Your journalism school can do better (here’s how)

As a student who majored in one of the few undergraduate journalism programs focused on web development and interactive design, I have a lot of opinions about how digital journalism programs should be structured. But even if your journalism school doesn’t offer a concentration in “news nerdery,” there are plenty of ways your J-School can support you being competitive in the job market.

  1. Help students find their focus.

Journalism school is a great time to experiment with different mediums and try out new skills in a safe environment. But the result of that experimentation should be finding your niche in the journalism industry, whether that is as a user experience designer or an investigative reporter. A well-rounded journalist understands how different newsroom roles function and knows where they fit in, too.

2. Invite industry professionals to talk about their work.

During my senior year of undergrad, I had the opportunity to invite Sisi Wei, a journo-coder from ProPublica, to visit. She gave an amazing presentation on using code in journalism, and went out to dinner with our club to give us advice. Not only was she encouraging to some of the newer students to our program, she helped shine a light on what our skills looked like in practice.

3. Care a little less about your students’ school work.

There are some industries where having a high GPA is vital to getting a job. Journalism is not one of them. During my first year of college, I took a three-hour reporting workshop class where we wrote simulated news stories based on a lecture, and immediately after, I would go to the Daily Tar Heel office and edit real-life stories. For many high achieving journalism students, sacrificing grades for their out-of-class internships or journalism jobs was a given. On that note:

4. Encourage students to do journalism outside of class. Reward it. Require it.

After I graduated I learned there are J-Schools out there that require internships — and help their students get those internships—before graduation. That is amazing. Doing journalism projects in the real world is the only way to learn, and colleges exist to teach. So, push for students to do work outside of class.

5. Connect students to the journalism community — and each other.

One of the benefits the journalism industry has (especially the News Nerdery arena) is that it is incredibly close knit and supportive. Get students in on that support early and encourage them to attend conferences, join Slack channels, even email other journalists they admire to make connections. And make sure students know that the people they are working on projects with now in college are the people who might be sitting next to them in a newsroom in five or ten years — so connect with them, too.

6. Teach students how to learn, because your program will never be able to teach everything.

I’ve been out of college for almost a year now, and I feel like I have learned as much this year as I did in any year of undergrad. Being a journalist inherently means you are having to learn new things quickly and thoroughly — whether it is a new policy issue, or a new front-end framework. Make sure that students know how to harness their own ability to learn, so they can keep adapting to this ever-changing industry.