Transforming journalism education may seem like a daunting task — thanks to continual changes in the industry and dwindling college budgets — but teachers and professors are finding ways to equip the next generation of journalists with new technologies, strategies and ideas.

Katy Culver, journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared nine new developments with participants of the recent Green Shoots in Journalism Education conference at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Culver also is the curator for EducationShift– a section of MediaShift – which launched earlier this year with the goal of being “solutions journalism for journalism educators,” says Culver.

1. Going rogue respectfully

Look for ways to improve or update your current curriculum that doesn’t require a lengthy approval process for new curriculum and classes. Like traditional textbooks, curriculum can become outdated while waiting for approval. This is especially true for technology-oriented classes.


  • Robert Hernandez, an assistant journalism professor at the University of Southern California, is teaching a class in which students build an app for use with Google Glass to help tell a story.
  • Jim Flink, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, teaches an emerging technologies class, which focuses on rapid iteration, multi-platform content creation, deployment and measurement. One team in the class is working on a supporting app for contextualizing world news, integrated social media marketing, and graphics and design.

2. Innovation centers and visitor programs

Invite innovators with professional experience and expertise to your campus.

They can be “an exciting infusion of energy into the places where we all work,” says Culver.


West Virginia University has an Innovator-in-Residence program and last year brought in Sarah Slobin from The Wall Street Journal.

“She came in as an outsider dropping in and saying, ‘… I have freedom to do what I want to do with this class,’” says Culver. “And they ended up with a tremendously successful project on student prescription drug abuse.”

3. Pro-Am projects

Invite media professionals to partner with students and faculty on stories and projects.

“People who can come in and bring their professional experience for short amounts of time can shake things up in new ways,” says Culver. “Because when you pair professionals with amateurs, … when you take the seasoned veterans and you put them with the energy of 19- and 20-year-olds, magic happens.

” Recipients of the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education— open only to U.S.-based colleges and universities — often work with professionals on specific news experiments, she says.

The purpose of the Challenge Fund, according to ONA, is to “hack the journalism curriculum using customized versions of the teaching hospital model.” ONA is accepting applications for 2015-2016 projects until January 15, 2015.


4. Data

Review your curriculum to make sure students are adequately learning how to work with data.

“Any intro reporting course that does not include training in basic statistics and the use of spreadsheets and how to find, clean, analyze and report on data is doing a disservice to students,” says Culver. “It’s every bit as important as interviewing in an intro reporting class.”

She suggests inviting professionals to “drop in and teach courses” on data journalism.


5. Social journalism

Teach students how to use social tools and platforms in the reporting process.


  • CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is adding a master’s degree in social journalism to its academic lineup in 2015. Culver suggests asking students to review the structure of CUNY’s new master’s program. “Looking at what they’re doing helps you understand what is meant by social journalism,” she says.
  • A University of Memphis professor started the Twitter Scavenger Hunt three years ago and shared the idea with other universities. Now a multi-university event, students shoot photos and conduct on-the-street interviews as part of the exercise.

6. Money

One major hurdle keeping journalism education from moving forward is budgetary constraints, says Culver.

To help alleviate this, some schools are using alternative methods of raising money.


The University of Georgia created a crowd-funding tool— a la Kickstarter — to raise funds for specific projects.

“The nice part about this is that you don’t need to be focused exclusively on that big donor who can give you a major grant that creates an innovation center for you or endows a professional in residence,” says Culver. “In this case, mom and dad can give $50 so Brittany can go cover the Georgia State Fair.”

7. Training

Provide continuing education for faculty.

  “If you’re going to say, ‘please go, innovate, change, innovate, grow,’ and you’re not going to give anyone opportunities for training, that to me is a nonstarter,” she says.

Examples and ideas

  • The Digital Tools Catalog, a project of the American Press Institute, Knight Foundation and Poynter, includes online tutorials to help people create better journalism. In-person training is also offered through Poynter.
  • Host a hackathon and invite a group to innovate around a specific subject. West Virginia University and Mediashift recently partnered for a hackathon on the gender gap.
  • Mediashift will be collaborating with RJI at the Missouri School of Journalism to conduct a series of webinars, many of which will be appropriate for journalism educators. Watch RJI’s site for future announcements.

8. Programmatic changes

While some innovative educators are transforming existing curriculum, a few are taking on the challenge of adding new curriculum.


  • Journalism + Design is a new program at The New School in New York City, which merges teaching from The New School’s liberal art college and its design school. “The program seeks to map design methodologies onto journalistic practices and invest students with the imagination for real innovation in rigorous, evidence-based storytelling and news expression,” says Heather Chaplin, director of the Journalism + Design program. 

9. Sharing

Don’t keep your ideas to yourself. Use Facebook groups to find solutions to your challenges and share your thoughts and ideas with others.


Mindy McAdams, Knight chair in journalism technologies and the democratic process, is known for openly sharing her work with others.

She has also created a training website for multimedia and online journalists.

More green shoots like these can be found in the “Searchlights and Sunglasses” e-book and on the EducationShift website.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


Related Stories

comments powered by Disqus
MU | Missouri School of Journalism | University of Missouri