Emily Hiser and three other new media graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism gathered around a computer in the basement of Fisk Hall in early June to size up the results of their capstone-course multimedia publishing project, complete with Flash, Dreamweaver and wireless technology. It goes like this: A major league baseball season ticket holder heads to the stadium with a hand-held wireless 8-by-12-inch sports e-tablet. With one tap, the fan enters a virtual environment with easy access to a “tour” of the stadium, game previews, real-time audiocasts of the latest home run, player statistics and links to Sports Illustrated and other publications. Lost track of who is winning? Just access the real-time score. Message a friend across the stadium. Watch interviews with the coaches and team. Hungry for popcorn or a beer? Enter your credit card number. Trade your pitcher for a second baseman in a fantasy league game. Planning dinner later at a local restaurant? Check out a recent review. Want to customize your tablet? For a Chicago fan, just set your home page to the Cubs. (For more on the class projects, visit this page) The purpose of the New Media Publishing class in spring quarter, according to Medill’s new media chair Rich Gordon, an associate professor who formerly headed the Miami Herald’s online operation, was to design and create prototypes for commercially viable portable electronic products with multimedia content for audiences not now served. The 17 students in the course, working in teams, also developed an electronic replacement for travel books, a device for golfers that measures distances to the pin with global positioning technology and an iCook kitchen tablet to replace multiple cookbooks that also allows family members to message each other with post-it notes. The students “had to think about the niche markets … create the content … and come up with some good thoughts on how these devices could be distributed and where the money would come from,” Gordon said. “The course and (new media) program is a perfect combination of the Internet, business and writing that I envision” in a career, said Hiser, who is scheduled to complete her master’s degree in August and hopes to work as a Web designer or content developer for the online operation of a news organization. Medill, which began offering its new media program in 1998, is part of a transition that began in the 90s and has accelerated in recent years in journalism and mass communications education. More and more schools are redesigning curricula to incorporate technology and add new media or online journalism. Some are going so far as to overhaul existing courses or degree programs. The schools are responding to demands of the news industry and media companies for graduates who have a strong traditional journalism/mass communications education but also are equipped to work with converged media and adapt to rapid change in the way news and information is delivered. Among the issues – and pressures – facing the nation’s 450 or so schools that offer journalism and mass communications education are funding for technology and new programs and facilities, faculty development, the continuing re-examination of curriculum and the upheaval that can accompany change. But while the challenges are substantial, so are the opportunities. Journalism/mass communications programs are aggressively creating new initiatives and partnerships, building converged newsrooms and online operations and providing students with additional professional experience and more career choices in the media marketplace of the 21st century. “No one has found the magic bullet” as to where the redefinition of journalism education is headed or “how much technology to teach,” said Paul Grabowicz, new media director at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. “But we are all struggling with the issues.” CURRICULUM CHANGES To keep their education current, many schools have been adapting by incorporating more technology into their class offerings. The School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas (KU), considered by many to be a model for innovative curriculum revision, in May completed the first year of a redesigned curriculum that took several years of painstaking effort. The planning began shortly after Dean Jimmy Gentry came to Kansas in 1997 with almost 15 years of experience as a faculty member and journalism chair at Missouri and five years as dean at the University of Nevada-Reno. “We realized we needed to look to the future,” Gentry said, “and that if we did not change we would be left behind.” Kansas, with 800-plus undergraduates and some 80 master’s students, combined six former undergraduate tracks into two new divisions: news/information, which includes news-editorial, broadcast and magazine journalism; and strategic communications, a blending of management, marketing, advertising and public relations. The faculty overhauled courses to emphasize the common ground among disciplines at the introductory level and built the advanced classes around multimedia. In a large, modern classroom at KU, 200 students met during Spring 2001 for a revamped introductory course: Journalism 301 Research and Writing. Professor Rick Musser is the coordinator – he uses the term “executive producer.” Most of the first half of the course covers reporting and writing for print, broadcast and some public relations. In the second half of the course, students take on assignments geared toward identifying audiences for clients and writing for advertising and public relations. Students also learn the basics of digital editing and produce a radio and a print story as part of a final news project. Journalism 301 replaced several other media-specific introductory courses for students. What is lost when writing and reporting