It seems as though anyone can pick up a video camera, a microphone and start a blog today and call themselves a journalist. What does this mean for journalism education?
Journalism education does not have a long history. Actually, the first journalists, such as Ernest Hemingway were not actually trained in journalism. Journalists like William Zinsser were not trained in journalism either. Journalism education is a fairly recent phenomenon especially in places such as Canada, where Carleton University was the first journalism school back in the 1940s. Before that, the newspaper men and women who delivered the current events were trained in other areas.
It seems as though things are coming back to those early days. The Internet is drastically changing the access that anyone can have to produce journalism. This is known as citizen journalism. Ordinary citizens are starting to pick up video cameras, a microphone, and start blogs, as well as posting information on YouTube to get their voices heard – just like journalists. In many ways this is a good thing, however – does it continue to make journalism education relevant?
I would argue that journalism education is still relevant. Many of the successful blogs that exist today are actually about mainstream news events. This shows that the mainstream news, filled with journalists that have graduated from such schools as Carleton University, Columbia University, Northwestern University and Ryerson University are still being put to good use by adding to the blogosphere. As well, because we still live in a paper-driven society where the credentials one has are extremely important in landing paid work, journalism education continues to be important for the purposes of people with interests in the media to find and keep a job. It is a reality that many people who have their own blogs do not make a lot of money from it. It is possible, although people like Matt Drudge of the Matt Drudge Report are more an exception rather than the rule.
The Internet can actually be used to help improve the level of journalism education. There is more information on the web about what journalism is about and understanding media – this information can be used by professors to make the classroom a more vibrant place.
When it comes to journalism education and getting a job in journalism, it is also important about the contacts you have. Going to a credible journalism school ensures that you will have access to people who can help you to find a job. This is something that will surely help journalism schools not to become obsolete.
When I look back on my own journalism education it was one of the best things I could have done. Most people that get into journalism do so because they want to write. Going to journalism school gave me the chance to do this and make my mistakes while I was in school so I could perform better in the job market. I received many opportunities while I was school, such as traveling to Germany, Belgium, and Holland and co-producing a documentary that is now in the library of the city where I went to school. Producing that documentary helped me to be involved with other documentary projects. Just being at the school started a long working relationship I had with the public broadcaster in my country where working there was like an education on to itself. Later, when I went back to school for a graduate degree, this is what helps me to know about journalism education today and to work in the field, as well as media in general. I teach at the college level and am able to continue working as a journalist to keep current in the field.
A journalism education is important, however, it is true that for anyone that has the talent they will do well in the field. Many times this talent can come through work experience that can be honed by doing citizen journalism work. Equipping yourself with a studio environment right in your home can make a difference in getting your name known and out there, making all the difference in the world when you do apply for a job in mainstream or even alternative media.
I teach at a number of schools and have taught at a number of schools in the past. I have seen great success coming out of the students I have taught. Success levels higher than what I have heard from people who did not go to journalism school. Even people that went to school, however, did not study journalism is still a viable option for breaking into the field. Many people do become successful this way too.
In conclusion, I would say that although citizen journalism, web-based journalism or Internet journalism is a huge phenomenon that is challenging the meaningfulness of mainstream media outlets, many mainstream media outlets are actually combating this situation by “jumping on the bandwagon.” Places such as CBS plans to have many of their programs go online so they take advantage of the power of the Internet. The real answer that journalism schools need to do to find a solution to the challenge of citizen journalism is to make sure they are offering courses and programs that answer to the power of the web. Their students must be prepared to work in the virtual world and prepare to potentially receive employment that is completely web-based. This is future, things will not change anytime soon.