If J-School doesn’t teach social media, who will?

I just got an e-mail from one of my former journalism professors asking for input on a new class she’s looking to institute.

She’s got some good ideas for the course, centering much of it around multimedia content.

Tucked within her note asking alumni for ideas and input, she included an interesting little unscientific survey she asked of her students. In her poll of two classes totaling 35 students, she found that:

  • None knew what del.icio.us, Twitter, Technorati, Digg or Newsvine were
  • None were blogging
  • Two said they read blogs, although neither of them commented on those blogs
  • None of them subscribe to RSS feeds
  • None were into podcasting in terms of either listening or creating


I was a bit until I got to thinking about it.

Personally, I didn’t even know the term social media until after graduation. But I knew what Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Myspace were. I knew of blogs and had grown up with IM.

I was involved in social media and didn’t really know it, and I’m guessing these kids are pretty much the same.

And I’m not surprised that they’re not producing content–they’re in school and that’s pretty taxing on your output resources. It’s also taxing on how much you can stomach. If you’re being asked to read several books a week, attend lectures and listen to presentations–all while maintaining a healthy social life–you’re not going to have a lot of room for extra noise.

That’s why you need the type of class that focuses on multimedia and highlights the tools at hand–the type of class she’s asking for input on. The exciting thing here is that social media is exploding everywhere from corporations to kindergarten classrooms. News organizations, businesses and nonprofits need this knowledge, and they need it right now. And who is in a better position to teach on it than the school of communications? If they don’t teach it, who will?

So feel free to chip in. What would you include in a journalism class that focused on the diverse multimedia tools at hand to share a single story?

My ideas include:

  • Teach them to link out within stories (I still can’t figure out why news organizations refuse to do this).
  • Teach them to treat comments like gold and engage readers. I’m blown away by how arrogant journalists tend to be with comments. This is your story, people are talking about it. This is a good thing. Celebrate the community, folks….
  • Get them blogging early. Creating content that the whole world can see will make them better producers. It may also help them get a job someday, journalism or not.
  • Check out Jeff Jarvis and his theories on the link economy.
  • Learn how Google does what it does.

Any ideas?



Filed under Journalism

7 responses to “If J-School doesn’t teach social media, who will?

  1. jvanwyke

    Thanks, Cale! I’m looking forward to checking out others’ feedback here and certainly will be bouncing more ideas off y’all. So far, I’ve had positive response to my idea, and some great suggestions for it, too.

    I believe there will always be a need and a demand for good journalism, done well and done ethically. What form will that take? Who knows. All I know is that our students must be as prepared, versatile and adaptable as they can. Many will no doubt find jobs in “non-traditional media,” perhaps for a yet-to-be-born niche news site. If so, how do they promote and market their work? With the audience so splintered, how do they attract readers/viewers/listeners? Some say we need to teach something called “entrepreneurial journalism.”

    Another recent alum points out that although news executives see the future of newspapers as online, not everybody has access to the Web. And if they do, they may lack the connection speed necessary to view videos and photo galleries. Are we at risk of further widening the digital gap between the haves and have-nots in this country and the world? If news goes online, will only “the elite class” be informed? What repercussions does that have for how democracy functions?

    Sorry, getting a little heavy for a late Friday afternoon. Thanks for providing the platform!

  2. jvanwyke

    P.S. Check out this timely post from Mindy McAdams, a colleague at U of Florida:


  3. Jill, great stuff and thanks for that link.

    I’m with you when you say that you believe in the continuing demand for smart, educated and talented journalists. And with all the tools and market splintering going on, the fundamentals of good storytelling are as important as ever.

    I think entreprenurial journalism makes a lot of sense, but it’s also pretty scary and pretty damn hard to do. It requires a unique voice, a lot of personal branding and the balls to do what you do differently. So, pretty much the same things it takes to do anything a successful entrepreneur hopes to accomplish.

    As for the digital divide and excluding folks, I think that’s answered through asking a simple question:

    Who am I writing for and what is the best way to reach them?

    The bigger and more broad of a publication you are, the harder it is to answer that question–which is maybe a sign that you’re too damn big and too damn broad.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m a believer in journalists with personality and character who write for publications with personality and character.

    Don’t write for everyone, write for someone.

    I feel like I didn’t answer a damn thing in this response, but it was sure fun blathering about it!

    Thanks for the comment Jill, keep the ideas coming.


  4. I am actually doing a piece on Social Media for a local magazine, about business applications, but it still relates. The amazing thing to me is people don’t realize they are participating with Social Media all the time. Best way I heard it described, from Nathan Wright – http://www.lavarow.com, is it is like a CB Radio…everyone had a handle back then to communicate. Social Media is the same thing it has just evolved with technology. Once people put it in that context it is like the light bulb in their head lights up…oh, I get it. Just a thought.

  5. Pete –

    Glad to hear that I’m not way off base when I say that a lot of people are involved in social media and just don’t know it. I think college kids fit particularly well into this category.

    And I’m not sure how you go about explaining social media to the outside world–but it certainly seems like it’s gaining some organic momentum these days.

    Thanks for the comment and if you think of it, shoot me a link to your article when it’s all said and done.

  6. jvanwyke

    Two more related pieces for you to check out:

    a slide show on presenting yourself as a brand: http://www.slideshare.net/coolstuff/the-brand-gap

    a post on the importance for j-students of building a professional, online presence: http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/2008/promote-yourself-well-or-fail/

  7. Jill, thanks for those links.

    That branding slideshow was dead-on, and I’m with Mindy as well–think it makes sense for anyone looking to work in the digital space to start carving out a personal brand in the online world.

    Are the J-Schoolers up for some branding lessons this fall?

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