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How Fashion Journalism Educators Are Adapting to a Changing Media Landscape

No matter the subject they’re teaching, college curriculums must always adapt not just to new scholarship, but also to what’s happening in their fields. But where does an educator even begin when preparing students for careers in fashion media, an industry that, as of late, has been defined by news of layoffs, shuttering outlets and shrinking opportunities? 

For Emil Wilbekin, journalist and assistant professor in Marketing Communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), it means adjusting his teaching approach to address “the foundation of what journalism is” — reporting, research, data, accountability and object storytelling — and how to utilize that “across multiple platforms.” The first half of a semester, for instance, will focus on “the fundamentals of journalism,” “history of journalism” and the “architecture of building a great news story” — the headline, lede, nut graph and body; the remainder of the course will hone in on “digesting this news story into other media for social consumption,” such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and other popular digital platforms where most readers consume content in today’s age.

John Deming, senior lecturer of fashion media and director of the Writing Center at LIM College, also thinks about publishing in a broader sense. While “fashion journalism is a component” of the school’s fashion media program, he likes to prepare students to analyze and navigate the industry more broadly.

“Really what we’re trying to do is prepare them for media careers anywhere,” he says. “My goal is to make sure that they graduate with a strong skill set and with an open mind to see where they can apply that.” By graduation, he continues, students should have a versatile portfolio and know “how to create different things for different mediums.” (In LIM’s advanced new media class, for example, one of the assignments is to create a TikTok account and run it as if it were for a brand.)

Deming takes a “two-pronged approach” in his lectures: concentrating on the “practical [and] technical skills” like writing, editing, reporting, proofreading and understanding analytics; then, “theoretical learning,” looking at journalism from a critical perspective by studying media theorists like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman.

“I feel like there’s no point in training somebody to be any kind of storyteller if you’re not also equipping them to consider what messages they’re presenting and why to think critically about what they’re even doing and why,” he says.

Faran Krentcil (Fashionista’s founding editor) has an “extremely trade-focused” teaching style at Parsons School of Design. “Writing is both an art and a craft,” she explains. “Journalism is a trade, and understanding the ways that journalists function within our society and also function within our economic structure has been a really key part of the way I structure my classes, because, for me, the most important thing about becoming a journalist in this day and age is ensuring that you have the skills to harness a platform…I think it’s really important to meet the students where they’re at and also to have them meet the industry where it’s at.” 

That involves honing practical skills that set someone up for a successful career, like editing. “The first thing you do every morning when you come to class is we take a proofreading quiz,” Krentcil says. “If you’re going to take a chance on a new writer or you’re going to give someone an interview, they damn better know how to spell your name and the name of the publication. Getting them in the habit of looking at copy critically is the first step towards viability. I know from my own experience and from my colleagues in the industry, so many potential employees and freelance writers get weeded out at the very beginning because they sent a sloppy piece of communication.”

She also imparts a data-heavy mindset onto her students, getting them acquainted with search engine optimization (SEO), algorithmic viability and “how to use numbers to make a better case for a story” via Google Trends and even TikTok hashtags. “Being able to have the numbers on your side when you tell an editor you want to do a story can go a long way,” Krentcil says.

Meanwhile, fashion journalist Vincent Boucher — who also teaches at Parsons — prioritizes “expanding the traditional boundaries” of fashion journalism. “We do have assignments in the usual kinds of things, like profiles, op-ed, a business story, a shopping story and covering a collection,” he says, noting that he’ll also incorporate alternative storytelling spaces, such as newsletters and social platforms. “I make my students read. We assign a publication to each student to follow throughout the semester. And I think that in itself is something that most students aren’t used to, reading a publication regularly.”

The other reality is that the jobs — and ambitions — of up-and-coming media professionals have changed. “The days have gone when you come and study fashion journalism and then you get a nice job on Vogue — that’s out the window,” says Roger Tredre, course leader in MA Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins. “And actually you could argue, ‘Well, do you want a job on Vogue anyway? Is that where the zeitgeist lies anymore?'”

It’s also important to consult people working in the industry today and tap into alumni networks, to get a sense of the issues facing publishing as they emerge. Take artificial intelligence (AI), for example: While it’s still a newer resource that only a handful of brands and magazines utilize, it’s made a large enough impact that calls for higher education institutions to discuss it.

“Every student has to keep an AI reflective journal this term,” Tredre says. “It’s where they write down their thoughts on how they’ve used AI, what they’ve learned from it, how it’s evolving for them and what the pluses and minuses of it are…I think it’s particularly useful actually for generating ideas.”

Deming agrees, stating that LIM has “already fit different aspects of AI literacy” into the curriculum, experimenting with how it works and what it’s most beneficial for. He emphasizes journalists must be “very careful” not to use AI as an information source, but it can be a useful tool in “generating ideas” and “spurring your own creativity as opposed to something that will do your work for you.”

Conversely, FIT doesn’t “necessarily encourage the use of AI for journalism because that would be plagiarism, but we do have to look at how AI can be useful for, say, PR and marketing,” per Wilbekin. “There are a lot of conversations across the university about AI and how it can be beneficial.”

Whatever this evolving industry throws at them, professors are willing to meet it with an optimistic and adaptable mentality, with equally resilient students ready to learn.

“We’re in a transformative cultural time,” Krentcil says. “Certainly there are a lot of bleak spots in traditional media right now. I can’t deny that. But I do say to my students that there’s so much opportunity to change the way stories are being told, and there’s also so much opportunity to change who’s centered in the telling of those stories. I think it’s a really exciting place to be.”

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