JMC deans and directors were asked what schools and colleges could – or should – be doing to advance innovation in education and industry.
Their responses centered on four key ideas:
- Embrace an innovation mindset;
- Collaborate with other JMC schools and colleges on common challenges and opportunities;
- Engage more with other disciplines both on campus and off; and
- Expand industry partnerships.
Embrace an innovation mindset
Mindset and attitude play a critical role in advancing innovation, according to JMC leaders.
David Ryfe of Iowa observed, “I think about [advancing innovation] less as practical, tangible things that we can do, in terms of classes and tools and resources, etc., and more of an attitude change. The biggest inhibition to innovation is the unwillingness to do it. To ask the question: ‘Could we do this differently? What opportunity is here and how might we take advantage of it?’”
If I had to define a model for innovation, it is that anything is possible. You want people to think that way. If they think that way, it is the most important thing in creating a culture.
According to Chris Callahan of Arizona State, “too many newsrooms, and I would argue too many universities, have sort of a backward looking – looking into the past with a pessimistic – view. I think that in a culture that is positive, optimistic, forward looking and that you’ve built in a culture of teamwork and collaboration [that is] flexible and nimble and solutions oriented, innovation becomes a natural by-product. You can’t help but innovate in a culture like that where those values have a premium placed on them . . . . If you fail to change that culture . . . then you can’t sustain innovation because you don’t have a culture that is going to constantly breathe innovation. To me, it starts with the creation of a new culture. Once you’ve done that, then everything else becomes a heck of a lot easier.”
An innovation mindset includes allowing people to experiment, according to Brian Schriner of Florida International, who noted the importance of “giving people the luxury of making mistakes.”
Lorraine Branham of Syracuse similarly suggested, “We have to allow room in our curriculum to allow experimentation. We also have to be willing to have some failures . . . you might not get it right all the time.”
Another aspect of creating an innovation mindset is recognizing and rewarding innovative work. JMC leaders cited the importance of both tangible and intangible incentives ranging from praise, celebration and bragging to financial support for faculty in the form of fellowships, grants, stipends, awards and raises to special funding for student projects.
“We think having some money available helps to incentivize students to dream bigger dreams than they otherwise might have,” Paul Parsons of Elon said.
Collaborate with other JMC schools and colleges
A large number of school leaders cited an interest in – and need for – greater collaboration among JMC schools to support innovative thinking and practices. Some noted that this would be particularly helpful for underfunded schools and those located outside major metropolitan areas.
For example, Barbara Gainey of Kennesaw State observed, “Being in education can be very isolating, so unless we are able to do a lot of sharing with other institutions, it’s hard to see what others are doing in other areas of the country and what’s working and not working.”
Deborah Tudor of Southern Illinois said, “I really want to know what other schools are doing. I’d really like to see a lot more cooperation among schools.”
Howard Schneider of Stony Brook also observed, “I’m not sure we share enough between schools so that when we get ideas and models we share them and people can not only adopt them but build on them . . . I’m a great believer in inspiring people through models by saying ‘here’s what we did here and here’s how we did it’ and I think you get people excited.” Suggesting a forum for sharing the best ideas of the past 10 years, he said, “creating that kind of excitement is contagious.”
Ken Paulson of Middle Tennessee State also cited the benefits of JMC leaders sharing more of what they are doing. “They’ve been tremendously helpful to me in shaping my own strategy and I do think there is significant potential for all of us to learn from each other and we probably need some kind of a clearinghouse.”
Because of the keen interest expressed by JMC leaders in collaborating, this was the focus of a brainstorming session at the ASJMC winter meeting. Examples of ideas for enhancing collaboration among JMC schools and colleges included:
- Create regional coalitions to collaborate on research and professional projects.
- Create open-source classes in specialty areas, such as data analytics.
- Create regional programs with geographical interest, such as agriculture.
- Collaborate on grant proposals for multi-school foundation funding.
- Develop a database of prominent national speakers as a resource for guest lectures.
Engage with other disciplines
We are entering an increasingly interdisciplinary world and our programs in journalism and communication are well-suited for that.
Notwithstanding ongoing interdisciplinary collaborations in many schools, JMC leaders identified a need to expand the reach of journalism, media and communication in working with other disciplines both on and off campus.
For example, Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko of Illinois observed a need for “building close relationships with related academic units in disciplines such as information sciences, communication, business and other areas related to ethics and law. Recognizing that the revolution that is happening in the digital world has many different perspectives to it and we can’t figure this out on our own.”
Citing the importance of breaking down disciplinary silos and encouraging collaborations with others outside JMC schools, Willow Bay of Southern California noted, “The real innovation comes at the intersections,” which are “critical to unconstrained thinking that leads to new ideas and new ways of doing things.”
James Shanahan of Indiana also said, “If we can bring together faculty with a lot of different types of aptitudes – social scientists, humanists, professionals, etc. – a melting pot of people in the media world, the hope is that when we throw them all together something will come out of that stew.”
Kathleen Richardson of Drake said faculty need to go beyond the traditional JMC partners and make connections with venues that are different, like the tech community. “Some universities are tied in the media community, but I think we need to start swimming in a different pool.”
Expand industry partnerships
Recognizing that many schools have established beneficial partnerships with media and communication organizations, JMC leaders emphasized the need for more purposeful interactions that bring together the intellectual imagination and skills of academia and industry to co-create the future of journalism, media and communication.
There has never been a better time for partnerships between the academy and industry. . . . By working together, a lot more can be achieved than working in our silos and so brokering those partnerships really needs to be a high priority.
Charles Davis of Georgia noted that industry partnerships are the “driving force” in sparking innovation. He cited the importance of “getting the pros in the classroom and getting our faculty in corporate hallways.”
Dan O’Hair of Kentucky saw an opening to engage with high tech companies and “develop networks with people who are doing this kind of work in the real world and unleash them on our students and faculty.”
Noting the potential benefits of academia for industry, Gracie Lawson-Borders of Howard said, “Everybody needs R&D. Instead of R&D labs, they can use living labs that are right here in their communities—they’re called universities.”
Mark Nelson of Alabama suggested that JMC schools “rethink the tenure process so that there is an emphasis not just on publishing our work but also on partnering with industry in experimentation and also maybe rewarding people for failing but trying something.”
David Davies of Southern Mississippi also cited the benefits of connecting academia and industry through research, saying, “Scholarship is more important than ever because forward-thinking scholars may be able to offer new directions for media as they emerge from the revolution of the past 20 years.”
JMC Innovation Project Recommendations
In building on the progress underway in developing cultures that promote innovation in schools and colleges of journalism, media and communication, the following recommendations are offered:
- Adapt school identities (e.g., names/missions) and operational philosophies and policies to signal a new era in journalism, media and communication education. Work with other legacy organizations (e.g., ASJMC, AEJMC) and publications on similar changes.
- Create a multidisciplinary JMC Innovation Commission comprised of academic and industry thought leaders, top scholars and sponsor representatives (e.g., foundations, corporations) to support research, host roundtables and direct other activities to drive innovative thinking and practices.
- Establish an annual event to recognize and reward innovation in schools and colleges of journalism, media and communication in the United States and globally.
- Extend the work of the JMC Innovation Project through workshops and retreats, innovation audits, mentoring and counseling to promote and sustain cultures of innovation.