Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Floating "PRournalism"

In two parts this blog reexamines the career directions of journalism at the graduate level. Despite the increase in applications to the field (due to the recession), the field is constricting day by day. The following discussion, drawn from a report to my university leadership, suggests that graduate journalism students can be redirected to NGO, corporate and government positions. These posts will require their knowledge, skills and natural desire to write and communicate. The clear communication weaknesses of so many international students and U.S. students demands that we find the very best journalism talent, but help them find a career where they can use the the two leading dimensions of journalism: 1. content and 2. credibility. By the way, the unfortunate word "prournalism" is a combination of public relations and journalism. The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated CommunicationsThe Handbook of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Communications

First “C”: Content
The first issue of “who will provide content” is a contemporary issue that is argued by surviving members of the press, by researchers in the automated delivery of journalism and by investors in new media systems .
For example, the well publicized “test” announced October 16 2009 by the Chicago Tribune of the value of the AP wire service, the sharing of stories and content across an Ohio network of newspapers and media as told by Professor Owen Youngman suggest that content supply and demand are in flux. If a precipitous decline in the numbers of traditional news hunters and gatherers means a relative decline in content; then new sources for news content, information and even entertainment content will have to be developed, staffed and supported. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/oct/16/bsiness/chicago-tribune-ap-oct16u
The content may be needed for the rapidly increasing numbers of newer channels of communications. However, while traditional journalistic channels are dying in some countries, they are growing rapidly in others such as China. The growth and demand for content includes the growth of advertising and public relations to feed the dragon..http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703816204574485044128954298.html Whether traditional journalism is dying or not, the demand for original content and new communication pipelines may be expected to outstrip the ability of even traditional journalistic content providers to create and disseminate information. in the midst of severe journalism cutbacks even in the field of business reporting. Journalism has always been an experimenter in new media as has public relations. From a mirror perspective both fields have served the public and their audiences with credible communication standards.

Technology Shifts
• From broadsheets, to tabloid to newspapers and back to tabloid
• From paper to computer screens to digital readers
• From print to electronic to digital
• From print to sound to video to digital forms
• From community to national to global and back to community
A somewhat useful search of Google for November 4, 2009 locates 167,000 searches for the phrase “who will provide content”. The more serious uses of the phrase and the concept of content are identified in two cases that 1. "operationalize" journalism as a professional provider of content (and not simply the traditional media and new organizations that have hired journalists) and 2. "Operationalize" public relations and corporate communications as professional assignments providing content for multiple stakeholders or a wide range of non-media and non-journalistic organizations. Paul Gillin wrote about the future of journalism in a where the role of journalists will be substantially pared: ( For one thing, the craft of journalism will evolve to include far more aggregation and organization than it has in the past. Editors will assemble their reports from a vast library of resources located across the Internet. Information will come from paid staff writers, others from freelancers and still more from reports and opinions published by independent third parties who Editors will still have a critical role, but their value will increasingly be in assembling and organizing information for readers who don’t have the time to sort through the vast Web.http://paulgillin.com/gillin/how-the-coming-newspaper-industry-collapse-will-reinvent-journalism/ with edits by Clarke Caywood for this report.
The future of the creation and dissemination of content was also described by Gillian under the title which parallels the work of this report as “How the Coming Newspaper Industry Collapse Will Reinvent Journalism”
Gillian wrote that “Editorial content is outsourced to an army of individual enthusiasts, former journalists working for a wide range of organizations and bloggers who find interesting information on the Web or original information from organizations and feed it to the site operators. Editorial expenses, which account for about a third of the operating costs of a daily newspaper, are practically zero.
What Gillian misses in both his creative predictions is the logical placement of traditional journalists and new journalists into a wide range of organizations from hospitals, to NGOs , to churches, to government and politics to the largest potential content provider - business. His “third party” journalists may be former journalists and new crops of young journalist able and willing to deliver content from their catbird seat in many legitimate organizations with huge quantities of digital information to share for free. His editors in surviving journalistic pipelines may be charged with determining the credibility of the content of the wider and wider range of content providers (rather than simply tossing the past high percent of public relations generated content .
The content provider issue is on-going even the decline of reporting on business by the press was illustrated by David Carr’s November 1and 2, 2009 stories in the New York Times :
“Fortune magazine had already cut back to 18 issues a year from 25 and this week will be whacking anew at staff along with other Time Inc. magazines. BusinessWeek was sold for parts to Bloomberg a few weeks ago.”
“Instead, Forbes, a magazine that sells a beau idéal of capitalism, announced last week that it was cutting a quarter of its already decimated staff. The Wall Street Journal’s Boston bureau — historically a hothouse of game-changing business coverage — is being closed.”
http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/02/the-media-equation-no-rally-for-business-media/?pagemode=print, http://bx.businessweek.com/magazine-industry/business-is-a-beat-deflated/6777786051928429494-75b532ee469e37c690aac826af91df26/
Graduate journalism schools sealed their fate decades ago by aligning their future with a single, narrowly defined economic industry. An industry that has been a relatively small (and growing smaller) fraction of industrial sector. The mistakes of the past cannot be undone, but the future of schools of journalism can certainly learn from history.
Business schools only marginally aligned their curricula with specific industries (real estate, transportation). In general, the teaching and research were “industry neutral”. Except for an overheated relationship with consulting firms, business schools have survived the multiple recessions that impact the placement of their students. In other educational fields such as engineering the organizational relationships are redefined by technology with some overproduction of students in selected fields like industrial engineering. However, the response in schools of science and technology has been to increasingly create joint field (Bio-engineering, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence). Even the very popular schools of communications have developed all weather sub-disciplines that survive on the generalized applications of communication theory and practice. Specialized areas such as theater which have always suffered from poor economic models are promoted as great for working in matrix management organizations (Stanford University).
The exception in schools of journalism has been the productive and popular fields of public relations and advertising found almost exclusively in the American educational model in journalism or journalism and communication schools or departments. Again, the alignment for research, teaching and graduate career building in PR and advertising (including IMC in the Medill School) is relatively industry neutral except for the agency side of the field. Both of these disciplines are able to use their specific knowledge, education and skills in a very wide range of businesses, NGOs, healthcare and other institutions. By deliberate design of curriculum and their placement service development the field of advertising and PR are more recession proof than their brethren in more narrowly conceived and implemented journalism.
Creating graduate programs that are less precipitously married to a single industry is not as simple as abandoning the original field. We know that the definition of journalism should be considered “wider” than the press. The question of who will provide content is an answerable question that can move forward with or without journalism schools vying for the new honors. However, there is something that journalism schools possess more than many other organizations that may create a new professional advantage for journalism in a wide range of organizations. More to come on credibility.

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