Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Columbia J-School Moves Toward New Media, "Tradigital" Journalist

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism isn't exactly thought of as a school on the bleeding edge. After all, with all of its history and close-ties to mainstream media, it's rarely expected to be the preferred choice of the blogger-cum-citizen journalist set, and of all things, it's headed by a guy who has been deemed the "Pope of MSM."

(In full disclosure, that didn't stop me from attending, however.)

But today I sensed a new change at Columbia, months after Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism decided to revamp the entire curriculum. Today, I was told that the "New Media Newsroom" class for "New Media" majors and interested non-majors (such as broadcast, newspaper or magazine) was under the close watch of Dean Nick Lemann -- yes, the aformentioned Pope -- and a series of affiliated committees with interest in the school. It's the "most watched class," apparently, and "Dean Lemann's baby."

Hmm. For a man who penned "Amateur Hour" in The New Yorker, that's an interesting change, no?

This year, for the first time in the school's history, "New Media" majors were brought in two weeks earlier than newspaper and magazine concentrators to learn production techniques for websites, flash, photography, audio recording and video editing. In addition, the school-wide required Reporting and Writing I class now includes a "web-ified" element to it.

Pulitzer Prize administrator Sig Gissler summed up the outlook perfectly with his own coined term: "The tradigital journalist."

Has the "gray lady" of journalism academe finally come around on the topic of a new journalist guard? Or was Lemann too-quickly judged by more technologically savvy critics such as NYU/PressThink's Jay Rosen and CUNY/BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis?

Is Columbia's perception as a slow-moving traditionalist truly accurate?

I don't know, and due to my affiliation, I'm happy to avoid passing judgment. I await reading others' thoughts. But what I can say is that the tide change is readily apparent in the halls, and it's no secret that students from the others sections have expressed demand for new media skills.

Is Lemann backing down his criticism of amateur journalists in the field by teaching his own students the techniques they use to scoop MSM?


Anonymous said...

Columbia, like many other proven, sophisticated (and expensive) grad schools is simply reacting to the request of media companies who hire their graduates. These companies are saying, "We want people who know how to do a little of everything and can do it quickly." Finally, colleges and universities are waking up to this. But for every Rosen and Jarvis (has cutting edge moved to New York only?) there are hundreds of others still wondering what they should be doing or within j-school departments still woefully underfunded and not attracting progressive leaders. I was in the room at the College Media conference last year in St. Louis and one session had j-school instructor say "We don't know what to teach because we don't know what media wants." Danger! Danger!
Also, I'm still not sure how all of this will affect the quality of journalism. And, I'm wondering what (if anything) labor unions will say. It's been pretty quiet out there.
The good news is that they are changing and you cannot sneeze at that. I like that word, "tradigital." I hope it doesn't become a cliche for companies hiring people to do more work to save money, keep double digit profits rolling and the stock price up.

Doug Mitchell

The Editorialiste said...


Your comment is welcome as always! I do believe that cutting edge is in other cities as well; I'm just sad that I'm unable to reach (please do point some others this way, maybe I can bring some others on to guest blog a post). Must be the stranglehold on New York media, I suppose.

You wrote: "I was in the room at the College Media conference last year in St. Louis and one session had j-school instructor say "We don't know what to teach because we don't know what media wants." Danger! Danger!"

I'm so glad you brought forth that anecdote -- 'Danger danger!' is exactly the sentiment. But the bottom line, I think, is that there needs to be less focus on journalism for profit and more focus on journalism as a public good. Should journalism resort to accepting losses? I don't think so, but at the same time, the pursuit of profit won't create profitable journalism in the 'useful' sense, in my opinion. Wishful thinking, I know.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting,
The Editorialiste.