Opinion

Brandt: More production, textbook reduction

Journalism education should focus heavily on student clips.

Joe BrandtSince Temple’s journalism program was recently up for re-accreditation, now is a good time to examine its strengths and weaknesses.

The School of Media and Communication has a new dean, David Boardman. During his tenure as executive editor, The Seattle Times won four Pulitzer prizes. This is a guy that knows what to do and how to do it. What needs to happen now is transferring that ability to the students as best as possible.

In the new age of journalism, there is no such thing as a one-trick pony. Journalists who are able to produce media in multiple forms have the best chance to succeed. One-dimensional writers must get on camera or speak into a microphone at some point in their college career, and broadcast and radio-focused students have to give print journalism a try.

At Temple, for example, journalism students are required to take Audio/Visual Newsgathering and the senior capstone course Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a semester-long class where students produce news pieces for a student-run website. Also required is Writing for Journalism, a prerequisite for most courses within the major.

However, there are the only two required journalism courses that are marked as “writing intensive.” This semester, there are four total journalism courses marked as writing intensive, and the two that are not required are only offered once next semester. Students are required to take 18 credits of 2000 level electives or higher, like  History of Journalism and Journalism and Mass Communication History in addition to production courses in photography, radio and television. However, there simply isn’t much as far as practice-heavy classes go, and the few options can easily be overlooked.

Sixty-six percent of journalism graduates in 2012 got a job within six to eight months of graduation, according to a University of Georgia report released this year. Granted, it was 62 percent in 2011 and 56 percent in 2009, but 34 percent are still without jobs for at least half a year. Perhaps these discontented graduates could use some advice.

The post-college trouble comes when a student realizes maybe they haven’t written enough or haven’t produced enough of a portfolio to pique a potential employer’s interest. Why not make that student produce a portfolio? Philadelphia Neighborhoods is a fantastic start, but it might not be enough.

There are other production classes offered as electives, but only a few are required. What might work as a supplement to these classes is a minimum clip requirement for journalism students to be met before graduation. A requirement of 30 pieces, be they published or not, only amounts to about four articles, videos or radio broadcasts a semester.

This is not to perpetuate the idea that college is merely job training. Universities are here to teach students how to think. Regardless, many students come to college with a job in mind and seek the means to obtain it.

“A master’s degree in journalism might guarantee you a good teaching job, but in the world of journalism [it] does little if you don’t have any stories in your portfolio,” Philadelphia-based journalist Thom Nickels wrote for the Huffington Post in July 2013.

“Taking a broad view of both where media is headed in the future in terms of constantly changing technological innovation and of changing trends in terms of media production, I don’t think it could hurt to put a stronger emphasis on the production aspect,” Carrie Teresa, an instructor in the School of Media and Communication, said.

Teresa also said, however, that increased production requirements may not be essential for students interested in media from a cultural studies perspective, as she is. For the most part, though, students should have a significant production background.

“There are certainly ways to implement production in ways that enhance the traditional classroom experience, and vice versa,” Teresa said. “I think the key would be hiring faculty that would be able to take on that task in a truly effective way.”

Temple is a great place for journalism, but it could be even greater. A good start would be mandating more production-based classes.

Joe Brandt can be reached at joseph.brandt@temple.edu

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