Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Profs, Professionals Agree about Students' Editing Skills

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Profs, Professionals Agree about Students' Editing Skills

Article excerpt

News editing has undergone several waves of substantial change in the last 25 years. The most obvious has been technological. Computer editing, pagination and digital imaging, which were barely a dream 30 years ago, are tools of the trade today.

Organizational change is a more recent development. Among its manifestations are design desks, newsroom teams and maestro approaches, as well as increased awareness of the need for better leadership and people skills.

The growth of online media has spawned a third area of considerable ferment, one that has quickened in the last year or two. Aspects of this change are the integration of print and Web staffs, the introduction of multimedia coverage by newspapers and convergent newsroom experiments.

Journalism educators who prepare students to enter the world of news editing have been watching these changes for decades with a mixture of fascination and trepidation. Hitting a moving target is always a challenge, but to stretch a metaphor, journalism educators feel they have to bit the old targets at the same time they're shooting at the one or more in motion.

How should journalism education address these changes? The continuum is broad from retreating to the basics of copyediting and headline-writing and letting industry handle the rest to going one better than industry and experimenting with new curricular forms to meet a multimedia world. Courses already are jammed with training in traditional skills, skills that most would agree remain crucial. (1) The questions are fairly simple but the answers complex: How much technology should we teach or expect students to learn by themselves? A lot, a little or none? What does the industry want, and is it appropriate to expect journalism programs to provide it? Do journalism programs have the resources--human and financial? Can they go too far too fast? If journalism programs jump wholeheartedly into multimedia education, are they running the risk of creating the 21st century equivalent of a videotext curriculum?

Another way to phrase the question is as follows: Where should journalism educators focus when they design editing curricula? Should they teach skills from the past and present, should they try to predict and prepare for the future or all of the above? There has long been a belief that the industry is closer to the cutting edge of innovation because it has access to more expertise and the latest technology. Is that belief supported by data? Which group, for example, is more inclined to say multimedia skill is important?

This study, which is based on a survey of ACEJMC-accredited programs, examines what professors say is important for students to know about editing. It also compares what professors at accredited programs say about necessary skills with what professional copy editors say is important. The issue that lies beneath the surface of many such discussions is where the academy should be. Should it lead the industry or follow? It is difficult to begin to answer that question without a dear sense of where the academy is now in the teaching of copy editing skills.


For some in the academy, the question of which skills to teach is overshadowed by another: Should journalism and communication programs continue to emphasize professional skills that prepare students for jobs in traditional media industries, or should they focus their energies elsewhere? This criticism takes different forms; one version holds that journalism and communication programs should pay much less attention to practitioner skills training because of its vocational nature. Instead of ensuring that students will have industry-specific entry-level skills, schools should concentrate on conceptual and critical issues. The University of North Dakota's School of Communication, for example, "abandoned a subservience to career tracks in favor of a curriculum organized around significant communication issues. …

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