Journalism education’s future

The news media have published a number of stories recently questioning the value of a college degree. Tuition has increased, and, apparently, learning has decreased. Another point, not obviously related, is grade inflation. I argue, however, that declining value of education and rising grade inflation are related. Potential employers can no longer trust that a college graduate will be prepared to work in his or her field. Something must change.

In journalism, the change could be dramatic. One possible scenario is that fewer students will spend the time and borrow the money for a 4-year degree (which often takes 5 years to complete).

Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at The Poynter Institute, predicts that people may gain a journalism education without earning a journalism degree. They may earn digital badges, which would verify people’s accomplishments and skills. Whereas a degree indicates that students had a certain number of professor-student contact hours and they satisfactorily completed professors’ assignments, a digital badge indicates that a person acquired a specific skill. People could earn badges by winning awards, completing special projects or meeting learning objectives in a traditional course.

Universities are striving to improve assessment of student learning. Administrators increasingly insist that course syllabuses include specific learning objectives and that professors assess students’ ability to meet each objective. These learning objectives resemble digital badges. If students took 40 courses to earn a degree, and each course had one unique learning objective, then upon graduation, a student would have earned 40 digital badges.

Digital badges, however, may face the same problem as college degrees. In order to increase revenues, degree-granting and badge-granting institutions may enroll as many students as possible. They may not care whether these students are prepared or willing to do the necessary work. They may invest a certain amount of resources to teach students. Then a certain percentage of students may withdraw or fail; another percentage may excel; and the majority in between these groups may pressure instructors to provide greater rewards than are deserved. As a result, employers may remain skeptical of graduates’ capabilities.

Of course, badge-granting institutions would probably not emphasize scholarship and research. Nor would they offer football games, beer-drinking companionship and the other pleasures of living away from parents.

But e-learning (distance education via the Internet) also fails to provide social opportunities on campuses. Yet e-learning in combination with face-to-face interaction may be the future of education, at least at the graduate level.

I’m living in Tbilisi, Georgia, and teaching a doctoral student, Matt Haught, who lives in Columbia, SC. Last night we had a 1.5-hour video Skype call to discuss his reading assignment, his writing and his career plans. Throughout a course, we talk once a week. E-learning for an independent study course has worked well for both of us.

If I had not interacted with Matt in Columbia for a year, however, I don’t believe that our e-learning experience would be as successful. I need some face-to-face time to build trust and to connect with a student.

I would be excited about participating in a visual communication doctoral program with students and faculty scattered throughout the world. It would enable me to work with the best scholars and best students. And what would be the downside (other than time zone problems)? How much difference would there be between my current independent study with Matt and an online course with 5 doctoral students on 5 different continents? Again, I’d just like a certain about of face-to-face time in the beginning.

So why isn’t there a true “international” doctoral program in visual communication? I guess the answer is money and bookkeeping. Imagine that University XX offered the degree and each student paid tuition for 48 credit hours to University XX. Of the 48 credit hours, only 9 were taught by faculty members “working for” University XX (i.e. living nearby). How much money would University XX keep for “overhead?” How much would it pay its faculty members? How much would it pay faculty members working for other universities? I don’t know, but I wish University XX would take a chance and experiment with an e-learning doctoral program in visual communication.



Initial planning for a conflict reporting class for USC and CSJMM students

Gaby Peschiera-Carl, assistant director of Study Abroad at USC, conversing with us in Tbilisi via Skype.

One of the objectives of the “Journalism School Partnership Program” grant is to initiate student exchanges between the University of South Carolina (USC) and the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM). In order to fulfill this objective, we need to identify subject matter that USC students could learn in Tbilisi, Georgia, that they could not learn at USC. Ideally, USC students would be able to learn this subject matter better in Tbilisi than in any other city in the world. That’s a tall order. But we have an idea–conflict reporting. There are four conflict zones within a 1-day drive of Tbilisi: conflicts between Abkhazia and Georgia, South Ossetia and Georgia, Armenia and Turkey, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan. Most important, students can safely approach one side of the conflicts and talk with people on that side.

The course we are imagining would differ from “standard” courses in a few ways. One, instead of studying with Americans, USC students will study with Georgian students. The opportunities for cross-cultural interaction will be high both inside and outside the classroom. Two, instead of learning from one professor, students will converse with multiple experts. The Institute of War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) and CSJMM have good connections with reporters as well as with citizen bloggers. Three, instead of studying inside a classroom most of the week and traveling on weekends, USC and CSJMM students will go on frequent field trips as part of their course.

Baadur Koplatadze, dean of CSJMM and Beka Bajelidze, region director of IWPR, will begin working on a syllabus and lesson plans. They also will begin to develop a budget. We need to provide housing and transportation for 10-16 USC students for 4-5 weeks. We also need to calculate the costs of the field trips. Meanwhile, assistant director of Study Abroad at USC, Gaby Peschiera-Carl, will guide us through the process of creating a new study abroad course.

