How to build a better journalism school – Poynter

Alma Matters is a Poynter newsletter designed to provide ideas, news and insight to those in the journalism education community. Subscribe here to get Alma Matters delivered to you.
Last week I asked you what you’d do if you could reinvent journalism schools, and I heard from all kinds of people — professors, working editors and former journalists.
Here’s a sample of them. I’m holding a few for next week, so there’s still time for you to share your thoughts.
My hope is that we can kick start some campus conversations about our willingness and capacity for change. I hope there’s something here for folks who have a hand in shaping the future of our industry and its educators.
Breanna Cooper, former journalist, @BreannaNCooper
I think one thing that really needs to be emphasized in J-school is the importance of self-care in the media. As a journalism student (graduated in Indiana in 2019 and spent two years working at a newspaper), I knew the field was hectic and could be stressful at times. However, I don’t feel we had adequate conversations about work/life balance, especially in the age where everyone is chronically online.
I feel as though it’s considered a rite of passage, of sorts, to burn out. I got the feeling among colleagues that if you were well-rested and not constantly running around, you weren’t working hard enough at your job. It was this mentality that essentially drove me from the field. I’m not sure what this would look like in a classroom setting. Perhaps lessons on how to engage with an audience via social media without feeling that you were constantly “on,” or a course focused on trauma-informed reporting and how to take care of yourself and the people you’re speaking with.
Mallory Carra, adjunct instructor at USC Annenberg, @MalloryCarra
One thing I would definitely change about the state of journalism is to add more of an emphasis on the business side of freelancing. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from NYU, where my professors put a big emphasis on pitching … but nothing else about freelancing. I also have an MFA from USC film school that also put more emphasis on the creative than the business side.
So when I started freelancing later in my career, I faced a steep learning curve. I had all of these degrees yet no idea where to start. I had to learn from friends and mentors how to find gigs, invoice and do my own version of accounting. Eventually, I got the hang of it and got hired full-time by a few clients. Later on, I took business classes at a junior college to make up for the learning that my two degrees seemed to lack.
Now, as an adjunct professor at USC Annenberg, one of the top questions I get from journalism students is what the freelance journalism process is like — especially the business end of it. This spring, I taught a workshop about it that several students said they found helpful. In the future, I’d love it if journalism education included a class on this topic to better prepare students for a freelance journalism career as well as double down on pitching classes — perhaps maybe even offer a freelance track to those students. Freelancing is increasingly a common choice for journalists and I just wish journalism education reflected that more.
Dustin Dustin Block, audience development lead at Graham Media Group, @dustinblock
I don’t have much insight on college journalism departments, but your newsletter today hit just as I was thinking about how much I hate journalists joking that they would never want their kids to study journalism. (Like you ask a colleague, “What does your college student plan to study?” Followed quickly by: “Please don’t say journalism.”)
I want more students studying journalism to learn how to tell stories, think critically, build community and inform the public. There’s a feeling the job market is shaky, and no doubt it is for many companies, but anyone I know in the industry is struggling to find talent, and there are more resources than ever to support community journalism startups and experiments. Maybe J-schools can help by challenging students to build the future rather than slide into a decaying past. I hear journalists talk about programming as a backbone skill to remain essential in today’s newsrooms, but maybe the reverse is also true. Journalism skills — the ability to verify information, ask questions, listen and clearly share the story — are essential to any industry and topic in the world. We need more people doing this than ever, and serious students may find high value in this degree.
Jane Elizabeth, media consultant and adjunct instructor at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism, @janeeliz
Students should learn the foundational history of any profession. But more importantly and more frequently, they should study the challenges faced by the profession and learn the steps to accomplishing organizational change. Focus on creativity, management, leadership, ethics. Remember that the student journalists in today’s classrooms are not only writers and photographers — they’re the leaders and change agents of tomorrow’s newsrooms. They need to be prepared for that role, too.
And I would absolutely double down on hiring high-quality adjuncts who have current experience in the media business. Treat them with respect, pay them a fair salary, provide them with classroom support and training if needed. Give them a real voice in discussions about changes/improvements in the school’s journalism program. Yes, I’m speaking as a journalist who’s taught as an adjunct at four universities, but I speak for just about every journalism adjunct I’ve ever known. They provide such incredibly valuable instruction to students, yet are generally ignored by their departments and paid an astoundingly low salary at even the most expensive colleges. It would be amazing to see journalism schools lead the way in improving the adjunct role in higher education.
Valerie Gibbons, senior paid media specialist, McClatchy @valeriegibbons
I’ve waited for decades for someone to ask me this question. I spent 17 years in the newsroom and hired many young journalists right out of college for a variety of positions — and another seven years on the business side.
First things first: I’d hire award-winning practitioners who are good at training their peers, regardless of their academic background. Full stop.
Secondly: The goal would be to produce graduates who are equipped to start their own entrepreneurial enterprise who are generalists in a large organization.
Third, I’d build it around five core areas with workshopping, presentation and critiques a requirement in every class except freshman year basic writing.
More ideas:
A few things missing from the current model:
Whew! That’s a lot to take in. I’ll keep the rest short. You can tell me if you agree or disagree, or send in your own ideas. I’ll run more responses next week.
This sports photo contest awards gear vouchers and mentoring.
From Trusting News: A thread from our team about what journalism students learn talking to the public about their perceptions of news. (Educators: Steal this assignment! The students said it was surprisingly fun!)
Here’s a student media organization engaging in best practices around transparency.
And here’s a primer on building an effective microcourse from a guy who knows.
“The way we teach them? Well, we don’t really.” That’s sage advice from last week’s guest author, Northwestern student Andrew Rowan, on how his news station trains up new staffers (spoiler: they teach them a ton). Rowan outlines a five-step process that other newsrooms can crib from or steal outright.
Subscribe to The Lead, Poynter’s weekly newsletter for student journalists, and encourage your students to do the same.
In this week’s free Professor’s Press Pass, we ask students to consider a hypothetical from a case ripped from recent headlines: How far can university sports fans go and still be allowed to express themselves?
This case study is brought to you for free by our partnership with the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
Your answers to improving the J-school experience, from better-paid adjuncts to entrepreneurship courses to work/life balance.
CNN hyped its streaming service for months, making a big deal out of every splashy hire. But just three weeks after its launch, it’s done.
‘We’re trying to show that reading can be engaging — especially when you see yourself in what you’re reading or can identify with the story.’
Plus, a multi-year bureaucratic backlog is holding up big renewable projects, how states rank on energy use and energy costs, and more.
Today, 43% percent of Americans worry ‘a great deal’ about climate change, and another 22% worry ‘a fair amount”’about it.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Get the Poynter newsletter that’s right for you.
Support responsible news and fact-based information today!

source