OK, now I’m pissed

I’m speaking at a huge college journalism conference this week in Nashville. And to be honest, even though I speak at events all over the world, I’m probably as excited about speaking at this event as I ever have been about talking to a group of folks before.

There are two groups that I love to speak with: publishers who are actually trying to unsuckify newspapers and college journalism students who have a chance of helping to make newspapers less crappy.

When I speak to college students, I always get asked the same question, which is basically if I will talk about my thoughts on the future of journalism and what I think about how J-schools are preparing students.

I should never answer this question.

If I answer this question truthfully, I know that I’m going to piss off academia and possibly scare off students, but those who know me know that I have a very hard time keeping my mouth shut. Especially if I’ve got a microphone in front of me.

But as much as my thoughts might upset some folks, I’m also upset.

Right now, I’m pretty pissed off at most J-schools.

The news media industry is at a very critical point right now, and we need academia to step up and help. It just seems to me that lots of J-schools don’t operate like other areas of universities. If there’s a new life-saving heart operation being developed, it’s coming out of some university’s medical school. If we need to build a better bridge, universities’ engineering departments are figuring out how to do it. But I don’t see that sort of innovation coming out of J-schools. Most J-schools are still churning out the same sorts of graduates that they were 50 years ago.

And, man that puckers my ass.

The newspaper industry is in a place of wild transition right now and the bottom line is we have to have great writers. But, now more than ever, students have to understand all aspects of media.

Big-time local media convergence is coming, and J-schools need to be preparing students for this.

George W. Bush winning a second term means it is highly likely that media cross-ownership regulations are going to be loosened even more. And if that happens, more and more newspaper companies are going to buy local television and radio stations.

Trust me, these huge media companies are into two things — year-to-year revenue growth and figuring out how to make more money while spending less.

And that’s where convergence comes in. Let me explain …

Convergence is not the second coming of the CB radio. I’m convinced it is the future of journalism. The problem is that I fear the rest of the newspaper industry is not going to do it for the same reasons that the company that I’m lucky enough to work for did it.

Here in Lawrence, we are blessed to have a family ownership with lots of very progressive ideas, so progressive that they began laying cable for cable television way back in 1968. It was one of the first cable television companies west of the Mississippi. They took a lot of crap for that because everyone thought TV was free, and that the idea that anyone would pay for it was crazy. Now Lawrence has among the highest rates of cable penetration of any city in the country. It also has the number one high-speed cable modem penetration, or close to it. The owners of this newspaper are early adopters of many things.

Dolph Simons Jr. — the father-like owner of our newspaper — is scared to death of complacency. He always says we must be better tomorrow than we are today. The idea of convergence was not some snappy buzz word for him, but a way to better serve the community he lives in. The Simons family led our convergence efforts, and they did it right. Two or three years ago everyone was talking about the convergence in places like Tampa or Orlando. Now people talk about Lawrence. I wasn’t here when it all began, but my thoughts are that it’s been done right for a long time here in Lawrence — it was just flying under the radar. There are some super smart folks here who probably should be running or at least working at major metro papers.

I believe in convergence and in over-the-top online journalism because it’s the easiest and best way to tell stories to a variety of audiences, even if you don’t have tons and tons of resources. Newspaper readership and television viewership are becoming more and more splintered, and convergence seems responsible to me, especially if you’re in this for the long haul. And having the web component, or at least some significant form of alternate delivery in the mix, is what makes this baby really work.

When I look into the future, I really believe that other companies are going to begin embracing convergence in the next five to ten years, but not for the same reasons this company did.

Can’t you just hear it now? Leaders of big media corporations are going to say that they should own the local newspaper, a local television station and local web sites, and then have one police beat reporter generate all of the reporting for each medium. In their minds they’re going to have three sources of advertising, and have only one staff to produce the content for it. If that happens, it will be a sad day for local journalism.

But I’m guessing it’s going to happen, and it will really suck when it does.

So what does this mean to J-schools?

Whether it’s good convergence or shitty convergence, J-schools better be preparing students for a new kind of journalism.

If my degree were no good in five years, I would be really pissed.

Right now journalism programs should be ensuring that students don’t have blinders on — that they are aware of all aspects of media.

Some of the most closed-minded journalists I have met are 22 years old and right out of J-school. We don’t have time to win them over. If I were graduating right now and I did not know how to run iMovie or understand how layers in Photoshop worked, I would find the dean of my J-school and punch that person in the mouth (or even kick ’em in the grapes) because that school had just done me such a disservice. I’m not saying that knowing how to run iMovie is important in getting a job; I’m saying it is as much about mindset as it is skill set, and the vast majority of recent grads I’ve seen most definitely don’t have the right mindset.

Alright, alright. I’m not really saying you should commit violence against
your dean just because you have no idea how to fire up iMovie. But it’s
going to be damn hard to commit journalism in the near future with the
curriculum that some universities are passing off as journalism education.
Your dean should know that. Maybe you can get something signed from the
dean that once your degree has betrayed you, you can come back to teach

There are some J-schools that are headed in the right direction, but there aren’t enough of them.

I’m not one of those people who likes to point out problems, while not offering any solutions. I have lots of ideas on this. But I’m tired and this thing is already too long. If you want to know my thoughts on taking journalism education into the real world, call me. Don’t e-mail me. Call me. My phone number is all over the Journal-World’s site.

Damn, just like at all of those conferences, I probably should have kept my mouth shut for this question.

But, it’s hard when I’m feeling pissed.

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Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.