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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life

US journalism academics fall out over internet future

Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is under attack in the United States for his decision to halve the budget for cjrdaily.org to concentrate on the printed Columbia Journalism Review.

According to the New York Times: “Mr. Lemann said he was faced with the same quandary confronting most news organizations today — how to finance an online staff while the Web site is free to readers. The Web site will soon start to sell advertising, hold conferences and sell archival material, he said, but that revenue will not make up for the costs of the online staff. He said he had been “out fundraising every day” but had not scraped together enough to finance the Web site at full strength.”

Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum has described this “extraordinary mistake” as a “stunner”. Blogger Jeff Jarvis also thinks it is a mistake writing: “If anyone should be trying to learn how to successfully and creatively take a print brand and product online, shouldn’t it be a journalism school? Jarvis, who is about to take up an academic post, has comprehensive links to the debate.

As other journalism academics jump in, the emerging debate is about whether journalism schools should follow a traditional route or should be pioneers of a new media which encompasses “citizen journalism” (for want of a better phrase). Journalism needs “revolution, not evolution” as John Lavine of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism put it according to a profile in the latest printed Columbia Journalism Review.

What has really riled the apostles a new journalism is a critique Lemann wrote in the New Yorker. It starts:

On the Internet, everybody is a millenarian. Internet journalism, according to those who produce manifestos on its behalf, represents a world-historical development—not so much because of the expressive power of the new medium as because of its accessibility to producers and consumers. That permits it to break the long-standing choke hold on public information and discussion that the traditional media—usually known, when this argument is made, as “gatekeepers” or “the priesthood”—have supposedly been able to maintain up to now.

However he goes on to describe the internet as potentially “the best reporting medium ever invented” adding:

To live up to its billing, Internet journalism has to meet high standards both conceptually and practically: the medium has to be revolutionary, and the journalism has to be good. The quality of Internet journalism is bound to improve over time, especially if more of the virtues of traditional journalism migrate to the Internet. But, although the medium has great capabilities, especially the way it opens out and speeds up the discourse, it is not quite as different from what has gone before as its advocates are saying.

In the UK the debate is less polarised. Journalism teachers endlessly discuss the changes in our trade but in the end. I think, take a pragmatic approach.

My view is that journalism is undergoing a revolution but there is no clear indication of where it is going. What we can do is ensure that our graduates have the skills and are aware and flexible enough to cope with changes we cannot predict with certainty.


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