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Hey Chris!
Tim Donnelly here, from waay back from the class of 04. How are things working out with the new dean? I (and a bunch of other alums) were sad to hear about Reese's death. His class was a hoot, and he left us with some great memories from his days in the biz.

As for me, I just left Hilton Head Island after spending four years working for The Island Packet newspaper there. It was a great experience overall, and I got a lot of great clips out of it, learned some lessons. But the bottom began falling out very quickly for us and all the rest of the McClatchy papers, and I could clearly see the writing on the wall. My frustration mounted as I watched our publisher keep the cut cut cuts coming with no attempt a comprehensive strategy to fight our way through the morass of the industry's decline (cutting the way out of the problem has yet to work for any paper, I've noticed). I had a few job offers from other newspapers including the Tribune-owned Daily Press in Va., but couldn't shake the feeling like it would be the same set of problems in a different location -- a feeling reinforced a few months later when Tribune declared bankruptcy. So I decided I would pick up and move to New York and find my way into some new journalism ventures that would be less stuck in old models like newspapers and look more toward the future. Throw in some occassional freelance work and lots of rejection letters and that, more or less, is where I am now.

This kind of ties into the serious question that prompted this email. I have a blog called Inverted Soapbox that's mostly just for fun, though occasionally I dabble in serious issues. I put up a post the other day about the listing of "The Good Ol Days" as an item on that site Stuff Journalists Like, asking whether those good old days were really all that good. I made a comment about that I hoped j schools nowadays had become more foward-looking focusing on online stuff instead of recalling glory days and sticking to print models. I got this comment from a current UMD j school student:

Online journalism in college classrooms? Certainly not at UMD. I'm going to be a first semester senior and I JUST was able to get into the online class. There are "advanced" courses, but I'll never be able to take them.

They still don't like giving credit to online-only clips. They still expect everybody to get internships in order to graduate. Nope, I'd say things haven't changed much.

JOUR353 only admits six kids and 355 admits 17. Yes, it's ludicrous. Yes, people are crowding Diamondback GA meetings. I'm on my second try at 320 because I couldn't get enough clips last time. It's absurd and not enough students realize it. Kids are still graduating with virtually no multimedia skills thinking they'll be fine, because that's how the school prepares you. You're preaching to the choir.

Chris, how can this be true? I know it's not your aegis to control the course offerings, but I thought you may have some insight into what the J school is thinking with not expanding its digital, multimedia and web-based journalism reporting options.

When our class graduated, I think we the school offered the same things: the online bureau classes that you oversaw, plus the general (352, I think) class that focused on html and building packages online. Even just those few years ago, no one thought the industry would take such a sharp downturn, and that it would show no signs of stopping until it hit the bottom. But the thought that the school hasn't gone beyond that in the past five years is more than mind-blowing; it's disappointing.

My classmates and I never doubt that we received a top quality education at Maryland and through endless hours running ragged in the DBK offices. But some nights now we sit around over beers, recouting that week's tally of layoffs, newspaper closing and other friends who fear for their jobs every day, and we wonder just what in the world people in J schools could possibly be telling these kids nowadays to give them any sense of encouragement. From my (albeit brief so far) stint in the professional journalism world, it's becoming clear that the future will belong to people who have the skills to not only report and write the information but also be able to distribute and present it themselves. For instance, our newspaper in SC had one web guy, which means there was one guy to post all the spreadsheets, edit the videos, create interactive maps, moderate blogs, start online forums, rearrange photos, etc etc etc, which just wasn't possible, and we were only a 22,000 circulation paper. What our paper really needed to stay relevant was for its army of 15 reporters and editors to be trained to handle all that stuff on their own, in real-time up-to-the-minute fashion. People (unerstandably) had an easier time turning to Google for basic information like movie times, the date of the next town council meeting or information about tee times for the island's major annual PGA golf tournament simply because the old newspaper structure couldn't keep up.

UNC, for example, I know has a strong multimedia program that teaches students how to use Flash and other package builder software. Those are the kinds of skills a lot of jobs are looking for these days, and, more importantly, its the way a lot of people deem is more efficient means of absorbing their information. I know one graduate from there who got an internship at the AJC based on some of the skills he learned in that program (the AJC is suffering badly too, but that's another story).

I'm sure some of it has to do with the fact that no one still really has any idea what the new media landscape wll look like once newspaper have finished their final spasms in this rapidly increasing, and sad, death spiral. But I'd hate to think a school as good as Maryland's is just sitting on its hands waiting to see what comes next instead of making a stand and fighting for relevance by guiding the next generation into a position that will let them smash through the horrible digital logjam that has seized the industry. I can only imagine the trouble students have been having trying to get clips for 320 and internships in the age where many publications are cutting size, budgets, or disappearing all together (some of the ones I freelanced for in college, like the PG Journal, don't even exist any more). Yes, Twitter and Facebook and all the rest are horribly trendy and open to anyone to use and abuse; but they also can be tremendously useful, and they're not going away any time soon. Just look at the Twitter updates that provided nearly minute-by-minute updates of the Mumbai terrorist shootings a few months ago, and you see how endlessly useful and fascinating the new options can be for information sharing.

Maryland's j school is very print-based, which created great educational experiences with the likes of some of the best in the industry, people who had real in-the-trenches stories about life as a reporter and the late nights, endless coffee fixes it entailed. But the idea of "journalism" is being exploded and reassmbled dramatically. I've known a lot of terribly talented people from my years at Maryland and the Diamondback who have just given up and left the industry all together out of frustration or lack of any supportive structure. That's sad for me to hear, but I can hardly say I blame them.

The thought that the j school isn't in major upheaval to try to meet the new challenges reminds me too much of the same mindset present at newspapers that got us into this situation in the first place. The work we do as an industry is too important not to chase down with every thing we've got.

I'm really curious to hear your thoughts on this from the j school perspective. Hope all is well, and happy spring!