The Gap between Online Journalism Education and Practice: The Twin Surveys

Article excerpt

This U.S. national survey of online journalism professionals and instructors examines and compares their perceptions of skills, concepts, and duties. It offers updated insights into the changes taking place in online journalism classrooms and newsrooms, and uncovers the discordance between online journalism education and practice. The results show that online journalism education is tied to traditional journalism in many ways, but is not merely a more technologically focused version of traditional journalism. Future journalists should be trained to be well-versed in multiple aspects of journalism and technology, rather than specializing in only one or two types of tasks.

Today's journalism graduates are walking into a field that is constantly changing because of technology and convergence. The skills that media professionals need to survive and succeed have shifted with the evolution of technologies. While the industry undergoes revolutionary changes, are journalism schools moving in the same direction? Are journalism educators responding accordingly? And are they teaching the skills and concepts that catch up to the demands of the industry? Amid the emergence of online journalism, as journalism and mass communication programs seek to integrate online and digital components into their curriculum, understanding what is needed in today's newsrooms and the disconnection between newsrooms and classrooms is vital for educators.

For decades, the gap between journalism education and journalism practice has been a focus of debate in the field. Professional journalists chide journalism professors for attempting to teach students about what they see as a trade best learned in its practice. Many journalism educators feel an antipathy or estrangement between themselves and the working press. Since the emergence of online journalism, the professioii's criticism of journalism education has continued unabated. Given the constant and revolutionary changes taking place in the journalism profession, it is ever important to revisit the old "gap" issue in this new context.

This study attempts to reexamine the discordance, if it still exists, between education and practice by comparing online journalism professionals and educators' perceptions of key skills, concepts, and duties for online journalism. It reports an overview of what is taught in online journalism classrooms and what is necessary in online newsrooms and offers updated insights into the changes taking place in online journalism classrooms and newsrooms. For educators who teach online journalism and journalism program administrators, this study may help in developing the appropriate curriculum to prepare students to work in the field.

Literature Review

Education-Practice Gap. Journalism education has been criticized for failing to move in tandem with the real world of the newsroom for decades. Ongoing debates between media professionals and journalism educators concern what is needed in newsrooms and what should be taught in classrooms. The one thing on which they agree is that something must be done to narrow the divide.

As early as 1967, Highton lamented that "newspapering [was] becoming a sidelight, if not an afterthought, of many journalism schools."1 Starting from the 1980s, several studies have looked at "the gap" from the professional point of view. Overall, these studies have revealed that many media professionals are dissatisfied with the basic writing skills of new graduates.2

Professional associations and projects have also joined individual scholars in studying the gap between education and practice. Several studies commissioned by professional organizations have reported that industry professionals and leaders are not enthusiastic about the performance of journalism and mass communication education, and have suggested that more lecturing/teaching by journalism professionals is the best way to improve the industry's relationship with academia. …