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What journalism students need to know: New skills for a new model

After attending the C&binet conference in London, which saw an impressive group of media representatives and government officials get together to discuss the state of the media and the future of journalism, the importance of passing on this information to the next generation of journalists seemed imperative.

At City University New York, journalism students are taught entrepreneurship and business. Jeff Jarvis is clear a new set of skills for burgeoning journalists is essential for the changing climate of news. Students should learn to be stewards of journalism – learning how to set up hyperlocal sites and invite and train collaborators and turn the news site into a successful business.

Details of the hypothetical news model from CUNY can be found here – and it is in the process of being translated for the UK.

It is clear from developments in the US – which the UK will and is beginning to duly follow – journalism students need to be taught or encouraged to do entrepreneurship to make sure they take off in the new climate – rather than fall flat on their face because their traditional skill-set no longer stands up to what is required.

But why is this not happening in the UK already?

Part of the problem, I think, is not only that journalism courses are slow to amend their teaching syllabus in accordance with the changing times (probably because they have worked so well untouched for years), but also many local newspapers have failed to adapt to digital migration at the same pace as their readers. So even if trained journalists fresh out of j-school are given the right tool-set to aptly do online news, there are at the moment few places for them to shine while regional newspapers themselves adjust. In that gap, however, students could use what skills they do have to start up hyperlocal sites to practise their unique combination of traditional and new media skills.

Old hacks are desperate to learn new media skills – and many are trying now to find time outside of work hours to train themselves up, or even taking voluntary redundancy to learn how to start a website. There are plenty of unemployed journalists out there – many are flying the hyperocal flag, but not all. It was considered at the C&binet conference some training could be offered to the unemployed to allow them to contribute to hyperlocal sites while they look for work. Yet even with skills in social media and online journalism – not all will want to create their own web start-ups. Is this because entrepreneurship, in the truest sense of the word, is not easy to teach and often relies on an inner drive in the person – their get-up-and-go to take them through the difficulties and pressures of doing something on their own?

The point was also made at the conference students need an incubation period after leaving journalism school where they are given support in starting their own businesses online and any advice on what they are doing – putting them in contact with the relative right people.

Although I luckily had a tutor who inspired my mission to set up websites and follow an alternative career path, more could be done to give students the right knowledge for hyperlocal start-ups (how to buy webspace, domains, install wordpress and edit CSS for example).

While it wasn’t the reason I set up the local news site (Bournville was crying out for news coverage), I certainly benefitted from starting and running when I found myself unemployed following one year’s intensive training in newspaper journalism. Not only were editors impressed by this demonstration of entrepreneurship, but the site was also a helpful portfolio of what I could do online (it’s also worth having your own website with links to all your cuttings, blogs and Twitter feed). It attracted a number of potential employers and when faced with the decision to go into new media or a trainee reporter post on a local newspaper – I would encourage all new journalists to go where the news is going – online. In CUNY students realise the old career path is over. Perhaps we need to realise that here too.

Update 03.11.09, 12.12pm I’ve just heard Cardiff Centre for Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies is in talks with their Student Entrepreneur Unit to deliver extra-curricular classes to the journalism students. Sounds promising.

Some more blogposts on this topic have come to my attention worth looking at:

The Future of News is Entrepreneurial by Jeff Jarvis
Why I Don’t Think Journalists Need Business Skills by Philip John

Update 03.11.09, 15.09 Here’s the conversation (or Twackdown) between Philip John and Jeff Jarvis which ensued on Twitter (compiled with the help of Greasemonkey’s Twitter Script:
  1. philipjohn: I don’t think journalists need biz skills …and @JeffJarvis seems to agree with me #hyperlocal
  2. jeffjarvis: @philipjohn I think journis DO need biz skills and I think you actually agree with me…..
  3. philipjohn: @jeffjarvis They’re going to have to be freelancers to a certain extent but that’s not the same as being entrepreneurial… @Jo_Ind
  4. jeffjarvis: @philipjohn You are suggesting making business/mgt decisions – like hiring sales people. That’s entrepreneurial. Like it or not.
  5. philipjohn: @jeffjarvis Ah see I separate entrepreneurship from business mgmt. I don’t see using s’thing like GrowthSpur same as hiring sales people.
  6. jeffjarvis: @philipjohn Growthspur will train the ad sales people you use or hire & create networks to increase your rev.
  7. philipjohn: @jeffjarvis Does that not distract the journalist from being a journalist, though? Do they want to manage a business and hire sales ppl?
  8. jeffjarvis: @philipjohn Starvation also distracts the journalist. You have to run sustainable businesses. Journos won’t just be wage slaves anymore.
  9. philipjohn: @jeffjarvis Like @Jo_Ind says, I’m a purist. I understand there’s a transition to go through.
  10. Here were some comments from others at the same time on Twitter:

    jo_ind: @philipjohn U hv a purist vision 4 us journos 😉 I hv 2 learn CSS + biz skills . Why sd I expect anyone 2 do it 4 me? (@jeffjarvis)
    bounder @philipjohn I guess it’s a swapping out of distractions (no more office politics, or pushing towards career development) @jeffjarvis


Written by hrwaldram

October 29, 2009 at 4:55 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Good post with some useful tips. I’m interested to see how exactly entrepreneurialism can be taught? Ideas?

    Will Peach

    October 30, 2009 at 10:37 am

  2. Difficult one.

    Putting aside the idea entrepreneurship cannot be taught – some practical skills would be planning and executing business models, business skills such as selling advertising and web skills such as building sites.


    October 30, 2009 at 1:21 pm

  3. I think it is important that people looking to start their own online publications have a grasp of measurement.

    This not only means noting page views and unique users etc, but also the success or not of certain ad types, and the impact that different positions or colours have on click-through rates.

    A couple of tips include ensuring there are no borders between the ads and the text, and thinking what people will click on next when they reach the foot of a piece.


    November 3, 2009 at 11:44 am

  4. These are all really important things too, thanks Craig.

    From my personal experience – learning about the details of where page views come from using Google Analytics and how appearance affects users are parts of the next stage in developing a website once it is made. The basics need to be taught first.

    But these things are important and if they can’t be taught as part of the first step, should definitely be the next one.


    November 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

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