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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

J-School Students and Current Events

The autumn term is over and the faculty at Ryerson University in Toronto gathered for a last meeting before the new year.

While progress is reported on many fronts (curriculum changes to reflect new/social media, more applicants for both the undergraduate and the graduate program) one area of regression surprised us all.

Journalism students, it seems, are less well informed about current events than ever before according to of our two professors who regularly give out pop quizzes on the news to their classes.

One teacher noted that the level of knowledge about the news has been in decline for a number of years. Students have a diminishing knowledge of national and international events. Some are unable to name prominent politicians at the local, regional or national level. Fewer than 40% in one class were able to name the newly "re-elected" president of Afghanistan.

They were however, well aware of Tiger Woods' recent marital difficulties; much of their online times, they admit, is devoted to Facebook and other forms of social media.

Some of this is not entirely the fault of the students or of the undoubted appeal of Facebook.

News organizations - both print and broadcast - are devoting less and less space and airtime to significant national and international news stories. In Canada, even the public broadcaster, the CBC now spends much of its news agenda on crime and weather. Political news is openly disdained as "elitist." So the appeal of Facebook is increasingly reflected in the news agendas of mainstream media.

This is not to let journalism students off the hook. But the gap between old media values and new media values appears to be growing.

I am also to blame for assuming that my students are keeping up with current events. I think a weekly news quiz next term is in order.


  1. This post makes me wonder why people become journalists, or why they spend good money to at least make the attempt. I can only answer for myself. I wanted to know how things worked at the local level, at the state and federal level. And that's still what motivates me to do the job I do.

    Another question. If journalists-in-training aren't paying attention to the people who make decisions in their own communities, how can we expect the rest of the public to care?

  2. A lot of kids these days just want to be on t.v.

    Journalism offers the chance to have more credibility than a reality show appearance.