Knight Foundation Fund Seeks to Revolutionize Journalism Education

Is the traditional journalism education model dead? The Knight Foundation thinks so, which is why it's launching the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. The fund aims to fundamentally change the way journalism is taught by furthering the development of "teaching hospital" models within the field. Under this model, students, professionals, and professors "work together to provide both news to a community and knowledge in the field of journalism."

This paradigm shift underscores a profound debate within the journalism education field. Traditional journalism education is predicated on what's called the "custodial education" model. It's a classic teacher-focused approach whereby students are passive receivers of information in a classroom environment. However, thanks to rapid developments in technology, social media, and the rise of "citizen-journalists," detractors argue that this approach is not only ineffective but also on its proverbial last legs.

Just recently, for example, the Knight Foundation provided a grant to Knight-Mozilla OpenNews in an effort to bridge the gap between "legacy" newsrooms and "hacker-journalists." More specifically, Eric Newtown, a senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation, recently dubbed this "custodial" model a "symphony of slowness." All across college campuses, students in everything from medical departments to software labs are working in fast-paced, technology-centric environments. Yet most journalism teachers are plodding through yet another case study of the Watergate tapes (not that we don't appreciate the work of Woodward and Bernstein). Journalism students are being left behind in a cloud of dust, and that situation must change.

Therefore, Knight is pushing for an approach that's used in teaching hospitals. Bear in mind, this isn't a purely decentralized model. Just as a doctor leads his or her respective student group, so too does an accredited journalism professor. However, the substance of the interaction is more collaborative, allowing students a greater voice in shaping stories and pushing new technologies. After all, in some cases, students may be more technically adroit than their professors.

This may not be earth-shattering news for journalism education organizations that are looking for funds. However, we imagine the responses of such organizations will vary across the field. Some may be quick to embrace this new model, while others take a wait-and-see approach. Regardless, the fund is perfectly in line with the Knight Foundation's mission and recent actions. Knight believes the world will continue to evolve and is doing everything in its power to accelerate changes in the way journalism is taught.

For more fundraising trends in journalism, see IP's Fundraising Guide in this area.