Academy needs to sweat and blood to become useful to journalism
Jul 6, 2013
Academia's Disconnect from Journalism Hinders Innovation and Solutions to the Industry's Crisis
At no point in human history has communication experienced a rate of change similar to the present. The elimination of distance has created possibilities for, for the first time in human history, thinking about truly universal communication systems. However, such mechanisms develop, curiously, far from the centers of research excellence in universities - which is sheer madness. Nietzsche already warned that madness in the individual is rare, but in groups, it is the rule. Academia distances itself from the search for solutions in journalism at a time when journalism desperately needs academia.
There is no denying that journalism is facing its most serious crisis since the creation of the press. All traditional designs and models seem doomed to disappear. For this reason, academia should be at the center of the process of developing solutions for the journalistic function. But it is not. Very few study centers, like Columbia University, the Poynter Institute, or NiemanLab, are bent over the table sweating to point out ways.
In general, academic production linked to journalistic activity has an unpleasant smell of mold. Studies that sit on communication theories from four, five decades ago have much more space than evaluations of what the bottlenecks are in the means of production, how digital tools can bring breath to new journalism or what the impact of social media is on power relations between governments and corporations. In journalism, academia is an end in itself and the market is almost seen as a swear word.
The way things stand makes all effort of understanding, delimitation, and analysis of problems fall to individuals and start-ups, who eventually achieve a phenomenal impact on the practice of journalism, but in truth did not have exactly this as a goal. Think of Twitter as an example; it is unlikely that Biz Stone and his colleagues were imagining that the news of the capture of the most wanted fugitive in the post-war world, Osama Bin Laden, would be given as breaking news by the microblog they were going to invent, but that was exactly the case.
The dissociation between academia and practice in journalism should not exist for a simple reason: there is no journalism outside the market. Medicine, biology, chemistry, and dentistry can afford to reserve their discoveries - in many cases, rightly so - for universes where profit is not an end. In the case of journalism, no. Even though one can think of journalistic spaces that escape the economic sphere and that journalism has a function in society where profit cannot be the priority, it is in the market that journalism begins to exist, even as a protagonist in the development of society.
There is an uncomfortable conclusion in admitting that innovation is not a characteristic that combines with public promotion. State entities are among the least innovative of all and the research of certain areas of the university follows this sad finding. A quick look at the master's theses from ECA-USP available for online consultation suggests that advisors and advisees live in a universe where the devastating crisis in the sector is not worthy of attention. The only other possible conclusion is that the attitude is not to break the pact of mediocrity that sets in environments where extra effort is seen as an aggression and not as a merit. Perhaps the sampling is flawed and the centers of excellence in studies in the area dedicate a large part of their efforts to seeking solutions, but I sincerely think that this is not the case. This, of course, remembering that we are talking about the largest and best university in Latin America, where the brightest masters and doctors in the country are. Imagine then in the hovels with MEC permission to sell diplomas with no commitment to the obligation of development that teaching institutions have, morally, to society.
Of the 81 results of the search made in the academic production of the school, only two (2.46%) delve into topics that are linked to the bankruptcy of the business model of traditional journalism. A less attentive observer may argue that research on the deterioration of newspapers as a business is not a task for the School of Communication and Arts but for the neighboring Faculty of Economics and Administration. And part of the problem is there.
The academic world sees itself on a pedestal of nobility, from where all mundane issues can be avoided, given their scarce relevance in the face of the purity of intellectuality. A huge part of the failure of journalistic business models originates at this point: the journalist is trained in ethics and the fundamental principles of journalism but at the same time learns to scorn the workings of the machine in which he works.
The error of evaluation causes at least two problems: it creates professionals blind in relation to an aspect that is determinant in their industry - incapable of discussing exits when non-journalistic problems appear - and it delivers companies to professionals who are capable of managing journalistic companies, but understand nothing of the practice itself. In short, it creates a tower of babel where equally relevant parts of the whole are trained in such a way as to never understand the interdisciplinarity of problems. The result is the devastation of the business environment of news companies.
There is no shortage of voices demanding a radical reformulation in journalism education. The changes were already necessary when the digital revolution was still at its threshold, but now, with a frenetic speed of changes in the media, the obvious observation is that the study and teaching of journalism not only have to change - they need to adopt rules and guidelines that can remain in a state of permanent change, so that they can keep pace with the dramatic evolutions and developments that, yes, bring great possibilities, but imply new (and immense) responsibilities, as well as serious and still unknown, risks. The moldy discussions of members of both sides - academia and market - who are afraid of changes due to personal insecurities need to be set aside as soon as possible. The most punished are not the debaters - it is society as a whole.