Journalism classes that aren't regularly available but should be

Students learn. Now lets teach them something they need.
Students learn. Now let's teach them something they need.

My friend Sean Blanda once regularly wrote on the failures of journalism schools. It’s not exactly my territory because I studied politics, not journalism in school.

But, I’ve heard enough from friends and colleagues. It seems most everything they learned, I learned while working at my college newspaper.

The journalism school at Temple University, like many other top j-schools, is chock full of talent. Temple is dripping with accomplished reporters, so I long decided j-school is for contacts, not knowledge.

That’s never more true than now, because, well, most all professors at j-schools are from an era that digitization is fast making irrelevant (There are many exceptions, two at Temple being here and here). The rules are broken and more than ever, journalism schools are repugnantly, distastefully, woefully far from leading students to careers, aside from the Temple name and, yes, the contacts they make.

I’m nearly a year out and embroiled in a freelance career, so I thought up a few classes I’d like to see j-schools teach.

Here are some course selections I’d like to see become tried and true j-school classics:

  1. The Business of Freelancing — What’s a sole-proprietorship? What are all the tax implications of basing my business wherever I do? How do I and why would I get a business checking account, credit card and fictitious name? What is tax exempted? What isn’t? How can I make money on my car, my phone and my camera? This all has real world relevance. Students will finish the class with an EIN, just like they will a sense of pitching in e-mail.
  2. Web presences and reporter branding — If this could ever be done by folks who no longer find Facebook or Twitter novel, this would be key. Let’s talk about the future some suggest brands might have for reporters, both on-staff and freelancing. By the end of the class, students will have a simple Web presence, understand RSS feeds, have clips and their resume online and ready to send out. They’ll understand the link economy and why it matters.
  3. Journalism entrepreneurship — You see, 2008 was unsurprisingly a move toward young journalists being more business-minded. This year, with a sour economy and struggling print industry, we’re at it again. Friends and I launched Technically Philly. I’m contributing to — which, to be fair, was started as part of a journalism class. I am helping with research on a large-scale project I’ve yet to disclose, like I haven’t yet mentioned a couple other smaller works. The old model of climbing from small paper to medium paper is dead, at least in a print way. I don’t know where it’s going, but the most successful journalists are going to be smart brand-builders and heady business minds. For the kid who wants to start a magazine or thinks he can make money on a blog, here is the class that explains how and the obstacles ahead. Again, heavy in tax status, employee-implication and other science-heavy material.
  4. Multimedia journalism — And I don’t mean trot out a professor who can teach you writing for radio or how to do a TV news stand-up. That’s garbage. The future is the convergence of media, not the dominance of a more visceral medium. So, let’s talk real knowledge. What are the basics of video and photography and audio? Cram one media in a week. Blogging and other social media. Editing, etc. What camera is best, what are the aspects we need to learn or understand?
  5. Programming for journalists — Let’s face it. The Web is a language journalists need to know — yeah, the Web and Spanish, in my opinion. We don’t need to know it all, but we need to know what’s what. HTML, CSS, Flash, Java, and whatever the Hell else it out there. What’s the newsroom practicality?
  6. Newsroom culture and innovation — How many young people go to newsrooms and realize, wow, everyone hates them! Let’s talk bureaucracy and curmudgeon-culture. Let’s relish in the history of journalism, and the future everyone hates. I want to hear from old-heads. Teach me how they feel about me, this young guy. Why don’t we read everyday. I want to know what I’m getting into, how there will be great pushback in institutions against innovation.
  7. Local, Niche and Community — Everyone in the class has to highlight a niche community they want to cover or support. Cross-listed with entrprenuership journalism and in the business school. Each student needs a real business plan, a monetization strategy – non-ad based, I should add – and a coverage pattern. Tax status included. Contributors, etc. included. Why it can survive, what it’s sustainability is, etc. Then they launch it.

We are so done with the inverted pyramid. Fuck it, kids have to know how to write. We can teach the rules as we go — attribution, nut grafs and the rest. I picked it up through my peers at a college newspaper, so no longer can anyone think an entire major — four years of someone’s life should be devoted to it.

These other skill sets are important. They are things you can learn from places like Multimedia in Minutes.

But my point is practicality. I wanted to hit my head against the wall when a friend of mine, still a j-student at a certain large urban university recently ousted from the NCAA tournament, who was required to build a site for class. Cool! Oh, except, it had to be something entirely new and had to be hosted by the university. …So it dies after class. …No you can’t build a professional portfolio or a community-news platform. …That’s a waste of time. Period.

Practical learning is the best learning in the world, particularly for journalists, so students should get oodles of credit for freelancing, internships or other bylines. Writing for the college newspaper should be a given.

What’s more, students should come away with hard and fast lessons they learned – not theoretical stuff and not the equivialent of knowledge from a j-textbook from 1967.

Did I miss any classes? Is anyone teaching these or has anyone taken them? Any university want to pay me the big bucks to teach them?