We began with a Skype conference call. If you have any suggestions, email Keith Kenney at or comment on the blog.

Internships for journalism students at CSJMM

From the moment that students first arrive at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at USC, they are encouraged to take an internship. Students who are nearing graduation passionately talk about the importance of getting “real world” experience, of building their portfolios, and of making contacts with professional journalists. Photojournalism students may have 2, 3 or 4 internships. Since some interns are not paid, however, the experience can be a financial burden. When I was a photojournalism intern at The Texarkana Gazette, I was paid, but not enough to cover all of my expenses.

The situation is similar in Georgia. Georgian journalism students want internships for the same reasons U.S. students want internships. In Georgia, however, interns are much less likely to receive a salary. In fact, they work for free.

Students at CSJMM have sometimes worked as interns at media organizations. I don’t think they received academic credit. I don’t think there were  contracts between interns and media companies. And I don’t think employers had a systematic means for evaluating CSJMM interns. But this is changing. Thanks to Tamuna Kakulia and Beverly Dominick.

As Career Services Director in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at USC, Beverly Dominick provides internship advice to all students. She also maintains a searchable database for internships. But, for CSJMM, the most important fact is that she created all of the necessary forms to have a successful internship experience. We are stealing her forms as well as the information she gives students about internships. We are using her Internship Note to Employers; her Internship Agreement and Goal Statement form; her Internship Progress Report form; as well as her Internship Student Evaluation form and her Internship Sponsor Evaluation form. With her permission, of course.

Tamuna Kakulia, project manager at CSJMM,  has kindly translated all of these materials in Georgian. Now we are beginning to visit the following media companies in Tbilisi in order to talk with editors about CSJMM’s internship program and to ask them to sign our forms.

·         Kavkasia (Tbilisi-based local TV station)

·         Maestro (Tbilisi-based local TV station)

·         Radio Sakartvelo (Fortuna, Fortuna Plus, Ar Daidardo)

·        Radio Hot Chocolate and magazine Hot Chocolate

·         Radio Komersanti

·         Radio Utsnobi (Tbilisi-based local radio station)

·         Liberali (web edition plus an 8-page insert to national newspapers)

·         Netgazeti (web edition)

· (web edition)

· (web edition)

·         City (glossy weekly magazine)

·         Mkurnali (magazine covering heath related issues)

·         Palitra media (a media company with radio, web-based TV, newspapers and magazines)

·         The Messenger (English language daily newspaper)

·         The Financial  (English language weekly newspaper)

·         Georgia Today (English language weekly newspaper)

·         Georgian Journal (English language weekly newspaper)

·         IWPR (Institute for War & Peace Reporting)

To apply for an internship, CSJMM students will need to have completed two semesters of coursework. Then they will go to CSJMM’s website, learn about internships, find all the forms, search the database, and email the appropriate contact persons at whichever companies suit their needs. CSJMM students will receive 2 credits for completing an internship involving between 160 and 320 hours of work.

If you’re a professor, your blog should count as scholarship

I’m serious! And I’m not writing this simply because I have a blog and I’ll be seeking promotion to Professor soon.

Read what Martin Weller wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education: “I have been an active blogger since 2006, and I often say that becoming one was the best decision I have ever made in my academic life. In terms of intellectual fulfillment, creativity, networking, impact, productivity, and overall benefit to my scholarly life, blogging wins hands down. I have written books, produced online courses, led research efforts, and directed a number of university projects. While these have all been fulfilling, blogging tops the list because of its room for experimentation and potential to connect to timely intelligent debate. That keeps blogging at the top of the heap.” Weller continued: “Increasingly we find that our academic identities are distributed. There was a time when you could have pointed to a list of publications as a neat proxy for your academic life, but now you might want to reference not only your publications, but also a set of videos, presentations, blog posts, curated collections, and maybe even your social network. All of these combine to represent the modern academic.”

I love blogging. It provides an incentive to attend various events, meet new people, ask questions, take pictures, gain background information for context, organize my thoughts, and so on. Plus I get lots of photo credits. In other words, I like blogging for the same reasons that I liked working as a photojournalist. But now I only pick “the best” assignments, and if I’m tired, I take the day off. I can’t say that my blogging has benefitted my traditional scholarship—yet—but it might. I may be invited to participate at a conference in Armenia in June because of my blogging. Someone may see progress on my documentary video in Adishi and ask me to show the finished film. I’ll be writing soon about my John Dewey chapter, which may improve my writing style—less academic. I hope that my blog posts from Georgia will benefit my USC colleagues who will later work at CSJMM. Similarly I hope that my blog posts from Columbia, SC, will benefit my CSJMM colleagues in Tbilisi. At least, that’s the argument I’ll use when seeking promotion.

