Professor: Why Teach Journalism If Newspapers Are Dying?

An anonymous journalism professor wrote in to an advice guru of some kind at Salon two days back warbling about her guilt at teaching college journalism students when print newspapers, the foundation of the field’s industry work, are imploding.

According to the j-prof:

The problem is this: I feel like I’m teaching them something that will be as useful as Sanskrit when they graduate. I am trying to get them involved in learning the latest technology as well as teaching them important writing and life skills, so they will be employable. But every morning I read stories about how huge, venerable newspapers will likely be shuttered by the end of the year, and it absolutely freaks me out. What the heck am I doing? I feel like I’m a participant in the theater of the absurd.

In some respects, I absolutely understand her frustration.  All of us educators (or at least the ones who still care) are trying our darnedest to keep up with the un-keep-up-able new tech trends and rolling out killer apps in class lessons and bandying about phrases like Journalism 6.0 without any grander sense of where this whole shebang is heading.  (And anyone not named Jay Rosen who does tell you he or she knows where this all is heading is lying.)

But we are also involved in a higher calling than any media shift or economic spiral can destroy.  Journalism, even in the online/citizen/bloggerific age in which we are ensconced, is not smoke and mirrors.  It is also not just a profession.  It is a philosophy. It’s a way of looking at the world, digging beneath parts of it, and bringing certain facets of it to life.

Newspapers may die, or at least reinvent, but the tenets of quality reporting and editing will not cease to be incredibly useful for students of the craft. I will always consider myself lucky to teach j-students a bit about that. Worrying about students finding a job is not a j-professor’s role. University j-programs are not built as farm systems for the professional press. My goodness, how boring and factory-like that would make our classes. The best j-programs and classes teach skills but also the art of dissection: What is the best of journalism, and the worst? What can we learn from the past and present? What shape should the future of the field take?  And most important, in respect to journalism and the ways of the world, what does it all mean???

And if you’re afraid you’re teaching them something as useful as Sanskrit, maybe it’s time you worked WITH them to create something new, something better, something more useful. Too many j-educators think they need to talk AT j-students (speaking of theater of the absurd…). The best j-students are not just the future of journalism. They are its present.  Don’t be surprised if they teach you a few things.  And don’t feel guilty about that!  The best teachers should always be open to learning along the way.

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