Journalism is a hard sell these days. At schools, more and more students are opting for alternatives such as public relations or advertising. Despite aggressive minority recruiting campaigns by organizations such as the Freedom Forum and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the number of minorities in newsrooms fell last year. Why is it so hard to attract talented people into newsrooms? There are the normal complaints – the pay is too low, the hours are too long. But those have been realities of the job for many years. It seems to me that it’s increasingly difficult to get people enthusiastic about journalism. The profession itself has lost some of its glamour; student journalists look around and see a public that often views the media with contempt. The competitive edge in many newsrooms seems to have disappeared into the same black hole as two-newspaper towns, and the drive for profits seems to have replaced the drive for the exclusive scoop. The glamour of the fabled hard-nosed journalist is dwindling. And when the glamour is gone, the other downsides of the journalism profession – the low pay, the long hours – seem even more ominous to someone considering where to cast their lot in life. So here’s the buried nut graph: It’s the journalism educators – the people who work with students, who guide them through the period in which they form their initial impressions of journalism – who can instill the excitement about journalism that is being lost. These days, when students study “media” instead of “journalism” and are being pulled in a thousand different directions, that role is more important than ever. When I was a junior at DePauw University, the adviser to our student newspaper moved on to a job at another school. In the years he worked at DePauw, he served as a teacher and a mentor to nearly 10 years of journalism students, and a good number of them left the school to go on to successful journalism careers. It was a year-and-a-half before a permanent replacement was found, and the absence of a full-time adviser was felt in our student newsroom. When there was no one there to light a fire under us for missing a scoop or ignoring a key angle of a story, those details became less urgent. Several talented students decided to pursue other interests, meaning that less experienced students were called on to step up and take charge. After our adviser left, the student newsroom lost some of the excitement and urgency that came from someone who had done the work before – and loved it. A good journalism teacher does at least as much teaching outside of the classroom as in it. Excellent teachers know that teaching is more than lectures and exams. Sometimes, education comes in the very important form of sharing life experiences. Enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s up to educators and mentors to pass it on. This issue focuses on journalism education, but it doesn’t stop at the college level. Education is a never-ending process. Here, we examine issues from high school to the newsroom and illustrate the importance of mentors and encouragement throughout all those stages. • When high school students are kept from publishing a student newspaper because their principal doesn’t fully understand the importance of free expression, they are often discouraged from pursuing the profession. Read about some principals that are trying to educate their peers on Page 12.
• Technology has become an exciting and integral part of our profession, and most schools have realized that their students have to be a part of the rapid changes that it has caused. On Page 14, read about some of the different approaches they’re taking to prepare their students.
• A good journalism teacher can spark a student’s interest in journalism; a good internship can secure it. But those experiences can come with a cost – especially in broadcast journalism – when students are often expected to work for free. Read more about it on Page 18.
• ASNE and the Freedom Forum have devoted time and resources into creating more diverse hiring pools, but colleges and universities are the pivotal link in bringing more diverse generations of journalists to the profession. In the right environment – and with the right mentors – many educational institutions are hoping to inspire more students with diverse backgrounds to go into journalism. See what some schools are doing on Page 20.
• As technology creates more for students to learn, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of the basics. Many of today’s students lack a basic understanding of copyright laws and plagiarism, and educators need to address this growing problem at their schools. Learn some ways to offer students additional guidance in these areas on Page 28.
• Once you’ve been in the business for a while, there’s a need to rekindle the excitement and continue the learning process. Learning doesn’t end once you graduate from college. There is a growing demand for education programs for working journalists, and news organizations have been doing a better job of recognizing the value of educated newsrooms. Read more about this trend on Page 24. Journalism is a profession that is largely fueled by passion – a passion for the news, a passion for the role that news plays in the lives of our readers and viewers. The mentors that guide us, at all stages of our development, help to feed that passion.
Jeff Mohl is editor of Quill.