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Bridging the gap between school and industry

June 15, 2011

In an attempt to bridge the gap between journalism professionals and educators, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication has held a series of panel discussions around the country this year to develop ideas that will enhance both the mass media industry and academia.

The fourth and final “ideas summit,” which was held at American University in Washington, DC, last week, addressed such issues as what skills journalism students should develop while they are in school, the role of technology in the classroom and the newsroom, and the kinds of job opportunities that are awaiting graduates.

The conference featured three panels: one consisting of four media professionals, another made up of five journalism and mass communication professors, and a third with four recent college graduates who work in the media industry.

The panel of professional journalists and advertisers seemed to agree that the most important skill journalism majors should learn is writing. But the panel also called on educators to teach students core journalism values such as skepticism, critical thinking skills, ethical decision making, and the ability to verify facts.

They said it was important that students know enough about new technology that they can quickly learn how to use whatever content management software a particular media organization utilizes.

The mass comm academics said schools are doing a good job of teaching students the core values of journalism, but they acknowledged that it is tough for universities to keep pace with the ever-changing world of technology. The goal of academic institutions, they said, should be to remain useful to the industry and get to the forefront of innovations – both big and small.

For their part, the recent college graduates said they learned a good deal of skills from their education, adding that the best thing professors can do is allow students to get their hands dirty with real life reporting and media work.

Among the many observations made during the conference:

  • Students who aspire to be reporters may find these jobs hard to come by as more media companies do more aggregating than producing original news.
  • Some news organizations like Bloomberg Government are seeking to monetize their news product by moving away from episodic coverage and providing more in-depth perspective and analysis that readers will pay for.
  • College graduates make themselves more marketable when they show less interest in themselves and more about the world around them.
  • All employees in the media industry, regardless of position in an organization, should think of themselves as innovators who can drive the industry forward.
  • Journalism professionals and educators must work together to bring innovation to the industry.
  • Educators must continue teaching the core concepts of journalism while also introducing students to the need to consider the growing diversity of their audience.
  • Mass Communication educators should consider working with professors in other academic disciplines, such as computer science.

The panel of academics also took issue with a blog in the Daily Beast recently that called journalism degrees useless. The panel stressed that students learn a variety of skills in journalism classes that can be translated to any number of jobs.

The findings of the four summits held by AEJMC will be summarized in a report that will be released at the organizations national conference in St. Louis in August.

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