TITLE: More on the Future of News and Universities AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 05, 2011 4:34 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I remain endlessly fascinated with the evolution of the news industry in the Internet Age, and especially with the discussions of same within the industry itself. Last week, Clay Shirky posted Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis in response to Dean Starkman's essay in the Columbia Journalism Review, Confidence Game. It's clear that not everyone views the change enabled by the internet and the web as a good thing. Of course, my interest in journalism quickly spills over into my interest in the future of my own institution, the university. In Revolution Out There -- And Maybe In Here, I first began to draw out the similarities between the media and the university, and since then I've written occasionally about connections [ 1 | 2 | 3 ]. Some readers have questioned the analogy, because universities aren't media outlets. But in several interesting ways, they are. Professors write textbooks, lectures, and supporting materials. Among its many purposes, a university course disseminates knowledge. Faculty can object that a course does more than that, which is true, but from many peoples' perspectives -- many students, parents, and state legislators included -- dissemination is its essential purpose. Universities aren't solely about teaching courses. They also create knowledge, through basic and applied research, and through packaging existing work in new and more useful ways. But journalists also create and package knowledge in similar ways, through research, analysis, and writing. Indeed, one of the strongest arguments by journalism traditionalists like Starkman is that new models of journalism often make little or no account of public-interest reporting and the knowledge creation function of media institutions. Most recently, I wrote about the possible death of bundling in university education, which I think is where the strongest similarity between the two industries lies. The biggest problems in the journalism aren't with what they do but with the way in which they bundle, sell, and pay for what they do. This is also the weak link in the armor of the university. For a hundred years, we have bundled several different functions into a whole that was paid for by the public through its governments and through peoples' willingness to pay tuition. As more and more options become available to people, the people holding the purses are beginning to ask questions about the direct and indirect value they receive. We in the universities can complain all we want about the Khan Academy and the University of Phoenix and how what we do is superior. But we aren't the only people who get to create future. In the software development world, there has long been interest in apprenticeship models and other ways to prepare new developers that bypass the university. It's the software world's form of homeschooling. (Even university professors are beginning to write about the weakness of our existing model. Check out Bryan Caplan's The Magic of Education for a discussion of education as being more about signaling than instruction.) I look at my colleagues in industry who make a good living as teachers: as consultants to companies, as the authors of influential books and blogs, and as conference speakers. They are much like freelance journalists. We are even starting to see university instructors who want to teach focus on teaching leave higher education and move out into the world of consultants and freelance developers of courses and instructional material. Professors may not be able to start their own universities yet, the way doctors and lawyers can set up their own practices, but the flat world of the web gives them so many more options. As Shirky says of the journalism world, we need experiments like this to help us create the future. In the journalism world, there is a divide between journalists arguing that we need existing media institutions to preserve the higher goals of journalism and journalists arguing that new models are arising naturally out of new technologies. Sometimes, the first group sounds like it is arguing for the preservation of institutions for their own sake, and the latter group sounds like it is rooting for existing institutions to fall, whatever the price. We in the university need to be mindful that institutions are not the same as their purpose. We have enough lead time to prepare ourselves for an evolution I think is inevitable, but only if we think hard and experiment ourselves. -----