Much has been made of what journalism education should focus on these days. Should it involve all the latest social media reporting tools? What about video? How about just basic writing and editing? What skills should journalism students should have when they leave college and perhaps venture into other careers?

A recent report out from the Project Information Literacy group made me think more about the skills I want my students to know, and how they will use those skills after school.

The study found that recent college grads who are considered digital natives struggled with “traditional methods” of information gathering (like using the telephone or looking at databases.) That means students are good at, say, Twitter, but probably not so quick with Excel.

At the same time, in a blog post about the study on, Chrissie Long points out that “obtaining and processing information” are among the top five skills that job recruiters look for in a candidate.

It seems that there’s a pretty large gap between those two ideas. Students can provide an answer nearly immediately, but analyzing that answer appears to be a little more difficult.

That’s where I believe journalism education comes in. Yes, journalists do sometimes use email for interviews instead of calling a source during dinner. But the best journalism instructors will insist students use the phone — or visit a source in person. While it may seem second nature for reporters in particular to use the phone, that’s a skill many students have to be taught. And, chances are that few classes outside journalism and communication departments actually teach the art of working the phone.

At the same time, journalists routinely use Google for quick answers — something the study found can be detrimental if speed is valued above accuracy — but good reporters turn to other online tools as well. Journalism professors should and do require students to document that their searches for information to be used in reporting go beyond the 0.55 seconds it takes Google to pull up reams of info, some of which may be true. To say that research skills aren’t taught outside J-schools would be false, of course, but journalism education perhaps focuses more on verifying information before publication more than other schools.

The study by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, done along with the Berkman Center of Internet and Society at Harvard University, also found that the new graduates often turned to a colleague for help with an answer when stumped. Again, that’s a choice some reporters will use, but those with experience will go beyond a check of the folks in the office for the answer to their question. Journalism instructors are used to asking students for more sources or for outside input before publishing something. That’s something that also might set journalism instruction apart from other parts of academia.

The survey of 23 employers and 33 recent college grads also found that many employers are looking for job seekers who can synthesize information they’ve collected through both online and traditional methods. Information synthesis, of course, is central to what reporters do, and what journalism instructors teach.

There’s an adage knowing how to write well isn’t just a great thing for a journalism career — it’s a great thing for many related (and not so related) careers. I still think that’s true. And, as some journalism school registration and graduation numbers shrink, I think journalism educators have a bigger role than in the past.

As fewer students are interested in traditional journalism careers but still sign up for journalism degrees, the Harvard study is a great reminder that journalism educators are training students for jobs beyond the usual journalism outlets. If we can teach students the so-called traditional methods of dealing with information, for example, we play a greater role inside and outside of our communication and journalism departments.