What’s in store for print-first journalism schools?

The Guardian's "Three Little Pigs" explains how "open journalism" is replacing the traditional gatekeeper role.

The University of Connecticut might lose the print edition of its newspaper, “The Daily Campus,” after students voted to reject an increased subsidy of the product.

This should be a great opportunity, right? UConn has a journalism school. What would better prepare journalism students for today’s workforce than to figure this out?

Our company is focused on the crossover point where digital revenue offsets print decline. And everyone, newsroom included – newsroom especially – is part of that conversation and mission.

We’d love to hire graduates whose journalism school education includes figuring out what to do when your print business is dying and you need to grow, connect with and monetize a digital audience.

But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen anytime soon at UConn, although I hope I’m wrong.

As Romenesko was writing about the potential demise of The Daily Campus, UConn Journalism School Dean Maureen Croteau was at the annual meeting of the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association last week addressing the Bizzaro World question of “How do we preserve our role as gatekeepers?”

“We used to know who we were,” she said. “We were gatekeepers. We sorted out the rumors from the truth.”

Croteau criticized the idea of the story as a process, saying that media now “reports rumors” not because we know they’re true but because “everyone is talking about it.”

Her example of why readers still need newspapers to “sort out the truth for them” was a recent quest she made to research the purchase of a new washing machine.

One online review said it was the best thing ever, the next said it was the worst, and my God, where is my newspaper telling me what kind of washing machine to buy?

It’s OK. I didn’t really understand what she was saying either, other than that she hasn’t fully figured out the whole web-has-revolutionized-consumer-knowledge thing and how to use it.

Croteau said – in that exasperated, exaggerated voice that print curmudgeons use to indicate their reluctant disdain – that she Tweets and Facebooks and realizes we have to embrace new mediums.

But let’s find a way to hold on to that gatekeeper thing.

She ended by quoting former Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Amanda Bennett’s contribution to a recent Nieman Reports collection of “what I would have done differently” musings.

…. Where Bennett argued not the conventional wisdom that newspapers did far too little to change back in the day, but that they panicked too much:

“With circulation and advertising both dropping, we had a tendency to go apocalyptic. I remember long impassioned discussions about the “future of news,” about how young people didn’t care anymore, about how newspapers were becoming irrelevant. The panic froze us and perhaps made us less effective at figuring out what our problems were.”

Croteau closed with Bennett’s closing words, “that people—including young people—want news and that even physical newspapers have long lives ahead.”

The message stood in contrast to Croteau’s fellow CDNA panelists last week.

Rich Hanley, head of Quinnipiac University’s journalism graduate school program, talked about how his school has been “platform agnostic” for years. We know this, because we’ve hired a number of his graduates.

And retired Hartford Courant Managing Editor Claude Albert had a very different take on “what I would have done differently.”

Albert kicked off his remarks by showing The Guardian’s “Three Little Pigs” video, and then remarks by Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the importance of “open journalism.”

Albert said the traditional gatekeeper role must be shifted to “harness the expertise of others.”

The Guardian is “charging into the networked world for a very journalistic reason,” he said, and no one can question the results they’ve achieved in partnering with the audience to do better watchdog journalism.

Albert said newsrooms must “fully embrace digital first, including social media.” And that means a top editor who is fully committed to digital, and ALL reporters and editors web-capable and social media savvy.

He said you need to find “the RIGHT efficiencies,” to put resources into journalism that distinguishes you, and to engage with the community and partner with others, “so you can devote more of your resources to things only you have.”

The world that Albert describes is the one Croteau’s students will inhabit. Will they be prepared? I know potential employers like me will be asking that question. We can’t afford not to.


8 thoughts on “What’s in store for print-first journalism schools?

  1. Unfortunately, the distribution model for college newspapers is not broken — free papers stacked around campus is a model that works very well. So students tend to think “digital last.” Northeastern’s independent newspaper, the Huntington News, has a few staff members who are pretty facile with social media, but for the most part they are tied to the weekly print cycle like a ball and chain. They are well aware that things are not going to be like that when they graduate, but they can’t resist the urge to stick with what’s working now.


      • I don’t find that surprising. Student newspapers are like community newspapers. They specifically cover their populations. No one else cares about what goes on at their campus the way they do. It’s where students and faculty go for news, and where advertisers know exactly who the readership is.


    • It’s usually pretty clear to us if a student understands and uses digital skills, because they’ve already established an online presence/personal brand via the web and social media. It’s a warning sign when a job applicant has graduated from journalism school and does not have a strong Twitter presence, for example, or a LinkedIn account that’s updated, or a personal website with their resume.


  2. We toured UConn for the second time last week on a 5-school road trip. While my son, who is interested in journalism and communications, has kept UConn on his list, we will be watching how the school handles this issue before it is time to apply.


  3. A few corrections are in order. For starts, I have nothing at all against online journalism, broadcast journalism, Tweeted journalism, or any other kind of responsible journalism — no did I say that I did. We teach all of those kinds of journalism to our students. We do not have a print-first attitude, any more than we have a print track. Our philosophy is that our students must be able to report and edit responsibly in any medium that is used to reach news consumers. Why should anyone care whether that is on newsprint or with electrons? Considering the fact that I was speaking to the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, it’s not surprising that I talked about what their companies can do best, which is provide TRUSTWORTHY information of importance to news consumers. Given the amount of information available online, our traditional gatekeeper role — whether in print, online or by social media — remains valuable. It’s been a very long time since anyone in the newspaper industry thought that meant hanging on to newsprint through eternity. We certainly don’t believe that or teach it at UConn. We would not be the only nationally accredited journalism program in New England if we held on to such antiquated notions. As for the “potential demise” of the Daily Campus, don’t hold your breath. Ads are down, money is tight and online revenue is not enough to make up the difference. Not exactly an unusual scenario for a news organization, is it? The Daily Campus has been in business since 1896. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. And as for the story about the washer . . . that was a bit of light humor. No, I don’t think that the future belongs to those brave enough and wise enough to offer washer reviews to their readers. (That was also a bit of light humor, in case you missed it).


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