Co-authored with Kathy Fitzpatrick
Are schools of journalism and communication preparing students to thrive in the new media world? A survey of our field’s major courses and textbooks suggests that a focus on core skill development for print, broadcast and digital media spaces with increased emphasis on experiential and entrepreneurial approaches designed to help students create and monetize their own media platforms may be falling short. In addition to teaching fundamental skills and values, we also need to teach students how to lead, creating curricula and experiences that build students’ confidence and start them on a path toward thought leadership and organizational leadership in their fields.
In a recent essay in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, we made the case for introducing leadership training in the JMC curriculum, noting the importance of cultivating a leadership mindset in our students to move them beyond a self-conception as “job seekers” – which is how the 2011 Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education described our graduates. We must help them see themselves as thought leaders who envision and drive the next communication revolutions; as corporate leaders who are prepared to manage culturally diverse, complex media and communication industries; and as team leaders capable of directing initiatives that require field-specific expertise and soft skills, such as presentation competencies and collaboration.
Industry observers identify a need for leadership training for all university graduates. For example, a 2014-15 survey of more than three thousand global business executives conducted by Boston Consulting Group identified leadership development and creating a more robust pipeline of future leaders as the single most urgent human resources priority for international organizations.
In journalism and communication, the need for leadership training is particularly acute for female students, who make up more than 60 percent of the national pool according to annual enrollment surveys conducted at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
Women lag far behind men in terms of reaching the highest corporate governance positions. According to a policy report from the Committee for Economic Development, women occupy only 19 percent of Fortune 500 corporate board seats, a percentage that has seen little improvement over the last decade. A 2016 report from Catalyst indicates that just 20 of the 500 CEO positions at these companies — a meager 4 percent — are held by women, and just 3 of these are held by women of color. In the media field, Gracia C. Martore of Tegna (formerly Gannett News Co.) is a prominent example, as is Marjorie M. Scardino, the first woman to sit on the Twitter corporate board.
We all must challenge the perception that top positions in media and communication are achievable primarily by men and prepare and encourage all of our students – especially our female students – to seek top posts and the chance to “sit at the table,” as Facebook COO and women’s leadership guru Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book, Lean In. The startlingly low number of women leaders in the media industries, coupled with demands for strategic and visionary leadership in these rapidly changing fields, demands a reinvigorated mass communication curriculum.
New curricular initiatives like stand-alone leadership courses can take time to introduce, given accreditation requirements and university approvals. But students shouldn’t have to wait. Here are five ways educators can start introducing leadership education today:
1. Leverage alumni contacts and the local professional community to create special events focused on leadership. Give students the responsibility for identifying and contacting potential speakers and panelists, and organizing event logistics. Have the students generate questions for speakers ahead of time regarding leadership challenges and career development strategies. Encourage students to build on the experience through post-event networking on LinkedIn.
2. Add a leadership portfolio to students’ graduation requirements. This portfolio gives students the opportunity to demonstrate a form of leadership, whether through a classroom project, a student extracurricular organization, an internship, publication or work experience. Assembling the portfolio with leadership as the focal point for analysis helps students recognize how they have contributed as leaders, and which skill sets, such as public speaking and collaboration, helped them accomplish goals. The portfolio exercise encourages students to regard themselves as leaders, which in turn increases levels of confidence and agency. The process of developing the psychological resources that leadership requires should be well underway as students move toward graduation.
3. Create opportunities for public speaking where students can experience the power of thought leadership. An option is to invite students to participate in a speaking event like an independently organized TEDx, where they can share original ideas through short public talks. For an in-class option, consider a structured public speaking assignment where students develop and present personal narratives. The personal narrative, a story in which the speaker is the main character, can help a student use introspection to articulate moments of character development and growth. This exercise further develops the psychological resources and maturity that leadership requires.
4. Encourage students to consciously create and cultivate their online profiles and networks using such resources as LinkedIn and Facebook. Emphasize the importance of developing a personal brand and online image that reinforces the student’s potential as an emerging leader. For an assignment, ask students to review the online profiles of leaders in their fields to better understand how these individuals position themselves at the forefront of emerging trends and conversations.
5. Enter sponsored student contests, such as the PRSSA Bateman Case Study contest, the AAF National Student Advertising Competition, the Arthur W. Page Society’s Case Writing Competition and the Washington Media Scholars’ Media Plan Case Competition. We should regard such contests as opportunities for students to develop leadership skills, especially around goal-setting and collaboration. Winning one of these contests is an outstanding achievement, but participation also gives students a chance to function in a team environment where they take responsibility for delivering outcomes. Participation could also form the basis of an analysis for the leadership portfolio described in #2 above.
Carolyn Bronstein is Professor of Media Studies and Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Enrollment in the College of Communication at DePaul University. She is a 2015-16 fellow of the Institute for Diverse Leaders of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. @Bronstein9 on Twitter.
Kathy R. Fitzpatrick is a Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, the world’s leading professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives and educators who are leaders in their field.