Journalism School of the Future: Where You Start On the Job and Never Graduate

In a great #wjchat hosted by Jay Rosen Wednesday night on “radicalism in the newsroom,” this question was posed:

“Are J-schools today part of the problem or solution? How should they change? Should something replace them?”

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my answer, envisioning journalism schools that are “integrated into newsrooms, creating (a) continuous learning environment for the student and the experienced.”

In the old days, journalism schools prepared students “to be published” by news organizations that had authority because they owned printing presses, broadcast licenses and radio towers.

Today, everyone can be a publisher, and news organizations can range from a single-person kitchen table blogger to a crowdsourced network of otherwise disconnected and “unorganized” people coming together around a common purpose.

Every one of today’s journalism students has been published, and is in effect a publisher themselves, before attending a single day of class. That’s a strong argument for an “on-the-job learning” model similar to what is happening at the University of Missouri.

The same “everyone’s a publisher” reality argues for both newsrooms and journalism schools opening their doors to the community to be part of what Journal Register Company CEO John Paton is fond of calling “the new news ecology.”

Newsrooms should have a relationship with students pursuing journalism as a professional career. But they should also be teaching, and learning from, the soccer mom who blogs about every twist in debate over her school district’s new curriculum policy, the retired coach who maintains the world’s best statistical history of girls’ field hockey in Northwest Connecticut, the local United Way director who is blogging about the people behind the 24 nonprofits the group raises money for, and the resident who gets up every morning to test water quality in a local river and posts results on his website advocating for regional watershed protection.

We’re taking steps toward this at The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, launching one of Journal Register Company’s Community Media Labs for bloggers and citizen journalists, but also building a classroom right into the newsroom and offering free workshops for citizens, bloggers and staff.

But most important in relation to the most pressing issue for traditional media, newsrooms could use a journalism school environment themselves right now. As an industry, John Paton has said, “we’re no good” at migrating to a digital model. We have a lot of learning to do, at every level of our organizations.

So here’s my idea:

A traditional news organization should start – or merge with – a journalism school. Just a guess, but starting over would probably be easier from a pure P&L standpoint.

The Anytown News and Journalism School would employ professional reporters and editors, and journalism professors, and many who are doing both simultaneously or alternately.

They would accept students/apprentices into a formal work/study program. Instead of paying tuition, maybe these students would get paid to learn, and work.

It would be funded by creating an organization whose “student projects” are money-making, entrepreneurial journalism platforms.

But importantly (and different from any model I’ve heard about), every single full professional (or “journeyman” or “master” if you want to carry the traditional apprentice methodology of other trades) staff member would be required to continue their education, formally, until they resign or retire.

Student apprentices would graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a new title and pay grade. And then move into the next phase of their education and professional career.

This would provide a better journalism school experience, in my opinion, while opening the profession to a wider and more diverse population by making it affordable (we pay you instead of you paying tuition!). And it would create the world’s best formal staff training program, something we’d all be thinking about if we paid attention to the wisdom of Steve Buttry.

And why limit it to the newsroom?

Lord knows traditional media needs a new model for ad revenue. Why not bring business school professors, and students, and the community, and advertisers, into your finance and advertising departments, or mash up the whole thing a la Jeff Jarvis’ entrepreneurial journalism program?

Published by mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked in journalism for more than 25 years as a reporter, editor, publisher, director of news and journalism nonprofit executive director. As vice president of news at Hearst Connecticut, he led a newsroom of more than 175 people, instilling a culture of investigative reporting, and growing audience while launching a paid digital subscription model at six daily newspapers. While there, he oversaw a national investigation into sex abuse at Boys & Girls Clubs that was recently recognized with an Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) national award, as well as the New England First Amendment Coalition’s Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award. As the first full-time executive director of LION, a nonprofit supporting local independent online news organizations across the country, he started with an annual budget of $30,000 and helped bring in more than $2 million over three years from funders including the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, Inasmuch Foundation (Ethics & Excellence in Journalism), and Facebook, while tripling the organization’s membership. As a publisher, he was an early leader in reader and community engagement, launching North America’s first “newsroom café,” which opened a Connecticut daily newspaper’s doors to the public, and which was recognized with the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Innovator of the Year Award. As editor of the New Haven Register, he led a team of more than 100 journalists borrowed from around the country and on his own staff in covering the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School and its aftermath. During his tenure in New Haven, the Register also received the Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Most recently, he has done consulting work for Local Media Association on fundraising from foundations and individual giving in support of local news organizations. He co-managed the Facebook Journalism Project’s recent COVID-19 Relief grant program, which received more than 2,000 applications and is part of $25 million in funding Facebook has earmarked to help local news organizations through this crisis. He was a Sulzberger fellow at Columbia University in 2018, and has taught reporting, editing and multimedia journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac University. His column about the journalism industry has appeared in Editor & Publisher magazine since January 2016. He is a full-time single dad of two who has been active in Northwest Connecticut as a board member of the Susan B. Anthony Project, a domestic and sexual violence support and advocacy, and previously as a longtime United Way board member and two-time annual fund chairman.

4 thoughts on “Journalism School of the Future: Where You Start On the Job and Never Graduate

  1. I think you are right. Ultimately, any successful model will come down to changing the newsroom culture from “this is how it’s done” to “can we figure out how to do this.”

    So, yeah, it sounds like a school.

    News organizations rarely fail big and fast, which is why they rarely win big as well.


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