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Where journalism and technology collide

“Technology, at first, greatly benefited the news media, and then it began to destroy it,” said Joel Brinkley, Visiting Hearst Professional in Residence at Stanford’s Graduate Program in Journalism (GPIJ), a subsidiary of the Department of Communication.

“When I started, there was no Internet, there was no e-mail… so when I worked for local papers, I worked from sort of a cocoon unless I subscribed to the New York Times or the Detroit Free Press,” he continued. “I had no idea what anybody else was doing. That’s the way it was in the seventies and the eighties and pretty much into the early nineties.”

In 2005, the journalism program’s curriculum still trained students for the nineties newsroom. But now, the Internet is a centerpiece of Stanford’s Graduate Program in Journalism. According to Acting Director Ann Grimes, during the past five years, the program has rewritten its curriculum to “train students in old media values and digital media skills.”

The program’s brochure now shows Internet cables above reams of newsprint on the cover and advertises a program that “is actively engaged with next-generation media technologies.”

Grimes said a big change is the integration of multimedia instruction with public issues reporting classes. For one course, students pick a Bay Area location where they do what Grimes calls “old fashioned gumshoe reporting on city hall” and publish their stories on the “Silicon Valley Pulse” website, where the stories are sometimes picked up by newspapers and are displayed on websites like Google News.

“Our capstone class in the spring is a class called “Digital Media Entrepreneurship,” she said. In this class, journalism students collaborate with Graduate School of Business (GSB) and engineering students to produce digital media ventures “that hopefully have a sustainable business model.” She said this kind of class is mostly unique to Stanford, because students are immersed in Silicon Valley.

“The other thing that we’re dong is we’re encouraging our students to take advantage of the many interdisciplinary offerings that are on campus so that they can tailor their program to their interests,” Grimes said. “We have students taking the design school boot camp. We have students taking CS105 – learning how to code. We have students taking the entrepreneurial ventures class at the GSB so that they can learn about the industry that they’re entering.”

So that they find jobs after leaving the program, the GPIJ also strives to get its students’ work recognized.

“We’re also working with different outside media organizations – the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Center for Investigative Reporting and Patch.com (an East Coast amateur news site) have all expressed varying levels of interest in our students here,” Grimes said. “So increasingly we are getting our students to produce reports that are picked up or will be picked up by these larger media organizations.”

The program also encourages students to take internships with outside organizations. Because the program is small – there are typically about 15 students per year – it tries to maximize students’ opportunities and help them get the jobs in areas that they’re interested in. This year, students are working at KQED (the Bay Area PBS radio station), VNet.com, Current TV, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Business Times. Students are also working at the Wall Street Journal, National Journal, Gigaom Network and Google News.

“There are still, of course, professional reporters working at large scale newspapers, but newspapers themselves now are multimedia enterprises, as are all journalistic enterprises,” said Fred Turner, associate professor of Communication.

The news media is changing rapidly, and the GPIJ prepares its students to adapt to the changing journalistic landscape.

“What we need to do is let a thousand flowers bloom. And nobody’s really sure yet which flowers are going to grow and which flowers aren’t,” Turner said. “Students who finish the program have a year of training – the core sequence is six courses, with three ‘traditional journalism’ nodes, and three additional nodes for training in new media.”

“Journalistic institutions are changing,” he continued. “We have to train our students for a world in which there are some newspapers, but there are a lot more startups. And we have to train our students for a startup world. That’s really a challenge. And we’re sure getting after it.”

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