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Journalism School: Why Now?

Some of our amazing, innovative social journalism alumni from Newmark J-School at CUNY are holding a Zoom call tonight to talk about the program and the work they have done on it.

Given the state of the nation – and the world – we’ve seen a surge in interest in #SocialJ, and we’ve just reopened admission for fall. Social journalism couldn’t be more topical.

I’ve been speaking to some budding journalists lately who are wondering if this is the time they should get to school or if they should procrastinate. My Answer: If you wait a year, you will likely kick yourself.

In my life – and that is a long time – I have never seen such a strong convergence of profound forces for change in society as we are experiencing today. Systematic racism is exposed in a glaring light that no one can ignore. On the one hand, this is due to the disproportionate and deadly burden on color communities from the COVID-19 pandemic. And that’s because the police abuse is visible to all – not so much because of the media cameras, but because of the lens of the public, victims and witnesses who can now share what they endure. Thanks to the courage of a 17-year-old young woman who recorded the murder of George Floyd and posted it on Facebook, ignorance of the police violence is no longer possible.

At the same time, of course, the news media are being challenged to the core. This is no reason to move. That’s a reason to move. As I tell our students every fall, it is their responsibility to reinvent and rebuild journalism, to take everything we teach and question: How did we get here? Why do we do things like this (follow the money; follow the power)? What is the aim and the purpose of journalism? How can we do better now?

Good God, as a Witness and participant, if you want to change the world, now is the time.

Yes, school is a difficult time as classes may start or be interrupted online. But when is it better to learn skills and confidence than in challenging times? Our students will now come out with immeasurable resilience, with the need to be creative, with the ability to find new solutions, with strong motivation for their work. Lord, we need all of this in the news business.

In social journalism we teach – my brilliant colleague Carrie Brown and the faculty she gathers on this program she leads – that journalism is not an industry with factories that make a product called content to monetize it with a commodity called attention. We teach that journalism is a service. I often teach the words of James Carey: “Republics require conversation, often cacophonic, because they should be noisy places.” After half a millennium of control by the media gatekeepers, society is finally starting to learn again how to have a conversation with itself. That’s why I’ve redefined journalism and its mission: bringing communities together for respectful, informed, and productive conversation. That’s what we do

All of our #SocialJ students choose a self-defined community (not a mythical demographic like “Millennial”) and first observe, hear, feel, respect and reflect on the needs of this community before deciding what journalism can bring in the face of all the new benefits Tools we have. Here’s a look at the phenomenal, innovative work done by last year’s graduates.

We are heretics who are not afraid to examine how journalism can and should advocate for communities, for justice, for fairness, for science, for listening. Now is the time for this journalism, social journalism.

So listen to our alums talk about their experience (I’ll include a link to the video here afterwards). It’s not a sales session. It is an event that we have long planned to show off their work. However, given the overlapping circumstances – the challenges in society, the changes in the lives of potential students, the reopening of our admissions – it’s a good time to hear what they have to say. (We’ll also be holding a briefing for the Veterans School, which will be held June 25th at 11 am ET. Sign up here.) Even if you’re not coming to Newmark, if you’re thinking of coming to school for journalism to come My advice is that the time is now.

If you have any questions, please let me know. DM @jeffjarvis on Twitter.

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