Why Legacy Publishers Should Recruit at Journalism Schools

And the new media skills of some journalism students

Jacqueline Marino

Jacqueline Marino

Journalism students are different than they used to be. They’ve become increasingly entrepreneurial, intellectually adventurous and skilled in content production, technology and social networking.

Those are skills publishers – both legacy and the new media ones – need to survive. Yet, according to a 2009 University of Georgia study, only six out of ten 2008 journalism school graduates had a full-time job six to eight months after graduation. That’s the lowest rate of employment reported in the study’s 23-year history.

This troubles me because I teach at a journalism school. It should trouble legacy publishers for a different reason.

Journalism school graduates who would have started out working for them 10 years ago – perhaps as fact checkers or entry-level editors – are going to be competing with them instead.

The New York Times columnist David Carr recently wrote, “For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.”

Can we at journalism schools take any credit for this? I think so. Over the past few years, journalism education has become more than relevant to the digital age – it’s helping shape the digital age. We used to train worker bees. Now we’re training risk takers and boat rockers.

In the three years I’ve been teaching journalism, many schools have gone from ruminating about teaching multimedia storytelling to doing that and much more. According to a Northwestern University Media Management Center study, news organizations need to develop six competencies in order to survive. Since these competencies emerge from general media technology trends, I think they will be as important to niche publishers as they are to news organizations.

In order to get a quick gauge on how journalism schools are teaching these competencies, I emailed subscribers to a national listserv of magazine journalism educators. What innovative courses were they teaching in mobile journalism, social networking and other emerging new media?

The following list, organized under four of the six competencies identified by Northwestern researchers, is only a sampling from the deluge that hit my inbox (as well as a few others I couldn’t not mention). Many schools are in a perpetual state of updating curricula and courses, trying to prepare students for the evolving media world.

The Platform Strategist

“To capture and keep eyeballs, it is vital to engage audiences over multiple platforms.”

How it’s being taught: Much of the time, we don’t have to teach students to use multiple platforms. Students are increasingly platform agnostic. Once equipped with basic reporting tools and storytelling prowess, they become nimble, enthusiastic creators of content on multiple platforms. We do need to teach them the capabilities and how to reach and keep audiences.

Interesting courses: Last year at the University of Missouri, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute held an iPhone application student competition. (Other schools are also teaching students to create iPhone apps, including the University of Iowa.) This year, students are coming up with ways to create news content while reducing costs by using Adobe’s Flash Catalyst. Peter Young’s New Media course at San Jose State requires students to produce audio podcasts, videocasts and websites that comply with mobile screen and distribution standards. By the semester’s end, the students have all produced a range of products on the topic they chose at the beginning of the semester, such as “Cooking for One” or “Nightlife of San Jose.” Ball State’s iMedia course has students developing interactive news and advertising content for television broadcast and touch-screen mobile devices.

The Community Builder

“News organizations can sustain audience by aggregating communities.”

How it’s being taught: Thanks to social networking and the millennial generation’s join-in attitude, journalism students today are often engaged in many communities. They’re often taught to look beyond their personal interests, however, to connect groups and shape conversations.

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Interesting courses: In Social-media Skills for Journalists, Sree Sreenivasan teaches Columbia University graduate students to use social media to “find new story ideas, trends and sources; connect with readers and viewers in new ways; and promote their own work to new audiences.” Sreenivasan noticed how many news organizations were hiring social media managers and started gathering best practices. He doesn’t just teach the tools of social media in this five-week, one-credit-hour course; he teaches strategy.

At Point Park University, Heather Starr Fiedler teaches “Citizen Journalism and Building Online Communities,” which focuses on “building interactivity between a media source and their audience including social media postings, promotion and discussion, building message boards, encouraging participation in comments and even some crowdsourcing.”

At the University of Kansas, Simran Sethi teaches Green Reporting, Green Building, Green Justice, a service-learning course that embeds students in green jobs and has them report about this movement from the inside.

The Complete Storyteller

“Understanding the way people experience media is key to developing deeper engagement with consumers.”

How it’s being taught: In journalism school, students often learn how to produce the kind of rich multimedia stories that complement major news and feature stories online. However, a growing number of schools are teaching beyond the basic Web, video and slideshow skill set.

Interesting courses: Students in Advanced Editorial Presentation at Ball State, for instance, create “instructional diagrams, narrative animations with audio, journalistic & persuasive games, data visualizations and explorative packages.” Rutgers teaches a multimedia reporting class focused on sports.

The Entrepreneur

“To remain viable, news organizations must think like entrepreneurs to identify new models for engaging audiences.”

How it’s being taught: It’s being taught in many places and in many ways. Arizona State has the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship. In 2009, two students won $95,000 to develop a web and mobile-based service to inform and entertain those using the city’s new light rail. At other schools, students often participate in the grant-supported projects of their professors. Schools across the country have won tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands for start-ups. (See New Voices or Knight News Challenge for examples.)

Northwestern’s graduate journalism program debuted an Interactive Publishing concentration last fall, specifically for “students interested in running, starting or helping to lead digital publishing ventures.” They develop one or more new media products by the year’s end.

Interesting course: In Jeff Jarvis’s Entrepreneurial Journalism class at the City University of New York last semester, graduate students pitched their ideas for “sustainable journalistic enterprises” to a jury of investors, journalists and other media types. Last semester, four new businesses were awarded $57,000. (See Jarvis’s report on BuzzMachine.)

At the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference last summer, I heard Mequoda founder Don Nicholas address several of these key competencies. Smart positioning of content across platforms and building solid relationships with consumers are among the components of the Mequoda Media Pyramid.

“Life is not over for print, but if your print publication is not part of a larger media strategy that includes a very robust online strategy, and you’re not using online to power the acquisition of new subscribers, whether they’re print magazine subscribers or whether they’re Kindle subscribers, we would say you’re probably in trouble,” Nicholas said. “So, real synergy back and forth here . . . it’s not about one platform, it’s about being on many platforms and using them appropriately.”

Who can help you do this? New J-school graduates. They can fact-check, too.

Jacqueline Marino is an assistant professor teaching in the magazine sequence at Kent State University. She writes about evolving storytelling forms and magazines’ migration to the Web. Her students work on the multimedia aviation project, Stories That Fly, winner of a New Voices grant from J-Lab: the Institute for Interactive Journalism.

    Jacqueline M.

    The pool is in school! You could send the schools information about the kinds of jobs or internships you’re looking to fill. We’ll get it to the students.

    Bennetta S.

    Excellent and interesting post, but what is missing is how you go about finding this potential talent pool so you can consider them in your interview process!


    We have run, twice a year for 22 years, a fast-track postgraduate journalism program in London. We only take 12 students at a time, and we push them very hard. We have a consistent 95% success rate of getting our postgrads into proper jobs within 8 weeks of the course ending. Even in the depths of the recession in 2009 our winter group graduated in mid-March, with all procuring jobs (including on The Times) within five weeks of the course ending. I’d be happy to discuss this with colleagues in the US.
    Riva Elliott
    MD, PMA Media Training.


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