Journalism schools educate more employable students

With the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism recently hiring a new dean, media critics have been turning their eyes on journalism schools to postulate once again about whether or not elite programs help graduates get employed. Though many major media outlets like Gannett have laid off thousands of employees in the last 10 years, an article published by Crain’s New York suggests that the people who are actually getting hired are coming out of top journalism schools.

Looking at Columbia specifically, the article says that in 2012, 74 percent of a 354-person class had some kind of internship or minimal employment lined up before graduating. In 2006, only 52 percent were in that position. Other schools, such as the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, have seen similar improvements.

“That’s in part because of happy things, like our graduates are very talented and skilled,” Nicholas Lemann, the outgoing dean at Columbia, told Craig’s, “and in part unhappy things, like a 27-year-old coming out of this school is more desirable in the labor force than a 55-year-old who doesn’t have any digital skills.”

Taking a closer look at gender gaps in education

Richard Whitmire is an editorial writer for USA Today.

As the President of the National Education Writers Association, I have the annual privilege of handing over top awards won by education reporters from around the country. Now I’m thinking that privilege bears some responsibility, such as fessing up about times when education coverage dips below award-winning levels.

That happened Tuesday morning when I opened The New York Times and saw an article that did little more than regurgitate the American Association of University Women report making the dubious case that the “boy troubles,” as in boys falling behind in school and graduating from college at lower rates than girls, are a myth. Odd, I thought, a rare fumble by the Times.

Then I picked up The Washington Post, and there on page one was an article that did the same. At least this article had a dissenting view, but that’s not the point. Somehow, the AAUW had managed to pass off its advocacy report as research, not just to the Times and Post but the Wall Street Journal and other publications as well. (E-mail queries to the Times and Post reporters sent Thursday were unanswered as of this posting on Friday.)

When the surprise wore off, I had to smile: kudos to the public relations geniuses at the AAUW. Consider the odds behind their achievement. To succeed, the AAUW had to convince reporters that:

  • Gender gaps lie only between white and black, poor and non-poor and not within those groups. AAUW researchers had to know that with a simple check reporters would find huge gender differences, for example, among African Americans. How hard is it discover that black women graduate from college at twice the rate of black men? The gaps even extend to upper-class whites. Check out the research done by the Wilmette schools [2.6 MB PDF file] outside Chicago, one of the wealthiest and highest performing districts in the country.
  • Tests show that boys and girls score roughly the same. That conclusion is possible only by cherry-picking national survey data, which risks the possibility reporters might check state testing data where all students are tested. Those tests often show stark gender gaps, in many cases with girls swamping boys in verbal skills and at times edging them in math.
  • There are virtually no gender differences in the rate high school graduates enroll in college. Wow, so the boy troubles must truly be a myth! In that case, those pesky campus gender gaps must arise from benign causes such as older women more likely to return to college than older men. Truly a heart-warming story. Who doesn’t know of someone’s mom returning to college for a survey course in world culture? Problem is, a simple check of National Center for Education Statistics data reveals a 400,000-student gender gap among 18-19 year-old students. So much for the little-old-lady theory. (Even the professional education publications fell for that one.)
  • The AAUW provides unbiased research in the area of how boys perform in school. (Wait, does their mission statement even say anything about boys? Why are they dabbling in this?) Here, the group had to count on reporters being unable to recall the shaky “call out” research from its 1992 report, where girls were supposedly being shortchanged in school in part because teachers paid more attention to aggressive boys calling out in the classroom. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that entire report was riddled with problems. Here’s an interesting analysis of the AAUW’s track record as neutral researchers. (Full disclosure: At the time, I gave that report a full ride absent a single critical perspective. Hey, I thought I was doing my young daughters a favor).

    So, the AAUW pulled it off again. Reporters had forgotten about that 1992 report. No data were offered to dispute the notion that the boy troubles are really a race issue. No challenge to the college-going data. Everything, a clean sweep. I hadn’t planned on writing about the report, but when my editors saw the blowout coverage the report received they asked me to blog a debate editorial on the issue.

