“It’s a kickass time to be a journalist right now.”
And Jeff Howe, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern, wants to prove it, with the help of a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation and a new media innovation graduate program at the University.
The track, announced Tuesday, will go toward tailoring the Master’s of Arts in journalism, and is designed to help mid-career journalists develop skills capable of meeting the demands of the 21st-century digital newsroom, such as coding, information visualization, videography, database management and game design. Howe described the program as “utilitarian” — one where any dissatisfied journalist could come and take up new skills to advance their career.
Howe, a veteran of the industry whose work has been published in The New Yorker, Wired, TIME and the New York Times, will serve as director of the Media Innovation Program. The curriculum will span three semesters, and force students to come in with a specific project or skill they want to obtain in mind.
“The idea is not that you come in and leave with a little dab of multimedia and a little dab of data journalism,” Howe said. Rather, the school will hand-tailor a mini major for each student, selecting four to five courses meant to be taken in sequence that all revolve around the predetermined, sought-after skill. Once a week, students will gather in a seminar led by one of the program’s digital practitioners, and learn how to translate their budding abilities to their project.
Only a handful of students will be participating in the initial iteration of the program, slated to launch in September 2014. Howe called this year the beta test, claiming, “Next year is when we go big.”
And the Media Innovation Program has to; Howe’s goals aren’t small.
“The goal is to be the best journalism department in the country,” he said.
Around the country, individuals are questioning the value of the journalism industry — just like they did for the music industry roughly a decade ago. To Howe, however, it was never the music industry that was in trouble, but rather the recording industry. And, as he described in a blog post announcing the new program:
So it is with storytelling. Making money off journalism has become more difficult, but finding passionate audiences for true stories well told has never been easier, or more exciting. Journalists have access to more information, more tools, more mediums and more venues than our predecessors could have ever imagined.
Howe won’t deny journalism has seen some tough times. He will argue, though, that the times have changed and taken an exciting turn. At Northeastern, the Media Innovation Program will be collaborating with the computer science school to create the country’s first data science journalism program. (See? Exciting.)
“Journalism hasn’t acted in any way that’s dissimilar from any industry that has found its way on the wrong side of history for the last thousand years,” Howe said.
The goal now is to ensure the industry doesn’t let history repeat itself, and that guarantee stems back to schools.
Howe interviewed at several journalism schools before taking his position at Northeastern, and noticed one critical key. “Northeastern was the only school I saw while I was doing interviews that was actually walking the walk,” he said. “They are actually innovative.”
With that, the rest of us can sit back and watch the stories unfold. Hanging in Howe’s office, he noted, is his guiding motto: “True stories, well told.” It’s the same motto he’ll be repeating during the program.
“We’re here to help people tell true stories across a broad range of media,” Howe said. “That’s my goal. That’s why I’m here.”
Image via Northeastern