When I launched PBS MediaShift back in January 2006, I wanted to focus our coverage on how digital disruption was changing various media businesses, from newspapers to magazines to TV to movies. But when I visited Ball State’s communication and journalism program in 2007, I realized that there was yet another institution about to be disrupted in a massive way: journalism education.

How can universities, colleges, professors and teachers prepare students for a real world in constant change? How can they give them the tools and mindset needed to succeed in digital media? So far, the results haven’t been impressive. A recent survey by Poynter Institute’s NewsU found that 96% of academics believe a journalism degree is “very” or “extremely” important for students to understand the values of journalism — while just 57% of professionals felt the same.

While MediaShift has made a big effort to cover the changes happening at journalism and communication schools — and our audience is now made up of 20% academics and 7% students according to a recent site survey — we are planning on doing much more. The time is right to push this conversation beyond the early adopters, beyond those who are already nodding their head in agreement and get to those who are on the fence, those who are avoiding the issue and those who are in denial.

We are planning to ignite the conversation around journalism education reform on an expanded, revamped EducationShift section at MediaShift; on a new Facebook page dedicated to change; on a dedicated hashtag on Twitter, #edshift; and through real-world convenings for discussions and action.

Searchlights and Sunglasses

We will be able to expand our work in this crucial area due to a new two-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant is timed with the release of “Searchlights and Sunglasses,” an innovative e-book written by Knight’s Eric Newton. The e-book was created in partnership with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri Journalism School, and includes a “learning layer” so teachers can use the material in class. A large section of the e-book is dedicated to Newton’s efforts to help reform journalism education.

“In the digital age, student journalism can no longer just inform communities; it must engage them,” Newton writes. “And, through experimentation and research, it must do more than just provide journalism; by trying new things, student journalism can provide knowledge about what works and doesn’t to the field of journalism.”

searchlights j-education

MediaShift will use “Searchlights and Sunglasses” as the spark for a larger discussion about change in journalism education. We will delve into the idea of journalism schools as “teaching hospitals” that Newton explores, and consider newer degree programs. We’ll think about how online learning and MOOCs might fit into journalism education now and in the future.

Our Plan

How will this all work? Over the next few months, we will rethink, rework and redesign our Education section as EducationShift. The goal will be to spark debate on the issues of journalism education reform among the MediaShift and broader PBS.org audience. Here are some of our key components:

• Hiring a new Education Curator who will facilitate, provoke and manage the digital community pushing for change in academia. The Curator will be someone who has strong opinions but who wants to bring together diverse people and create a vibrant debate.
• Boosting our EducationShift content through everything from thought pieces to reporting on innovative projects to archived Twitter chats and Google Hangout conversations.
• Republishing the content from “Searchlights and Sunglasses” and its repurposing into a series of e-books and print books available through MediaShift and PBS.
• Aggregating the best teaching tools, stories, blog posts and event coverage around change in journalism education, with cross-posts on the website as well as links to the best stories around the web in our weekly Journalism and Digital Education Roundup email newsletter.
• Creating our own training workshops and/or webinars to help educators learn how to best train and teach students to be prepared for an ever-changing world.

Events and Beyond

Our overall goal with this project is to bring the issue of changing journalism education more prominently into the minds of educators, professionals, schools and beyond. Taking the idea of reform beyond background noise and sparking conversation and actual changes.

While we can boost our coverage on MediaShift and ignite conversations on social media, how can we bring that into the real world of practice? MediaShift has been producing an increasing number of events, and will plan more events hosted at journalism and communication schools and focused on education reform.

We will convene groups of educators, students, professionals, technologists and others who are interested in reform to discuss the best ways to bring change and make sure students are getting the training they need to succeed.

If you’re interested in applying for our Educator Curator position, please go here for more details.

Mark Glaser is executive editor and publisher of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Renee and sons Julian and Everett. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+