Make journalism education more like @ONA12

SAN FRANCISCO — When I was a freshman, I took a one credit intra-university course called “The Future of Media.” I used to joke that the most important lesson I learned was that media has no future.

This lesson has stayed with me throughout my journalism education. It’s made my so-called “useless major” a running joke among my friends, and has made me pause whenever I’m asked what I want to do after graduation (answer: Have the most eloquently written “Will Work for Food” sign ever).

But this weekend, for possibly the first time since I chose the Journalism and Technical Communications major on my CSU application, I feel something that’s evaded me: Hope.

I’ve spent the past three days the annual Online News Association Conference, mingling with 1,400 of the smartest people I’ve ever met and sitting in on sessions detailing the best ways to use the Internet to its fullest potential as a storytelling device.

During these past three days, there’s been no mention of print media, no hint of people yearning for a past when news was delivered simply by dropping it on people’s doorsteps. No one talked about Twitter as if it was some strange, new-fangled device that’s degenerated modern-day journalism to 140 characters.

Instead, there was only optimism, optimism about the power the Web could have in delivering information, and how to capitalize on its multimedia potential to give consumers the best experience possible.

This weekend, probably for the first time in my journalism education, nobody told me that I should change my major. Nobody told me that public relations was the only way that I could get a job.

If the ONA Conference taught me anything, it’s that media — and more importantly, the watchdog, community journalism that I love — actually has a future, and a bright one at that.

It’s a lesson that should have seemed obvious. This morning, seconds after my alarm went off, I checked my Google News feed on my phone. Throughout the day, I clicked on articles linked to me via Twitter, and kept up with Gawker and Politico, two of my go-to news sources, right after the more traditional Denver Post, NPR (my journalism crush) and the New York Times.

None of my media consumption patterns are particularly unique — our generation is full of perpetual media consumers. In fact, given the volume of information out there, not to mention the power of social media in sharing it, I’d argue that we’re exposed to exponentially more media than our parents ever were.

It’s just that my journalism education hasn’t found a way to teach me how to produce the content that I see every day.

CSU’s journalism department has only one web design class, which barely mentions HTML 5, Javascript or Flash. Data journalism, which occupied multiple sessions at ONA, is never discussed.

It’s not like CSU’s journalism department is behind the rest of the country: It’s not, and it has some pretty incredible professors. And at least we still have a department: CU-Boulder just kind of gave up.

But if J-Schools want to adapt to the new media landscape, computer science needs to be as integral a part of our education as AP Style. That means, beyond learning basic HTML in Dreamweaver, we ought to be learning more advanced programming, especially on the visual side.

Instead of listening to arguments about whether or not blogs are real journalism (an argument that should have been resolved in 1998), or hearing about the death of print media (we should quit grieving by now), more time should be spent learning about search engine optimization and building a social media base.

CSU doesn’t yet have a class that teaches you how to utilize Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook or the other tools out there, but it should. I’ve had a good education in writing and reporting, but that means nothing if I can’t present it in the current media landscape, and actually get people to read it.

This weekend, I met 1,400 people who combined being incredible storytellers with a passion for technology. And rather than being stuck in the past, I think that J-School should teach us to embrace the incredible opportunities of the present.

And rather than debating if media even has a future, we could benefit from learning about the amazing things that the future holds.

Editor in Chief Allison Sylte is a senior journalism major. Her column appears Mondays in the Collegian. She can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @AllisonSylte.