by Nancy E. Oates
Big newspapers are shrinking. Midsize papers are closing. Laid-off journalists are prominent in the unemployment lines. Carolina’s journalism school — founded in a time when newspapers were the media, built with close ties to North Carolina newspapers and brought to successive levels of sophistication at the urging of newspaper people — finds itself in a disquieting new world in which the hopeful
news about newspapering might fit in a Twitter post.
The public appetite for news, information and commentary has not ebbed, but it decidedly has
migrated to new media — instant and interactive, with sound and moving pictures newsprint can’t provide. Advertisers have followed the consumers, putting their money in different pockets.
But just as the loss of ads presents a problem for the business office that funded the newspaper enterprise, the turn to online sources is forcing journalists to redefine how they pursue and present the message. And the flow of news — the “daily” in daily newspaper — isn’t slowing to let them catch up.
news doesn’t fit with print, and the school must relearn while it teaches.
Fifteen percent of the country’s newspaper newsroom jobs went away in 2008,
according to the American Journalism
Review. The J-schools are being populated
by students who know the traditional
model is broken.
Perhaps the tantalizing prospects of the
new, the experimental, are why interest in
studying the profession in Carroll Hall has
not gone down. If anything, says Jean Folkerts, dean of the school, enrollment has
edged up. An annual survey by the University of Georgia showed enrollment in journalism programs nationally reached an all-time high in 2007.
Undergraduate enrollment in Chapel Hill
has remained steady over the past five years.
“My fear is the parents,” Folkerts said.
“They look at headlines that say, ‘
Newspapers Are Dead.’ I’m afraid they’ll tell their
children not to go into journalism. It’s a
great field, and there are so many opportunities.
“They’re just different opportunities
than there used to be.”
The school is rolling out a refocused
curriculum this fall, trying to position itself
for a world in which the answers for the
industry could come as much from the students as from those hired to shape curriculum and teach it.
“We’re in a unique situation in academia
now,” said Laura Ruel, associate professor
and multimedia curriculum coordinator.
“The industry is looking to us for guidance.
We’re not just preparing our students for a
changing industry; we’re preparing our students to be the agents of change.”
The new curriculum
Despite the news industry turmoil, the
School of Journalism and Mass Communication has seen no decline in the percentage of students pursuing journalism; enrollment remains evenly divided between
journalism and advertising/public relations,
as it has for years.
The curriculum that guided J-school
students since 1993 separated students into
five sequences: advertising, public relations,
electronic, visual and news-editorial. Those
sequences have been jettisoned in this
year’s curriculum overhaul.