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Reflections from Third Level Journalism

Writing a PodcastI HAVE REACHED THE END of work with a third level journalism college and have some nagging thoughts about the skills many Honours graduates have when they finish their degrees. I've formed my opinion while working inside the system with the Higher Education Training and Awards Council as an external evaluator. I also have reinforced my opinion while working alongside several clever journalists. Simply stated, I believe a talented writer who wants to excel as a journalist should study another course. In my personal opinion, a history degree or a good grounding in business finance would enhance critical thought more than learning how to be an objective observer. Like several other lecturers who teach students how to observe, critique, write and communicate effectively, I know students can build these skills outside of J-School. But there's another pressing issue relating to how news is sourced and fact-checked in the early 21st century.

Most of the textbooks I've seen on journalism degree courses fail to acknowledge and leverage the real-time web of information that swirls around people today. Researchers, producers, presenters and journos need to know how to tap into that flow without drowning in its flotsam. And as creatives, they need to know how to produce copy with both a textual imperative as well as a multimedia component because as smartphones continue rising in popularity, staying in touch with a personal flow of news will be a common way people use their convergent phones. Getting news online, often on a small screen, is a pattern of behaviour emerging across Irish college campuses. According to Pew Research, 59% of Americans get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day. 

The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get their daily news, according to a 2010 survey conducted jointly by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism. This high percentage is certainly helped along by the rise in the number of high-end smartphones. My Android phone came with pre-installed Twitter and Facebook feeds on the main home screen. I'm following thousands of people on Twitter and that means I get to see a 140 character summary of some interesting item every 10 minutes during the day. Two taps away from the home screen, I've applications like Google Reader, Delicious, Instapaper, Listen and Beyond Pod. Each of them brings me more information per minute than I could possibly find by browsing the web. Learning how to find compelling stories and then knowing how to fact-check them through the same tools should be a skill that new journos have refined before they enter the workforce. Few J-schools teach this skillset.

The internet is now the third most-popular news platform today, behind local and national television, ahead of print newspapers and radio. I suspect that kind of demographic also exists in Ireland today. You would expect Irish journalists to be able to file their copy in ways that suit the news medium best.

PBS -- "Where do we get our news?" from a Pew Internet Report in 2006.

Zogby -- "Where do most people get their news" from a February 2007 poll.

Jonathan Richards -- "More people get news from web than TV or print" from the Guardian and Pew on August 18, 2008.

Pew Research -- "Internet overtakes newspapers as news source" on December 23, 2008.

Pew Internet -- "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer", March 1, 2010.