Expert Commentary

Journalism education reform trends, ideas and research: Roundup of recent news, publications

Collection of articles and projects with a journalism education reform theme published in 2012-2013.

Big data (iStock)
Big data (iStock)

Curated below are some relatively recent research-based reports, studies, papers and essays, as well as forthcoming projects, that may provide useful perspective for journalism educators. It’s tough to keep up with everything, and so we’ve gone back over the past year or so and spotlighted some interesting arguments and insights about the discipline and industry.

As educators continue to rethink how to teach journalism in the digital age, we hope this list — representative, but by no means comprehensive — can inform faculty discussion and classroom practice.

Since the publication of the 2011 report on the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, a number of important articles have been published that speak to the ongoing need for all journalism and media-related departments across the country to update their curriculum, teaching and direction. These pieces include both theoretical considerations of the state of the discipline and empirical analyses of the changing news industry itself — a rapidly moving business for which many veteran educators are struggling to prepare students.

The following are some highlights:


  • The Poynter Institute’s Aug. 8 survey and report, “State of Journalism Education 2013,” presents evidence that the case for reform is urgent: “Time is running out. Disruption, driven by economics and technology, is coming to the university system much faster than most administrators realize…. Journalism education will undergo fundamental shifts in how journalism is taught and who teaches it. Those who don’t innovate in the classroom will be left behind. Just like those who chose not to innovate in the newsroom.” See Howard Finberg’s companion essay “Journalism Schools Need to Adapt or Risk Becoming Irrelevant.”
  • The “Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communications Enrollments,” conducted by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Georgia, produces evidence of shifting trends in student demand. “Overall enrollments in journalism and mass communication programs declined 2.9% in the fall of 2012 from a year earlier. It was the second year in which enrollments dropped from the year before,” the authors write in the Aug. 9 report. “Enrollments in journalism and mass communication master’s degree programs also were 2.9% lower in 2012 than in 2011. Master’s enrollments had dropped 9.4% a year earlier.” Still, a related report from Grady College also found that the “level of unemployment for journalism and mass communications bachelor’s degree recipients remained below that of the age cohort of which the graduates are a part.” Authors of the reports were: Tudor Vlad, Lee B. Becker, Holly Simpson and Konrad Kalpen.
  • “The State of the News Media 2013,” from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, is a must-read for all educators looking to inform their students about trends in the business and to comprehend the challenges that students must prepare to meet. The lead author is Amy Mitchell.
  • The latest Mobile Media Research Project report, issued in July by the RJI Research Center, Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri, gives insight on the consumer demands and platform/delivery trends that journalism schools should be accounting for. Roger Fidler sums up the findings.
  • On Sept. 9, 2013, Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy will launch “Riptide”: An online oral history and research project about the collision between journalism and digital technology, from 1980 to the present. It strives to advance knowledge about the media industry and can serve as rich educational material for journalism and communications schools. Three Shorenstein fellows who are veterans of digital journalism and media — John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz and Paul Sagan — interviewed dozens of people who played important roles in the intersection of media and technology — from CEOs to coders, journalists to disruptors. The site, hosted by the Nieman Foundation, will include more than 50 hours of video interviews, interview transcripts and a narrative essay that traces the evolution of digital news from early experiments to today.
  • In a new essay adapted from his forthcoming book Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism, Tom Patterson, research director for Journalist’s Resource and the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard Kennedy School, puts forth a new paradigm for how journalists should approach information and knowledge in the 21st century. The book will be published Oct. 8.
  • A July 2013 paper published in Journalism, “Journalism as the New Knowledge Profession and Consequences for Journalism Education,” by Wolfgang Donsbach, explores new areas of competence that might be taught in colleges and universities.
  • An ongoing series published by Nieman Journalism Lab, “What’s New in Digital Scholarship” — in collaboration with Journalist’s — gives monthly updates on relevant research that may be of interest to educators looking for new insights to help update their teaching about the field.
  • The Nieman Lab also published a series about journalism school reform in advance of the 2012-2013 school year that included thought-provoking essays from a number of leading journalism educators and thinkers, including Geneva Overholser, Len Downie, Cindy Royal, Robert Hernandez, Jeff Jarvis and Dan Gilmor.
  • An April 2013 article by Tom Rosenstiel, “Why We Need a Better Conversation about the Future of Journalism Education,” published at Poynter, notes that “for years, journalism was marred by an ugly streak of anti-intellectualism — the denial of theory, the exaltation of craft, the repudiation of professional identity, ignorance of scholarship. One byproduct of the crisis in journalism is that anti-intellectualism is giving way to something better at schools where practitioners and scholars work together to create a new curriculum.”
  • Eric Newton, senior adviser to the President at the Knight Foundation, argued in a May 2012 speech that “radical change requires radical reform.” Further, he concludes that “positive transformational trends in journalism and mass communication education are happening often in spite of rather than because of the underlying structures.” Read the full text of his speech, titled “Journalism Education Reform: How Far Should It Go?”
  • The 2012 report “Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present,” from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, continues to serve as an important touchstone for conversations about the future of news – and by implication, the future of training for newsrooms. The report was authored by Emily Bell, Clay Shirky and C.W. Anderson.
  • On Aug. 3, 2012, a collective of leading journalism education funders — the Knight Foundation, McCormick Foundation, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Scripps Howard Foundation, Brett Family Foundation and Wyncote Foundation — issued a joint statement, An Open Letter to America’s University Presidents,” calling for more widespread adoption of a “teaching hospital” model. “We believe journalism and communications schools must be willing,” they wrote, “to recreate themselves if they are to succeed in playing their vital roles as news creators and innovators. Some leading schools are doing this but most are not.”

Mark Glaser and others at PBS MediaShift keep a keen eye on new publications and insights in this area — follow their feed here.

Please email john_wihbey at if you have materials you believe we should include in subsequent updates to this post.

Tags: news, training

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