    At this point I have to declare my own bias. I’ve been writing about the boy troubles for years and I’m convinced they’re real, not only in the United States but in scores of countries around the world. You can view this as either making me prejudiced or informed enough to acknowledge a reporting fumble. Your call. From my perspective, this matters because the ideological chaff thrown up by groups such as the AAUW stands in the way of educators taking a serious at what’s happening to boys. Economists say the changing economy means men and women today (unlike in the past) get exactly the same benefits from a college degree and therefore should be graduating at the same rate. Only they aren’t. By 2015 women will earn, on average, 60% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded. Something’s not right here; that’s a lot of men not even getting to the economic starting line with that all-important diploma.

    My final take the AAUW’s coup: short-term victory, long term repercussions.

  • Building reader loyalty, one bracket at a time

    For those of you not spending the day at work watching NCAA basketball tournament games (or for those bored by an inevitable first-round blow-out), let’s take a look at a few innovative online projects that newspapers have created to build traffic off public interest in the annual college playoffs.

    Many newspaper websites offer contests in the week leading up to the tournament, inviting readers to fill out the 65-team tournament bracket with their picks for winners in each of the games. It’s the (legal) online version of the ever-opular office betting pools, with the not-so-legally-insignificant difference that the prizes are coming from sponsors and not money put up by the participants.

    That’s fine. It drives some traffic, and people like making picks without having to put any of their own skin in the game. But everyone’s doing that. What else is out there?

    I found a few interesting examples.

    First, the Los Angeles Times offered an option on its Flash tournament brackets that I’d not seen before:

    LA Times graphic

    It’s a geographic map that shows where each of the 65 teams are traveling from and to for the first-round matchups. The NCAA sends teams flying all over the country in an effort to balance the competitive level in each of its tournament regions. I found it fascinating to see, in one glance, just how far some teams have to go. Plus, this graphic provides a handy way to answer the inevitable first-round question: “I’ve never heard of that school; where is it from again?”

    Click on the “Bracket” option at the top of the graphic, and you return to the traditional bracket chart, which readers can fill out by clicking team names.

    The Washington Post and USA Today produced their own NCAA tournament webpages, but what caught my eye is how they also spun the idea of filling out a tournament bracket and applied that to different forms of entertainment.

    The Post got a head start by starting earlier this month a single-elimination tournament pitting characters from the TV show “Lost” against one another. Readers voted for the characters they thought would survive in each head-to-head match-up.

    Washington Post graphic

    USA Today seeded 64 entertainment celebrities and celebrity couples and created a reader-vote tournament to find the “winner”:

    USA Today graphic

    The WaPo and USAT tournaments exemplify the power of reader interactivity. Sure, they are fluff. But they, like the interactive NCAA tournament brackets, are fluff that get people reading, clicking and spending time on their newspapers’ websites.

    Industry veteran Vin Crosbie last week pointed out on Poynter’s online-news e-mail list that U.S. newspapers have a huge problem in eliciting repeat visits from their online readers:

    “If you download the NAA’s spreadsheet of the N//N data and calculate medians, you’ll see that the median user of those top 100 U.S. newspaper sites visited only 2.58 times per month and saw only 15.03 Web pages on a newspaper site per month. That’s not much: a visit only once every 11.6 days and 15 Web pages all month.”

    My wife is fond of citing her Suzuki violin training that “it takes 21 days to form a habit.” (“And 12 steps to break it,” I shot back the first time she told me this.) Whether habits form in 21 days or not, website publishers help their readership numbers by creating features that inspire readers to come back to a site, and reward them for doing so, day after day.

    A reader-vote tournament, such as the Post’s and USA Today’s, does this. Unlike traditional online polls, these build upon each other, sending the winners in one day’s poll on to the next’s, inspiring readers to return. Unlike the NCAA tournament, which you can follow on TVs, websites, cell phones and newspapers, these tournaments are available only on their creators’ websites. So you gotta come back there to vote, and to see who won in each round.

    Take it a step further: Include each day’s match-ups and results in one of your daily update e-mails, and invite those readers following the tournament to subscribe to it. I’ll bet you many of them continue to get and read that daily e-mail, finding other news and features on your site, even after the tournament’s done.

    If you want people reading the great reporting on your news website, first, you’ve got to get them in the habit of coming to the site. Don’t overlook the value of interactive reader-driven online events, such as these, in helping you to do that.