Sunday, November 23, 2008

Journalism education: Begin anywhere

"Before it was InDesign, it was paste-up and darkroom courses."

"J-school == glorified trade school."

"A few can teach themselves."

"lynda should replace formal education."

"for some students class definitely gets in the way."

"the important point is that you have a whole community of 'tweeple' now to to help advance your learning."

Some journalism students held a discussion on Twitter late Saturday night about journalism education. The ideas go beyond the young students.

These days, all smart journalists are looking at how they should retrain themselves or update their skills, and many have moved beyond waiting for their company (or their school) to hand the tools to them.

The question even for experienced journalists: What kind of class should I take? Should I just focus on the software? Is a community college course in HTML as valuable as a certificate program like the one offered by UNC's journalism school? Should I just focus on the technical tools I can learn on my own? Who needs a high-priced program anyway?

Funny thing:
I remember having these same conversations 25 years ago. It wasn't on Twitter, and didn't span a group from Alaska to Florida, but the questions remain quite similar:
"How will counting headlines by hand help my career in a world of new technical innovation?"
"How will writing programs on sequential punch cards help me in a world of new computers?"(Yes, I punched cards.)
"These professors are old and out of touch. I can learn everything I need at the school newspaper. I'm switching my major to something else." (Some did, successfully).

Those memories have a point: No matter what software you learn now, you will have to learn something new later. No matter how good (or bad) your journalism school or company is, your education and career are in your own hands. To continue to be marketable, you need to demonstrate a continued ability to learn, to cross discipline boundaries, to make connections and to think.

I can't tell who will get more bang for their buck at the moment: Those who pick up skills online or in a tech class, or those who go for broader programs at established schools like UNC. But as one young tweeter said: Having community support and role models, tweeple or otherwise, helps immensely.

Begin anywhere.


Rich said...

Encourage (and reward) innovation. Every day.

Kevin said...

Since I was part of this philosophical conversation, I feel I should say something.

Does the fact that you had this conversation in college 25 years ago make it futile? Or all the more vital?

Certainly it shows the journalists' timeless thirst for all things meta. Seems there are few things we enjoy discussing more than ourselves.

Ultimately, I think college ought not be used to figure out such basic things as HTML, how to use Photoshop, what Twitter is. All are basic vocational skills young journalists should know. But they hardly need the tutelage of learned scholars for that, especially at the handsome prices universities charge.

No, college ought to be used for higher learning. Students should seek professors that challenge, new ideas, courses that expand their knowledge of the world. Journalism, after all, is a lot like the "liberal arts." You investigate, discover, and report back for people who don't have time for such malarkey -- you know, the readers, folks with real jobs.

In the end, that's what I like best about journalism. It's a career that asks, nay demands, one fundamental aim:

Never stop learning.