of the other departments on their campuses — “those professors, all they care about is research, not teaching.” But there ought to be few complaints about journalism professors doing too much research these days. After all, these students’ futures depend upon the creation of new business models to replace the ones now threatened by the Internet.

Unfortunately, if the nation’s top j-schools are actually conducting the research required to create these new news models, you would never know it from listening to their deans. For example, at Columbia University’s commencement, Dean Nicholas Lemann said, “I would urge you…not to take it for granted that the best way to present information is…a method of presentation that grew up in the nineteenth century and dominated our profession for most of the twentieth, but may not in the twenty-first…[News] is not going to look just like the package of material that populates a newspaper now…Inventing this is your task. You can’t avoid it—the old way doesn’t work any more—but it’s a far more creative, challenging assignment than what was handed to my generation when we went to journalism. Our job was to improve on the old model. Your job is to create a new model.” If this were a commencement at a vocational academy for journalists, I would agree that perhaps that wasn’t the school’s job. But, this is Columbia University, arguably the nation’s top journalism school and one of the world’s great research institutions. And when we do hear new ideas from this j-school, they are often about moving backwards — toward a government bailout or greater regulation of local television. The Dean owes his students, and the world, a whole lot more.


1. Charlie Beckett - 5/24/08

I wonder if we need a new alliance between J-Schools and Business Schools? I don’t think that journalists (or journalism professors) and the best people to think of new models. They should at least team up with the technologists and the economists. My partner college the London College of Communications does a great option course for creatives to teach them how to set up an arts/crafts based business. I would love to hear of people who have done some thing similar with journalism,
Charlie Beckett
Polis, LSE

2. Steve Boriss - 5/24/08

I could not agree more. I’m looking into this as well. Perhaps we can share ideas offline.

3. Johnny Cache - 5/27/08

Business schools?!?! Give me a break… that is such an “academic” answer.

If schools want to crank out relevant graduates, J-schools need to get in bed with the media that are doing it, not talking about it.

If you want to know what is really going on with new media, ask the experts… you see them every day.

4. Steve Boriss - 5/27/08

Johnny Cache,

I did not mean to imply that j-schools shouldn’t be working with the media that are doing it — actually, their research would require that they get this input and learning. But I also think that since we are talking about new business models, theory developed from academic researchers, especially in business disciplines, can generate some solutions that might elude media outlets now rightly obsessed with keeping the old models afloat.

5. Johnny Cache - 5/27/08

Not sure what you mean by “rightly obsessed with keeping the old models afloat.”

Can you elaborate?

6. Steve Boriss - 5/27/08

Johnny Cache,

Just that current focus of news outlets, by necessity, must now be on surviving, making the old models work. This is not necessarily the best environment for developing the outside-the-box ideas that may be needed.

7. Johnny Cache - 5/28/08

Interesting. Not sure I agree, though.

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