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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Journalism job, curriculum advice: Build online portfolio

As one of the “online guys” here on campus, I get asked a lot about the future of journalism. Specifically students wonder if there’s a future in the major they signed up for. Over and over again, I remind them the future is what you make it. The skills you learn in J School aren’t applicable only to writing for a newspaper. They’ll help you your entire life to understand the world better. They don’t always believe me. Today, it was nice to find two other sources I can turn them to that are essentially saying the same thing. One of them, in fact, is probably where I got my ideas about the need for journalism skills to begin with.

Dan Gillmor, an online and citizen journalism pioneer, said universities need to teach media literacy to all students, no matter their discipline, Wednesday on his blog Mediactive. He also established a sound plan to guide journalism education for years to come. The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism is in the middle of curriculum reform. We’re deciding how to implement the new media into our course offerings. We’re toying with the idea Gillmor mentions, and others have suggested, of discontinuing medium-based tracks, and I hope we will because all media has begun to bleed into each other. In fact, I hope we follow many of his other suggestions, including offering more entrepreneurial journalisms courses. I’ve been lucky this quarter to work with two bright young students on an independent study project, and it’s thrilling for me to see their excitement when we meet. They are learning more in trying to create their own news application for the iPhone than I could ever teach them from a book.

Gillmor’s one suggestion I think will be a hard sell is this one:

Persuade the president (or chancellor or whatever the title) and trustees of the university that every student on the campus should learn journalism principles and skills before graduating, preferably during freshman year.

Media literacy courses are not as common as you’d think, but as someone who studies blogging and citizen journalism, I think they should be. If bloggers understood better the power of their mass disseminated words, I think they would make a more concerted effort to verify information.

Gillmor makes an excellent point as well about respecting our graduates no matter what field they choose. Joe Grimm and Colleen Eddy underscored this point in a live chat on Poynter.org Wednesday. More and more, journalism graduates and former reporters are finding meaningful journalism work outside of traditional media. The employers who hire journalism grads include Internet start-ups, PR firms and corporate communications departments because they are looking for the critical thinking skills you can only learn in J School.eddy

But they are also looking for online experience. Many of those new jobs and a bunch of the current ads are looking for people with social media experience. Companies are looking for people who understand Facebook and Twitter. The best way to learn these platforms and the Internet in general is playing around with them, Grimm said.grimm

My takeaway from today’s live chat and Gillmor’s wisdom is I need to give my students more opportunities to mess around online. Forcing them to blog in class is a good start, but what I really need to focus on is helping them build online portfolios. Gillmor takes it one step further in saying J Schools need to develop publications that can pad a resume. Both of these ideas are being tossed around at Ohio University, and at first, I resisted. I got out of journalism so I wouldn’t have to face a daily deadline any more. However, I’ve come to realize that J School is the perfect place for students to try. They need to be able to learn by making mistakes, and I don’t know of many employers, especially in today’s climate that can offer that.

I resolve to add more online experiences to my courses. It’s funny sometimes how easy it is. In my news editing class, I borrowed an idea from another professor to require students to complete a weekly editing journal with a word of the week, a catch of the week and a rewritten headline. Why didn’t I have them blog instead?

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2 Responses to “Journalism job, curriculum advice: Build online portfolio”

  1. Agreed across the board. One thing I’m becoming convinced of as I teach Multimedia Reporting is that we need to put them in classes that immerse them in the Web. They need to learn how to do some of this stuff, but more importantly there’s a Web culture and architecture they have to figure out, and the only way to do that is to have them try it.

    I just went through Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” again for an indie study I’m doing with a grad student. It’s interesting to read this as a Webhead who understands a lot of his ideas, but I wonder how his stuff will be taken by someone who’s never thought about any of this before.

    Not sure where I was going with that …

    February 4, 2010 at 9:32 am
  2. Kevin Schlag #

    I often get comments from people that I’m able to explain tech stuff to non-techies in a rare way. I’m convinced my background in journalism is the cause, and gives me a competitive advantage.

    February 4, 2010 at 2:16 pm

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