Advice from professors: what college journalism students need to know (Part 2)

Last week I posted Part 1 of my two-part series, “Advice from professors: what college journalism students need to know“.

As I said then, of all the professors who responded to my survey, Northwestern University’s Michele Weldon and the University of Alabama’s George Daniels provided the most in-depth answers.

This week, I have printed their mostly full responses below. The professors, who cover very different subjects at their schools, talk about the state of journalism in 2013, the positive and negative trends facing the industry, and their advice for young journalists as they enter the industry.

1. The state of journalism in 2013 is _________. Why?

George Daniels, University of Alabama: The state of journalism is looking better than it was a few years ago. Thanks to people like Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos, great newspapers are being purchased and given new life. As Gannett and Belo become one and as Local TV LLC (formerly New York Times TV stations) joins Tribune, these larger groups will have a larger national footprint. This can only mean that Tribune and Gannett will be able to do more award-winning journalism reaching more eyeballs. On the radio side, National Public Radio is putting out some great work every day, launching new initiatives like its CodeSwitch Project that recently presented a golden opportunity for NPR to showcase diverse stories that would not otherwise be told.

These are all examples of journalism that is looking great, better than it does when we were only hearing about staff cutbacks and ethical lapses and lots of bad news. I’m excited about what I see and what is to come.

Michele Weldon, Northwestern University: The state of journalism in 2013 is vibrant. There are more outlets for content than ever before and an enormous audience hungry for quality stories in multiple forms. Whatever platform you want to deliver your content, whatever kinds of stories you want to tell — you can do it all if you can do it well.

2. What is the most positive trend in journalism today?

Daniels: The most positive trend is the number of platforms on which to present good journalism. We have so many more places now than we had 10 years ago when I left the TV newsroom for full-time work. Social media and the Web have expanded the reach for journalists.

Weldon: That you can have a live global audience for your stories at any moment and every moment. The capacity to gather information is more accessible, the ability to tell stories well with multimedia and data is easier than ever before, and the chance to distribute instantly to anyone in the world makes modern journalism a breathtakingly exciting adventure.

3. What is the most discouraging trend in journalism today?

Daniels: The most discouraging trend is the blurring line between news/journalism and opinion/commentary. We in the journalism arena still face an uphill battle convincing the public that there is a difference between the talk shows and personality-driven programming on cable are different and distinct from the “straight news” that is reported by the journalists working often at the same cable outlets. We face a challenge even helping our students understand the difference between Sean Hannity and Brian Williams.

Weldon: That people speak negatively about “the media” without having the facts and really knowing that “the media” cannot be defined succinctly. I really cringe when people say “the media” in a disparaging tone as if every journalist and editor in the world has a morning meeting and decides what to cover in a mass conspiracy.

4. What is the best quality or ability that college-aged journalists bring to the industry?

Daniels: I think they bring a certain level of enthusiasm for what we do that can only make our profession that much better. I’m amazed at the energy that I find in our college-aged reporters at WVUA-TV (our University-owned commercial station). There is a new generation of journalists out there who are going to make sure that our profession is around doing what it must do for a long time.

Weldon: Their passion and energy. I have loved teaching young men and women for more than 17 years, helping them discover their voices and learn how to tell stories well. They literally change the way they look at the world when they realize the importance and responsibility of their talents and how crucial it is that they can tell the stories of others.

5. What is the quality or ability that college-aged journalists most lack?

Daniels: I am very disturbed that we have a generation of students who don’t watch the news. They have a TV, but don’t regularly watch the news. This is discouraging because I think they are missing out on an opportunity to grow. So, we have to re-educate them to see the benefits of not only living and playing online, but also being a student of traditional media outlets as well.

Weldon: I never think in those terms.

6. What is your greatest piece of advice for young journalists that deals with the current media climate?

Daniels: Be FLEXIBLE. The days of declaring you want to be a “broadcast journalist” and nothing else or a “magazine writer” and nothing else are over. I have spent the last nine fall semesters working with students in learning EVERYTHING else about news writing and reporters besides the printed platform. Now, I am including reporting with and for mobile. It’s ok to have an area of interest (i.e. sports reporting, entertainment reporting, political reporting). But, you have to learn how ALL of it is done.

Weldon: Be flexible and persistent. Learn as many storytelling skills as you can. Ask as many questions as you can. There will be an outlet for your work and there will be a place where you can practice the journalism you want to commit.

7. What is your greatest piece of advice for young journalists that is timeless?

Daniels: Good writing trumps all. As a television news producer, writing was the MOST IMPORTANT part of my job. Now as a blogger, writing is an essential part of what I do as a journalist. Writing, writing, writing — that’s THE most important skill you can have as a young journalist.

Weldon: Try. You will never know how much you can accomplish unless you take a risk. Try to capture a story in sound, images and video as well as text. Know that no one has your voice and the world needs to hear from you.


Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at

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