Confessions from someone with the word “Internet” in their degree

I have a degree in News/Internet Journalism from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

I learned a whole lot. Worked with smart people. Even won an award or two.

Thus, I was honored when I was recently asked to join the J-School’s Junior National Alumni Council based on my young career in communications and my interest in emerging media.

It’s got me thinking about my education and all that I’ve learned since walking the stage.

In hindsight, I look back and realize that the awkwardly named News/Internet major offered a whole lot of news knowledge and not much on the Internet.

Here’s a few startling things I realized – so much so that I consider them confessions:

  1. It took nearly four months after graduation for me to read my first blog post.
  2. Facebook was a repository for profane wall posts and booze pics. None of us who spoke about communication on a daily basis noticed the bigger picture.
  3. I never realized the insanity of the term SJMC (School of Journalism and Mass Communication) – “Mass” has nothing to do with communication. How many people receive your message is a by-product of how good the content is and how easy it is for them to receive it.
  4. Social media was a scary thing (even though we were all watching YouTube and using Facebook). The thought of random people commenting on traditional news stories was considered silly. In reality, it’s only the tip of a giant, wonderful iceberg.
  5. I thought having a Web site required a programmer.
  6. I didn’t know how Google did what it does.
  7. For most of my education, I was under the assumption that the audio, video and photo portions of the news were someone else’s job.

Now that I’ve listed a few of the disappointments, let me say that I feel privileged to have studied under some of the best and brightest journalism educators. What I’m not listing in this post is the countless diverse industry topics we covered, the consistent emphasis on ethics and the overall high standards for the work we put forth. Hell, it’s even possible we covered a point or two that I’ve listed (but if so, not enough!).

In short, Drake’s J-School kicks ass. So much ass that a whole lot of us are looking introspectively to see how we can improve the experience and better prepare future generations of communicators.

The council will be meeting later this month. Drake alumni or not, feel free to offer a shout out on your suggestions, your additions (or subtractions) to my list… all that good stuff.

I gave you my list, what’s yours?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Confessions from someone with the word “Internet” in their degree

  1. Nick

    I’m happy to offer my opinion on the News/Internet program.

    Even though the program had “Internet” in the name, I was probably one of only a few students to actively pursue an online-based curriculum. I gained interest in the Web Page Design course during sophomore year, but it grew during my time in Washington, D.C. Many print reporters and editors that I talked to were adamant about journalism’s online transition. However, they still did not know how to utilize the Internet effectively.

    As we know now, online journalism requires a different standard of rules and styles. The concept of “journalism” itself is being challenged online by bloggers and citizen reporters. Terms like “crowdsourcing” now litter the boardrooms of newspaper desks across the world. User-driven content is becoming commonplace on news websites, whether we journalists like it or not. It is amazing how much has occurred in the online world during this decade.

    Stories are no longer limited to newsprint, but must also include photos, audio and video to tell a more effective story. These tasks should not be the responsibility of some “online guy/girl”, but instead become part of the reporter’s required tasks.

    All of these issues were apparent to me as I walked the stage last May. But I don’t think they were apparent to every News/Internet student. During our time with THiNK, I was still considered the “online guy” – and every task regarding the web was my responsibility. But these days, there are no “online people” anymore. Every reporter must realize the importance of the Internet, and they must be trained to utilize it.

    This is my one request of Drake’s News/Internet program. We covered online issues and theories extensively, but often did not put those issues into practice. I would ask that the council put a greater emphasis on the converged curriculum – have News/Internet students take a few Radio/TV courses to learn proper filming/editing techniques. A computer science course may help them understand how to manage content by themselves on local and remote servers. Perhaps add a second Web Page Design class to teach advanced code-based design. These classes would help emerging journalists deal with this rapidly changing industry.

    I loved my time in the SJMC. The engaging classes, spirited instructors (Jill in particular) and creative exercises were fantastic. So like you, Cale, I find myself looking to improve the experience for future generations. I hope these suggestions will help the council improve what is already an outstanding program.

