Revolutionizing journalism education at Medill

Chicago magazine has a piece on the challenges facing John Lavine, the new dean at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism as he sets a new course for teaching journalism.

“It would be unethical for us to educate you to only be able to write,” [Lavine] said. “It would be like sending you out with your left arm and your right leg tied behind your back.”

After taking over as the leader of Medill earlier that year, the new dean had vowed to “blow up” the old curriculum at what has long been considered one of the best journalism schools in the country. He declared that students needed to be immersed in “new media”—Web sites, videos, filmstrips, video games, and podcasts. And the new curriculum would emphasize an understanding of “audience”—who the customers are, what they want, how to reach them. The concept of marketing—widely disdained by ink-in-their-veins journalists—would assume a key role in the teaching program.

I graduated from Medill in 1995. I was fortunate to take a class called Newspapers of Today & Tomorrow. That class placed a heavy emphasis on prototyping and knowing the audience. It also gave me the freedom to explore online newspapers, leading me to launch The Daily Northwestern online.

Given today’s $35,000 annual tuition and the challenges facing the media business, I’d be hard pressed to encourage someone to go into a program that only taught writing and editing. As it is, I’m constantly encouraging my friends in the media business to learn about their audiences, engage with their readers and learn new ways of telling stories.

If no one wants to read your work, it doesn’t matter that you know “who” from “whom.”


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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