**Update: **This post has been sitting in my drafts since I wrote it two nights ago. I wasn’t quite happy with it, but now that Kevin Anderson has pre-empted me with almost the same title, I’d better hit “publish”.
The things that inspire you to undertake a career are usually drawn from your past. Add to that the competitive pressures, and the financial commitment required and you can see why some students might wish to enter an industry that looks like the one they wanted to join when they were growing up.
This is a fair point.
One of the reasons so many students appear to aspire to old-school journalism jobs must be that the only image of journalism they ever receive through popular culture is hopelessly dated. I’ll happily admit that when I was 16 years old, I aspired to a career that looked a bit like *All the President’s Men, *albeit with desktop publishing. This was 1995 — more than 20 years after Watergate.
(I must have snapped out of it quickly, because I built my high school newspaper’s first web site a year later.)
Perhaps the first thing every journalism course needs to do — on day one of each new intake — is to provide some examples of impressive current careers, so that students can aspire to be the pioneering journalists of their own generation rather than the ideal-types of their lecturers’.
Teach some new heroes: You know, the people out there doing impressive stuff with new technologies right now. The war reporters traveling the world doing solo multimedia reporting; the investigative reporters using sophisticated software to take on the CIA, the laid-off print hacks going it alone to build successful online publications, the people bringing software development skills into journalism.
Need a recent journalism film to dislodge Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford? Try Shattered Glass — a story where the fraudulent titular hack is found out by an online journalist. The hero there is Adam Penenberg, then of Forbes.com. A key part of the story is Penenberg’s scepticism about the phoney website the technologically-unsophisticated Glass had set up to disguise his made-up stories for the New Republic, er, magazine.
Then on day two, you can start preparing them for strange new jobs like “mojo”, “database editor”, “podcast editor” or “community editor”.
*Update: **Over at *Strange Attractor, Adrian Monck suggests adding an exemplary journalism student to the list of new media role models: Dave Cohn, a student at Columbia University and editor of NewAssignment.net, is certainly a good example to point out. He has a great piece in the Columbia Journalism Review today about his use of Digg.
Who else should be added to the list?