Do Journalists Need To Be Entrepreneurs Or Just Really Good At Building Sources?

This year and last, the Knight Foundation has brought up the idea of using the “teaching hospital” model in j-schools to properly prepare journalists.  Last year, an“Open Letter to American University Presidents” called for a “teaching hospital” style curriculum. This year, a study is out questioning whether this teaching style really is the right move for j-schools.

In the past I asked journalists what’s lacking in training for TV news, then summarized those ideas.  Now this new study says J-schools need to encourage newbie journalists to take an “entrepreneurial approach” even while earning a degree. In other words, they want part of the curriculum to center on creating new ways to deliver the news in addition to learning how to present the news. Professors would be encouraged to also think up and test out new ideas.

I see the point.  I get where the researchers are going.  But I want to ask this:  If you do not even know how to draw, can you then make something look 2 or 3d?  The biggest criticism today, is TV news lacks depth.  Journalists skip steps or do not know to take steps to ensure information is accurate.  There are few checks and balances.  This happens when people are overwhelmed.  Lack of training and understanding, or knowledge of the existence of station policies, can cause embarrassing gaffs.  Now with increased pressure to get something on TV and break stories on social media, this lack of training and organization is really being exposed.  This is a dirty secret most veteran journalists have been painfully aware of for decades.

The medium really is secondary.  The core issue hurting TV news and journalism in general is this:  Too few entities demand source building and proper fact checking.  Many journalists will admit they do not know how to source build.  No clue where to even start.  This is one of the most requested article topics I receive.  How do you source build?  I cannot take people to lunch, so will I ever be able to develop sources?  Is it bad that my sources are all PIO’s?

So I am going to go out on a limb and saying that this whole idea of encouraging creativity and entrepreneurs in J-school is missing the point.  The biggest problem with J-schools today, is very few employ journalists who have actually worked in a newsroom in recent times.  Most schools demand masters and Ph.D.’s but do not emphasize real world experience.

J-schools may seem irrelevant, or out of touch or needing an overhaul because of this simple issue.  Hence the push for a teaching hospital style of program and entrepreneurial approaches.

J-schools can provide opportunities to step out of the box and create new ways to tell stories, utilize social media and even redefine the role of TV news in society.  BUT the ideas will not truly be relevant until they can clearly prove that the implementation will increase accuracy in reporting.  Let’s stop skirting the issue, and admit to the problem in clear terms. Journalists are entering the work force, with few clues on how to research and make sure they are accurately disseminating information.  As a result, they stick to what the news release and PIO say, and do not question.  It is the safe route.  It allows you to churn and burn 2 or 3 packages a day.  Teaching hospital or entrepreneurial push?  Neither approach really matters if the basic foundation is not there.  Teach how to gather information, source build and fact check.  Get extremely detailed about it.  Then TV journalists as a whole can move forward.  Stations can stop becoming a testing ground.  Most importantly, we can stop debating the whole “How do we teach journalism to stay relevant?” debate.  Facts are always going to be relevant.  Teach how to find them and get them right!