Do we need international accreditation of journalism/mass comm programs?

My school, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at USC (University of South Carolina), is accredited by ACEJMC (Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications). This organization provides accreditation to 109 schools in the United States and 1 school outside the United States. Congratulations Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile!!!!!!  On LinkedIn, people are discussing questions such as: Should international schools seek accreditation? Should we create an international accrediting organization for international schools of journalism and mass communications?

Should international schools seek accreditation? People who say “yes” mention a) competitive advantage useful for marketing the school; b) easier to arrange student exchanges; c) helpful for placing students in jobs; d) more likely to obtain external funding; e) if ACEJMC, then assurance of adequate resources; and f) if ACEJMC, then mandatory self-assessment of program-level learning outcomes. People who say “no” mention: a) lengthy process—minimum of five years for ACEJMC accreditation; b) onerous, burdensome, bureaucratic; c) does not necessarily assure quality; d) disagreement with certain requirements, such as need to include more women and gays; need for fewer writing courses; and need to reach out to high school journalism programs; and d) difficult or impossible to achieve. I say “yes.” Accreditation would force schools to do things that they should do to ensure students receive a quality education, but that schools might not do because of expense, ignorance, or laziness.

Should we create an international accrediting organization? I don’t think so. Instead, I think that ACEJMC should discuss ways that it could adapt its standards to make them as useful and relevant for international schools as for U.S. schools.

Here are the nine standards for ACEJMC accreditation:

Standard 1. Mission, Governance andAdministration

Standard 2. Curriculum and Instruction

Standard 3. Diversity and Inclusiveness

Standard 4. Full-Time and Part-Time Faculty

Standard 5. Scholarship: Research, Creative and Professional Activity

Standard 6. Student Services

Standard 7. Resources, Facilities and Equipment

Standard 8. Professional and Public Service

Standard 9. Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Resources for teaching photojournalism

As I mentioned in the previous post, CSJMM faculty members are at the stage in the curriculum revision process when they are revising syllabi and developing new syllabi. I’m not only revising a syllabus for the Media Law and Ethics course, but also for the photojournalism course. My two favorite books are both by Ken Kobre.

Here are my favorite online resources for teaching photojournalism. Congratulations to David Weintraub, my colleague at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, for making it to the top of the list. Congratulations also to Ken Kobre, our colleague at San Francisco State University, for the second most-useful website.

David Weintraub’s blog for Black Star;

Ken Kobre’s guide to the best multimedia journalism and video journalism;

In-depth interview with photo editor at the New York Times;

A behind-the-scenes look at photojournalism;

66th College Photographer of the Year | Winning Images;

National Press Photographers Assoc—Best images of the year;


The Mountain Workshops;

The Missouri Photo Workshops;

The Digital Journalist;

Tips to create a photo essay;

Ten key traits of good photojournalists;

Photojournalism – Reading and resources list;

Parallel actions at GIPA’s CSJMM and USC’s SJMC

CSJMM is in the midst of an intense curriculum revision, and the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) is in the final stages of revising its curriculum. The following is an excerpt from Dean Charles Bierbauer’s annual report for 2011. I believe his words apply equally well to CSJMM.

“Curriculum review is a seeming constant in both of our schools — Library and Information Science and Journalism and Mass Communications—to ensure our programs are current and relevant. The journalism school faculty is engaged in its most far-reaching revision in well over a decade. Part of its aim is to eliminate those walls — we often call them silos — that keep us from preparing for the market place in which our graduates will find themselves. Multimedia, all-platform skills are now the norm in just about all our disciplines. I hear that consistently when I seek advice from alumni working in our fields. But we also have well-respected traditional programs focused on core capabilities whose long-standing benefits we don’t want to relinquish. If there are any walls left when we finish the process, they should be no more than knee walls that define the disciplines but do not obstruct our vision of the present and the future.”

CSJMM is also in the midst of preparing for accreditation, and the SJMC recently completed its accreditation process. Again I offer an excerpt from Dean Charles Bierbauer’s annual report for 2011.

“The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications took note of our teaching strength when its team visited in February: Students remark that the courses they take in their sequences are rigorous and more demanding than many of the other courses they take in liberal arts and sciences. Courses in writing were especially noted for their rigor in demanding clarity and accuracy. . . . The accrediting team’s summary says:
Strong school leadership.
A culture focused on teaching and student needs.
A productive faculty in professional and scholarly works.
Outstanding service to university and professional communities.
Efficient budget management.
A solid assessment plan. There is praise for our faculty: Since the last accreditation visit they have written 13 books, close to 83 refereed journal articles, more than 20 book chapters, more than 125 refereed research papers at academic conferences, more than 200 articles and essays in trade publications. Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments is securing more than $1 million in grant money.”