Posted on April 17th, 2011 No comments
This week the University of Colorado Board of Regents finally voted to close the School of Journalism. It’s a difficult decision that makes a lot of people nervous, including me at one time (after which I changed my mind). But now I have to honest. I feel more than ever that this was the right decision, and I’m looking forward to what happens next.
For better or worse, I’m closely connected to this years-long saga. I’m a CU-journalism school alum, and I’m also one of a majority of advisors to the school who signed a letter one year ago recommending its closure. It’s quite ironic given that the topic here is journalism, but there’s a bigger story here that is being under-reported — and in some cases misreported — by trained journalists.
As explained in our original letter recommending closure, the main reason for closing the school was to break up a dysfunctional organization that actively resisted change at every step of the way over many years. We also felt that the school had become too inwardly focused as its own entity and, as a result, was largely unaware of and even dismissive of the digital innovations that have reshaped the media landscape over the last decade. When I say this I’m talking about the school as a whole, as there have always been individuals — usually non-tenure-track instructors or staff — who bucked the trend. But it was the larger trend and culture that had to be changed.
Shutting something down is never any fun, but now that closure is final, the second and far more interesting and exciting phase of reinvention can finally begin. I and others on the now disbanded advisory board have met with University of Colorado Provost Russell Moore and come to believe that the larger goal of interdisciplinary, experiential learning is more possible now than ever before.
CU’s leadership is committed to bringing the study of journalism and media together with other disciplines such as computer science, art and design, marketing, entrepreneurship and even natural science. But more importantly, there seems to be a growing desire to give undergraduate and graduate students from different disciplines more interactive laboratory-like experiences that mirror what students must do to succeed in the real world. That’s music to my ears, and I say “bring it on!”
As someone who started at CU as an engineering student, dabbled in the College of Music, ran the editorial and business operations of the college newspaper, and finally graduated with a degree in journalism, I think CU now has an opportunity to make things easier for the next generation of students. I should not have needed to hop between silos in order to get a well-rounded education in media and technology. Now it appears those walls could fall down for good so that future students can learn the basics of reporting and storytelling while also learning about, say, molecular biology or business law.
In an age when millions participate in the “act” of journalism — whether through Facebook, Twitter or the Huffington Post — I think it’s a good thing for anyone in any discipline to receive the training and experience that is currently only available on an island of a journalism school.
We still need trained journalists, but more importantly we need a more socially responsible and empowered information society. Mashing up journalism training with other disciplines reflects not just where things need to be within a university setting, but where they are in the world today.
So I’m optimistic, but as someone who was trained to be a skeptic, I also have a warning. Those of you in Colorado who care deeply about living in a well-informed society need to pay attention to how CU “walks the walk” it has been talking for the last year. The risk over the next few years is that despite good intentions, budgetary concerns will lead to cuts and consolidations that take things backward.
At our final advisory board meeting, graduate school dean John Stevenson, who is now responsible for the “Journalism Plus” program that will house journalism faculty before the full ICMT vision is executed, said something that characterized this well. Stevenson said, “We’ve basically taken a crisis situation and used it as an opportunity to move forward.” That’s exactly what CU has done here, and its leaders need to be commended. But they also need to be encouraged and supported to continue to move forward.
It’s important to pay attention, but more importantly to get involved. Regardless of your background, if you care about journalism and media and feel you have something to add, let the University of Colorado know that you care and give them your ideas. I think this is especially important for entrepreneurs and technologists. While I no longer have any official connection to journalism at CU, I intend to at least stay informed, and will get involved in ways where I think I can be helpful. If you’ve read this far you’re also one of those people, so join me and do the same.