Future of Journalism

Universities Need to Foster Collaboration Between Journalism, Computer Science and Business Schools

This post was originally published Jan. 20 for the Carnival of Journalism.

When I look back at my college years (2000-2004 at Western Kentucky University), I wish I did two things differently:

  1. That I listened to my mother and majored in computer science or some other IT program. At the time, I didn’t see the connection. Ironically, I knew that the Internet would be a force to be reckoned with when it came to news content. Given all the debate as of late over whether journalists should have programming skills, this regret hits hard these days.
  2. That I took advantage of my journalism school’s multimedia program, which was emerging during my final years of college. Again, I realized early the importance of other forms of storytelling such as photography and audio sideshows. But it never occurred to me to learn these things for myself. (I also realize that I was getting sick of going to school and the prospect of spending an extra two years to complete another program seem was a dreadful idea at the time.)

As a result, I had to play a bit of catch up with multimedia and other technology as a professional. The key thing that has helped me in the process is fostering relationships and collaborating with others.

For the last two years, I’ve helped out at the Northwest Video Workshop, a workshop designed to teach video storytelling to reporters completely new to visuals, photojournalists learning how to apply their still photo skills to video and television journalists looking to up their game. The most recent incarnation in Seattle attracted more than 100 participants. It was at this workshop where I learned to shoot and edit video.

I became involved in the workshop because one of the organizers, TJ Mullinax, is my co-worker at the Yakima Herald-Republic, where I work as a business reporter. By collaborating with TJ over the years, I’ve been able to learn so much about multimedia in a short time and have a collaborative relationship with someone working on the online side of the newspaper.

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural class of Open Journalism and the Open Web, where journalists and programmers came together to learn about how we could benefit from each others’ skill sets. One highlight was partnering with David Mason, a computer programmer from Montreal. Though him, I learned so much about wiki and the semantic web and have seen its potential uses in journalism.  The class also gave me the push to have more conversations with the programmer for my paper’s website.

Point is, such collaborations should not be limited to the pros. Universities need to create and nurture a more collaborative environment for all the stakeholders of our craft.

There is already such collaboration happening. Northwestern University, for example, had teams of journalism and computer science students working together to develop web applications.

But this is something that should be happening in every journalism school in the country. It does not cost more money (though I’m sure some would argue otherwise) to develop programs where programmers and journalists and folks of other disciplines can collaborate and learn from each other.

Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Many schools offer business incubators as a way for entrepreneurship majors to develop ideas. Journalism schools should find a way into these incubators. Maybe organize a business plan competition where journalism and business majors team up.
  • Combined undergraduate and graduate programs made of students from different backgrounds. CUNY has the cutting edge graduate entrepreneurial journalism program. It would be neat to attract business students to the program as well as journalists. How about an undergraduate program called programming journalism where journalism and computer science students work side-by-side for all four years, taking classes from both disciplines? Maybe having a journalist and programmer team up on the first day and work together during the entire program. Maybe the thesis could be a co-developed news web application or program.
  • Journalism and computer science programs should develop student chapters of great organizations such as Hacks/Hackers.

I can probably go on. Universities need to help journalists (and computer programmers and business majors) develop the mindset of collaboration so early that such collboration and innovation will come naturally by graduation.

Yes, the language barrier between the disciplines will be a struggle, but it’s better to deal with that struggle early than having to adjust later as a professional where old habits die hard.