Extreme Makeover: Industry Changes Force the Nation's Journalism Schools to Reinvent Themselves to Better Prepare Students for the Demands of the Job Market

Article excerpt

At the University of Mississippi, a team of student journalists recently concluded a series of in-depth stories on life in the Mississippi Delta. The package of stories has been given to he Mississippi Press Association, which will distribute them to newspapers throughout the state for publication at no cost. In the fall, the students will release an hourlong documentary about the Mississippi Delta that will be broadcast on public television.

Faculty at the University of Colorado's journalism school are working with their colleagues in the business school to develop a joint certificate in media entrepreneurship. Michigan State University offers journalism degrees that specialize in certain subjects, including environmental studies.

Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck, dean of the Scripps-Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University, recently put her faculty through several days of extensive multimedia training, a strategy she calls "retooling her faculty." On one occasion she brought in a faculty member from the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., to train faculty and students in telling stories across multiple platforms. On another occasion, experts from the E.W. Scripps Network conducted faculty training sessions via Skype on subjects ranging from social media tools and ethics in the age of the Internet.

Like out-of-work journalists, the nation's estimated 400 journalism schools and programs are working aggressively to reinvent themselves. They are rethinking their methods for hiring new faculty, providing free in-depth content to news organizations, partnering with foundations and corporations to develop strategies to save news outlets and teaming up with other academic divisions at their respective universities to offer dual programs.

"The changes in the industry have had a major impact on the way journalism schools have reformatted themselves," says Dr. Joe Foote, dean of the Gaylord School of Journalism and Communications at Oklahoma University. His school is exploring partnerships with several colleges and departments, including engineering, marketing, theater and fine arts.

To be sure, unlike daily newspapers, magazines and commercial TV newscasts, journalism schools are not struggling with their numbers. Enrollment has inched upward every year since the mid-1990s. According to a study conducted by the Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, enrollment in journalism and mass communications programs in the fall of 2008 numbered nearly 201,500 students, compared with 149,200 in 1998.

But enrollment figures notwithstanding, chiefs of journalism programs say changing the way they do business is critical to their survival, particularly as the industry for which they are preparing students to work is going through some of the most dramatic changes in nearly a century.

"Right now in journalism schools, most of the attention is being paid to how journalism is reinventing itself," says Dr. Carol J. Pardun, president of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications. "The project at Ole Miss - those kinds of things are happening all over the country. It's a very exciting time for students. They can become the experts and they often know more about the skill set (after graduation) than those that have been working in there for a very long time."

Pardun, the director of the University of South Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communications, adds that each year a faculty member at her school takes a team of students to Munich, Germany. They are turned loose in the city and given two weeks to report and write stories for a multimedia project. Other examples of such ambitious student journalism projects abound. At the University of Mabama, a journalism professor takes a team of students to a different major European city each year to work on a multimedia magazine. A journalism professor at Florida A&M University took six students to South Africa to work on stories about the World Cup. …