The Innovation Incubators project is moving into the industry testing phase. Teams of students from seven institutions, Ithaca College, Michigan State, University of Nevada—Las Vegas, St. Michael’s College, Western Kentucky, University of Kansas, and Kansas State, worked together to develop three new ideas for community journalism which will be tested in the months ahead. It’s a good time to reflect on the project so far and to share one of my observations about what we’ve discovered during the collaboration process.
One of the great challenges for the Innovation Incubator students—undergraduate and graduate alike, and from all institutions—was pitching an innovative idea that not only met some of the nobler purposes of journalism connected to democracy and an informed citizenry, but also successfully considered and addressed the financial side of the equation, media audiences, and advertising.
Which leads me to the question: Is it possible to design a curriculum that teaches journalism and advertising together?
We always like to pretend that journalism and advertising are completely separate. But let’s face it: all this time, the two have been sitting right next to each other on the printed pages of newspapers. And now, they occupy connected spaces and times on the web pages of news organizations.
The royal ‘we’ which begins the prior paragraph refers both to the academy and the news industry. In the academy, the sequences in news writing and advertising are separate and are taught as completely different disciplines. We like to act like one, journalism, is exclusively pure and noble, serving democracy, and is untainted by advertising influences or press releases. In the industry, no one wants to lose credibility by acknowledging the relationship among news, advertising, and public relations. There are currently a number of movements toward ‘transparency’ in the news-making process, but still the interconnections remain opaque.
Are the goals of journalism and advertising compatible, and if so, how? Can we admit the connections in our news media and also in realm of higher education, and work constructively and openly with those connections? If not, we need to jump a lot further back on the innovation drawing board.