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Whither J-School?

About a week ago, a friend - a sportswriter at the L.A. Times - was going to give a talk at a Southern California journalism school. He was seeking advice.

Most of us just told him, "tell them to get out while they still can," and that wasn't meant as a joke. Given the state of the media industry, particularly print publications, one must be borderline insane to be seeking a career in newspapers or magazines these days.

But the world still needs journalists. And since journalism schools are still in business, they must find ways to attract new students to justify their raison d'etre. Many of them started developing programs to train young journalists in the concept of "New Media," including Columbia, one of the more prestigious J-schools.

Shockingly, such an obvious sign-of-the-times maneuver has met fierce resistance:

But the push for modernization has also raised the ire of some professors, particularly those closely tied to Columbia's crown jewel, RW1. "F*** new media," the coordinator of the RW1 program, Ari Goldman, said to his RW1 students on their first day of class, according to one student. Goldman, a former Times reporter and sixteen-year veteran RW1 professor, described new-media training as "playing with toys," according to another student, and characterized the digital movement as "an experimentation in gadgetry."
(Emphasis mine, expletive redacted)

Quite a whopper, isn't it? This New York Magazine piece went on to describe part of Columbia's challenge is that "many of the tenured professors haven't worked in new media themselves, their classes require the addition of tech-savvy adjuncts. ... The school has been trying to do away with this added expense by training the professors themselves, but this takes time Columbia doesn't necessarily have, given the rapid implosion of the industry it serves."

Let's face it, journalism is a trade, not an academic pursuit. J-schools are meant to allow students to acquire a particular skill-set in order to get jobs. In fact, any J-school worth its salt today should provide students courses in the business of journalism to better equip them to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

Martin Nisenholtz, head of New York Times' digital operations, offers just such sage advice:

I also think it's a good idea for journalists to have a basic understanding of business; after all, journalism is a business in the United States and journalists should understand the basics of the businesses they work for. Regarding entrepreneurial skills, the best way to learn them is to work in a startup or early-stage business. Talk to accomplished venture capitalists. Read some of the better venture capitalist blogs. Dive in.

Most of all, don't Eff the new media. That might be the only media left in the near future.