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November 30, 2023

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A call for a class to talk about the dangers of new media

A report issued last week caused a small stir among professionals as well as college journalists and educators. Some saw it as indicative of a need for more new media training in college classrooms.

But those desires need to be met with calls for another kind of class – a much more important one.

The study, from Bryan Murley of Eastern Illinois University, found a majority of college media advisers see their student media programs as falling behind the industry in terms of adapting to new technology (it’s available at

The need for such adaptation is old news to most journalism students like me.

We are constantly told print media are slowly dying. We’re told we need the ability to not only write and report, but blog, podcast, shoot video, be familiar with the Web and more – look for an example at Jon Marshall’s “Telling stories in different ways” from Quill magazine in April 2007.

Price Waterhouse Coopers reported in May that overall online ad revenue had grown 35 percent from the year before – crucial money for news media that depend on ads to survive.

Editors at newspapers of all sizes say journalism students need to have experience writing for the Web and uploading their stories as soon as they graduate, according to a recent study from James Madison University found e (as reported by Inside Higher Ed on Aug. 13).

The New York Times hosts 30 blogs on its Web site and updates the four videos on its front page several times a week.

The most active students have been demanding changes in the way they’re taught so these new skills are emphasized. These students don’t want to miss out on the media jobs that will be in demand when they leave school.

Fine, change the curriculum. But I beg of the powers that be: If you do so, also give us a class to talk about the consequences of what journalists are doing as they make these wholesale changes (sometimes excitedly, sometimes not) to the way they work.

Journalists should not leave a university setting without having some larger understanding of the profession we cherish so much, the profession we tout as so vital to a functioning democracy.

Please, professors, talk to us about the democratic implications of how the move toward the Web is primarily driven by economic concerns – not any concern for improving journalism or an informed citizenry (Edward Wasserman said the same thing in the Winter 2006 Nieman Reports).

Print out any number of articles about how Craigslist and Google AdWords are scaring the bejesus out of newspaper advertising departments. Use those to make us nervous about whether news should be driven by the whims of the market.

We also need to challenge whether stories can be told effectively via any medium, as journalists valiantly struggle to adapt their content to new media.

This means asking whether it’s a joke to say a graphic filling the front page is in any way as useful as an actual news article.

Make us read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which criticizes TV news, and ask whether we really want to give in to Web video-on-demand so easily. Give us C. John Sommerville’s “How the News Makes Us Dumb,” which warns of how little knowledge we receive from daily (daily!) publishing, and ask how breaking news e-mail updates are at all informative.

These are just a few suggestions – use any books you like.

Perhaps such classes already exist and I’m not aware of them.

But at Northwestern University’s Medill School, for example, one of the country’s most prestigious journalism schools, they spent 18 months redesigning the curriculum to recognize “today’s unprecedented turbulence, challenges and opportunities in journalism.”

But a look at their finished product suggests no available class similar to the one I’ve described (see the curriculum online by searching for “Medill School” and tell me if I’m wrong).

Those of you in dry academic subjects have incentive to demand such a class, too, if only to keep news media interested in your field’s work.

Heck, why not make it a general education class? Tech-savvy freshmen are supposedly part of the group causing journalists to change their practices – why not talk with them about the consequences?

By all means, create lots of classes about the great things the Web can do, like hyperlinking within articles. Teach us all about it.

For now, I leave it up to you to decide what classes to keep or close in response.

All I ask for is a little balance – like any good journalist would.

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