Solving the Challenges of the News Frontier

Grantees in this story

When Andrew Hayward, the former president of the fabled network television giant CBS News, opened the first panel for the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education at the Paley Center for Media, which took place last week, he joked about the title of the conference: A Way Forward: Solving the Challenges of the News Frontier. “Solving. Not exploring,” he said. “Not questioning—solving!”

As pretentious as it might sound, solving problems—and promoting change—is exactly what philanthropy likes to think it does. Defining problems, finding solutions, bringing people together is what the big bucks behind foundations allow us to do. Unlike government, we don’t set policy or have REALLY huge budgets to make things happen.

We take risks and experiment and attempt to identify issues and offer solutions. After nearly eight years working on the changes underway—and very much needed—in journalism schools across the country, I can say with confidence that something has

While the challenges facing the news business are certainly not solved, ;at the Paley Center, the talk wasn’t about how things used to be better in the golden days of the news business. There weren’t a lot of tears about how change is destroying the business, either. Both of these themes, however, were expressed on the stage in January 2008, the first time we gathered the journalism leaders and faculty of 12 of the nation’s leading universities together.

At the 2008 Paley Summit, there was a clear gnashing of teeth, and a tentative attempt by some Internet gurus to convince the high priests and priestesses of news that the question was no longer about saving newspapers or TV news bureaus, but rather it was about how to deliver high-quality news to new audiences. This year, the Internet isn’t questioned as a vehicle for news. Many of the new digital players, like Twitter, not even on the radar two years ago, are now considered as essential tools in any journalist’s arsenal.

One panel focused on entrepreneurial skills and the need to teach them at J schools. Once a radical idea, when asked who thought entrepreneurism wasn’t a ripe topic for students, not one hand was raised in the crowded auditorium.

Change—ready or not—is here. Solutions, like those promised in the partnership between Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation, do not depend on a single answer. Part of the foundation-supported change in journalism education hinges on more interdisciplinary- and subject-focused curriculum and innovation on all levels. Both foundation presidents Vartan Gregorian of the Corporation and Alberto Ibargüen of Knight emphasize different elements of the change needed. But both are committed to the idea that journalism is too important for democracy to simply let bob along the river of change especially given that journalism schools are often too slow to change.

After eight years of working on this partnership, do I think journalism education, at least in the 12 schools we are supporting with Knight, preparing students for a changing news business? Some more than others. I do think these 12 J schools are experimenting in ways they weren’t before. And, for the most part, they have admitted that the news curriculum gruel was pretty thin at the turn of the last century and needed to change. Deep learning and deep thinking is what the business needs from its leaders. When Vartan Gregorian began the journalism initiative, he wanted a “Flexner moment”—something similar to the change brought about through the leadership of Abraham Flexner, whose seminal 1910 report on medical schools changed the way American medicine was taught. It will be up to the 12 deans to report back to Gregorian about whether they’ve achieved something as momentous. Gregorian likes to say that the deans’ reputation and that of their journalism school rests on what they have to show after eight years of funding and strategy. Check their reputations in 2012.