While following tweets about the Associated Collegiate Press Conference in Phoenix, one particular tweet from Jeremy D. Stanley struck me: "The most close minded journalists are the ones that just graduated." - Rob Curley #acpphx
At first, I was offended. Naturally, I would be. I just graduated college two months ago.
But then I took a step back and thought about all my peers who graduated around the same time as me and let out a disappointed sigh. He's right. Here's why.
They are unattached from the real world
Although college journalists probably have greater capacity to open their minds and learn new skills, that capacity hasn't been tested because they're not dabbling in real-world layoffs. They're not watching their life-long co-workers be fired left and right, watching their salaries decline or wondering every day whether they'll be the next to be laid off. College journalists read about the layoffs -- if they're staying up with industry news -- but ultimately, college newsrooms are a huge, deceitful bubble of safety (for now).
For those students working at internships, the positions are usually temporary or unpaid anyway, so the fear of losing a job or being laid off is practically non-existent. The only "reality" they have to go off is hearing newsroom horror stories from others.
Unattachment from the real world is important in the context of close-mindedness because there's no perspective to reference in terms of impact. It's harder to realize the true state of the industry when you're not living and breathing it.
The nature of college education leads to a predisposition of close-mindedness
At least at the University from which I graduated, many of the professors left the journalism industry before the Internet even existed. Professors are even more unattached from the real world than their students are because they just don't get the nature of the Internet or technology. In an environment where students are supposed to be learning, growing and experimenting, closed-mindedness of incapable professors inhibits such growth and said close-mindedness translates to students.
Now, I don't mean to generalize. I know that there are professors out there who are taking the extra effort to re-train, stay up-to-date on industry standards and be as tech-savvy as humanly possible. But don't kid yourselves, there are only a very select handful of those types in the journalism world.
I appreciate my education, but I rushed through my 4-year University in 2.5 years for a reason -- I found little value in it. I wanted to dig into the real world. I wanted to really live and learn through experience. In college, even my journalism classes, were bubble tests and essays.
So what I mean by "the nature of college education leads to closed-mindedness" is this: You can't have an open mind if you're locked into a system of teaching based on text books, standardized tests and homework. At least not in the journalism world. How can students be expected to have an open mind post-graduation when their pre-graduation experiences did not allow for any type of experimentation, critical problem solving, open discussion and execution of problems in journalism? How can students be expected to have an open mind post-graduation when their professors keep the same curriculum for decades, teaching students lessons about writing for newspapers instead of teaching about the changing art of story-telling and information gathering and how it's intricately intertwined with the business and development aspects of the web?
Recent college graduates aren't going to show up in a newsroom with an open mind and big ideas because many of them are used to being spoon-fed assignments and structure. The real world isn't like that.
The good news: It's fixable
I'm not trying to paint myself as the all-knowing college godsend. I was nothing special in college. But I was able to identify the ignorance that existed within my journalism department when no one else seemed to be aware of it.
The students aren't to blame. Once placed in a situation where they're allowed to openly collaborate and brainstorm without restrictions of the classroom to hold them back, students and grads are capable of accomplishing big things. They just need to be exposed to that opportunity many times before graduating so that it's natural post-graduation.
Now more than ever, students need to be teaching themselves and each other. If they decide to stay in college and go the standardized route, then they need to join forces, start independent student blogs, collaborate with other schools. Professors need to play a role in facilitating this kind of interaction and ensuring that it's appreciated and encouraged at the collegiate level -- even offer credits or scholarship money for students who are truly dedicated to experimentation and innovation outside (or better yet, inside) the classroom. The more that professors become involved in encouraging and overseeing innovative student projects, the better they'll be able to carry those projects on over the years and students cycle in and out of college. Ideally, progress on such projects could be tracked through blog or wiki as a reference for future students and professors.
So, thanks Rob Curley, for calling out college education. And now, brave professors and students... step up.