  2. Hey great stuff Nick – thanks for answering the call so quickly.

    I think you’re onto a bigger issue in communication. What seems awkward in traditional journalism (writing AND capturing multimedia elements, using Web elements, having conversations with an audience, etc.) is actually a very natural thing when we step back and think about it.

    Do we represent the tale end of the ‘specialization’ era of journalists? An era where you’re no longer the “writer” or the “online guy” – and rather, you’re broadly a journalist?

    Or is it simply market forces – where news outlets, both big and small, have to do more with less?

    I think it’s much less complicated than that. In reality, communicators just have some new tools in the box and probably haven’t had the proper guidance on how to use them.

    What we know, we’ve learned naturally. In our generation, we all know how to take a digital photo. We all know how to capture video. It’s logical we would do these things when covering a story. This isn’t a big deal. Talking with readers shouldn’t be a big deal. Blogging isn’t a big deal. We’re already doing it.

    …I’m thinking out loud.

    Thanks for the comment Nick! Great stuff, don’t hesitate to throw out more.

  3. Jennifer

    Pass this along for me, please. I would volunteer, but I peddle booze most mornings.

    When the Internet and my job mingle, it’s usually, “How fast can I get this Web update posted? Hopefully before the bossman checks his Blackberry.”

    It Internet has intensified the race to see who can post news the fastest. That requires good reporters who have a deep pool of sources willing to talk to them. Developing sources is a hard thing to teach in a class, but it’s essential to know. That’s why aspiring journalists need to join The Times-Delphic.

    I don’t think 105 is necessary for the major. Most newspaper Web sites use content management systems to make posting stories easy (in theory.) The people who design and maintain the Web site are separated from the newsroom. I probably know more about HTML than the online sports editor, but then again, his job is to be a bad-ass with a video camera. And he is.

    105 could be replaced with a multimedia production course for those who want to be in the field and a design-intensive course for the future copy editors and designers. My boss critiques page design more than anything else. Chunky text, special touches and don’t forget those Web refers.

    I’d say there’s hope for people who still enjoy the printed paper. The copy desk’s top goal is to still make deadline. The platemaking people tend to get upset if they receive too many pages before the press is set to run. That will delay the delivery trucks, which will piss off the carriers. Upset carriers will quit, which will irritate circulation, and really it’s one vicious cycle.

    That’s why after work, it’s just best to do tequila shots and start fresh the next day.

  4. Jen – great stuff. As for the post-work tequila, there aren’t many jobs out there that can’t be soothed with that medication.

    When it comes to the Internet, I think we’re missing a bigger picture here. The Internet isn’t just faster, it’s broader. It allows for some fantastic new forms of communication, perhaps the biggest being that it’s no longer one-way.

    Angie e-mailed me and brought up some really good points, saying in general that the means isn’t what’s important.

    Maybe we shouldn’t bother learning the processes as much as we should the ideals behind them. Let’s focus on the industry, the readers and the breadth of tools at hand.

    Let’s get in the habit of embracing emerging media and technology. Let’s spend less time with InDesign and more time with the likes of Twitter, Technorati and Typepad.

    Everyone who has responded so far has in one form or another said that we had a great education and we want to give back. We all learned the meat of journalism: How to accurately and adequately cover news.

    And we all agree that we learned it from some smart and passionate people.

    The disconnect seems to come on the back-end of how the news reaches consumers and in what form.

    This is the same pain that seems to be nagging at the news industry as a whole.

    To me, that’s the most exciting part. What if you just had a class that asked daily, in what new ways can we reach news consumers today?

    What if all journalists thought that in the back of their mind? How can I better reach our audience today?

    I stand by my theory that news will never die and the way consumers receive it will always change.

    Am I looney? Of the contributors so far, I must admit I’m the only one not currently working in the news industry.

    Feel free to set me straight.

  5. Nick

    No argument here, Cale.

    Your comments have touched on another large issue in the industry – the relationship between news and marketing.

    We all remember the fiasco that was the botched SJMC/CBPA merger three years ago. While that deal eventually fell through, I did agree with one of its main points. Journalists nowadays have to consider how to market their product effectively in the digital age. News websites now compete with blogs and discussion boards for the split-second attention spans of most Web users. To do that, many have recently added more features that encourage active participation with their sites.

    My paper is undergoing a site redesign that will add numerous new “Web 2.0” features. Users can create profiles that extend to all parts of the site – similar to how Facebook and MySpace regulate content. They then can comment on stories, create their own blogs, upload their own photos, and so on. I believe that similar options are being implemented in Des Moines as well.

    In the quest to become better journalists, we may also have to become better marketers.

  6. What it sounds like your newspaper is doing is creating “community.”

    Do you know how many products and services there are in the world that would KILL to have people caring so much as to comment, much less create profiles and add their own content?

    News organizations have a huge advantage! They have established audiences and a generally reliable and in-demand product (news).

    What people want is determined by marketing (whether you tell them or ask them).

    How to make money on it is for our friends in business school.

    But the real meat – the beatiful product created through passion and talent – that’s us, the journalists. It’s called content.

    Sure, a few talented people out there can do all of these things. But I think the most success comes form a collaboration of these individual expertises.

    It comes from marketers understanding the product. It comes from business folk understanding the market. It comes from journalists understanding the brand.

    While I don’t think a melting-pot school of Journo-Market-Entrepeneurs is the answer, I completely agree with you that journalism students need more exposure to how the industry works.

    News is a product. Not a public service.

  7. Thanks for posting on the topic, Cale, and for the great responses. I hope you’ll bring this feedback and whatever else you gather to our spring meeting.

    You guys have touched on what has become one of the biggest challenges the SJMC is facing: How do you balance teaching and exposing students to this “new media” and all the myriad and often-changing forms it entails and still ensure that the students get the solid foundation—reporting, writing, editing, ethics, journalism history—that sets the Drake SJMC apart? The other challenge is that with many of these new forms of social networking and communicating, the students know as much if not more than the professors. So how do you get the right people in to teach those courses or to include that information in classes that are currently taught, without booting the professors who certainly know their stuff when it comes to the fundamentals of being good journalists? And how do you build these new forms of communication into a curriculum when, by the time you finalize the course schedule, it’s likely a whole other means of communicating online has presented itself?

    There’s been a lot of discussion about ways to integrate video, blogging, podcasting, and the like into the SJMC curriculum across the board. So I’ll be curious to see what steps have been made since we last met and what challenges the SJMC is still facing.

    Keep the feedback coming for Cale—and if any of you have any additional comments or suggestions, feel free to shoot me an email too!

    Julie Collins
    Drake SJMC 2008-2009 Jr. National Advisory Council President
    juliemcollins@yahoo.com

  8. Hey Julie – thanks for sharing your thoughts on the challenges!

    My immediate reaction to the troubles you outlined facing the J-School curriculum is that it shouldn’t be that hard.

    Yes, the tools will change. New applications will come, old apps will die.

    And yes, many students will have more exposure to new media than any professor.

    Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to teach an entire journalism class on Facebook.

    But why not consistently ask students, how can we make our message more accessible and more meaningful to our audience? How can we better communicate our stories?

    Again, maybe I’m being a hippie, but I see this class as taking the fundamental elements on journalism and embracing the heart of Web 2.0: The conversation.

    So while this class doesn’t say, ‘let’s talk Facebook’ or ‘let’s talk Twitter’ or ‘let’s talk blogs’ – it says simply, “We’ve learned from the best how to cover events and stories. Now how do we add meaning? How do we engage the audience?”

    I imagine that answer involving a lot of Web 2.0 elements, but the key is the concept.

    I dunno’ though. That’s my biased opinion, and it doesn’t include a lot of the other great ideas that those who contacted me offered up. I’ll be sure to promote those as well.

    Thanks everyone! Still plenty of time for further thoughts.

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