for all media are combined into one course? “Repetition,” Musser said. The trade-off, he said, is that while students “are not having the same experience” in writing print, broadcasting or PR stories six times, they are “gaining six new experiences.” Over time, and with practice in the advanced courses of skills learned earlier, the students ultimately “gain a better understanding of media and become more proficient,” he said. In Boston, Emerson College’s 250 undergraduate print and broadcast journalism students are “starting together (in introductory courses) and ending together in senior courses” in Emerson’s brand new converged curriculum, said associate professor and journalism chair Jerry Lanson. The program, which was first phased in this past year, is aimed at producing graduates who can move into multiple media news operations. The capstone courses provide news to several media outlets such as the department’s online news service, JSONS (http://www.collegepublishser.com/jsons). Stuart Sigman, dean of the School of Communication, Management and Public Policy, said the department will move in two years to a new building right at Boston Common as part of its modernization and shift into convergence. The program plans to expand its statehouse coverage by setting up a bureau at the Massachusetts Capitol – located just down the street at the other end of the Common – that will augment its courses and online service. Emerson will converge its graduate curriculum as well, Lanson said. The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, which has 1,700 undergraduates and 150 master’s and doctorate students, is another program that has changed considerably. Newhouse has invested some $2.5 million in technology in the past decade and added a number of online and new media courses to train students across media. Newhouse is among those schools adding programs to fill media industry needs and plans to introduce a multimedia interdisciplinary master’s program next summer – the go-ahead came recently from the state, Rubin said. The program is in addition to graduate offerings in traditional fields at Newhouse, including a master’s in magazine, newspaper and online journalism. Rubin said Newhouse will team up with the School of Information Studies to fill a niche aimed at those who will manage multimedia projects. The students will “create multimedia project pieces, learn what makes projects successful and about the economics and technology of new media” and Web audience research, Rubin said. He anticipates an initial class of 15 or so. The graduates will be attractive to traditional media that have online operations, or may work for e-commerce companies or be solo entrepreneurs, he added. CHALLENGES OF CHANGE Despite dramatic curriculum changes to stay ahead of technology, many schools still profess that the best way to train young journalists is a commitment to the basics. The Newhouse School has put significant resources into upgrading their technology, but educators there and elsewhere say the focus remains on core journalism skills. Newhouse Dean David Rubin emphasizes that programs should stress the fundamentals – writing, editing, analysis, and visual, computer and presentation skills – regardless of specialization. “If we are graduating students with those skills, it really will not matter where they are heading or which medium they work in. … that is what all media want and will want,” Rubin said. While students must be comfortable with the Internet, “technology is just a snazzy pencil,” he said. Hampton University in Virginia is another school that is undergoing significant change. The school overhauled its curriculum a year ago to focus more on professional skills. Hampton also is the beneficiary of a commitment of $10 million over the next decade from the Scripps Howard Foundation aimed at making Hampton a top-10 journalism program. Some $4 million of the funds are earmarked for a Scripps Howard Center that will include 30,000 square feet of space for six seminar rooms, four computer labs, a multimedia lecture hall, a TV studio and a radio station. Despite these improvements, Hampton’s approach is to immerse students first in the basics – language, storytelling, writing and reporting, along with introducing the Web as a research tool. “I do not think you can successfully marry technology and journalism that well at the lower levels,” said Charlotte Grimes, Scripps Howard professor and chair of the mass media department at Hampton. Hampton plans to increase its online offerings – a second online course is already in the works – while “remembering that we cannot let the bell and whistles distract from journalism. Online should add depth,” she said. Grimes sees the new precision language course at Hampton – she developed a similar course while at Syracuse – as a “distinguishing characteristic” of the new curriculum. “All of us know in higher education too many students are coming out of universities without basic preparation. You cannot become a good journalist if you can’t make subject and verb agree.”
Incorporating technology without abandoning the traditional lessons of journalism is a struggle that most schools have had to contend with. While making plans for the revamped curriculum at the University of Kansas, Musser said the most difficult part has been “thinking about how best to teach the critical thinking skills” in the new multimedia courses. In many ways, he said, “the technology is much easier to teach.” At KU, the implementation of a completely revised curriculum came with enough challenges on its own. The process was “frustrating and difficult at times,” Gentry said. He made it through in part, he said, because of his experience as a change consultant. Gentry worked with the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV in 1999 and 2000 as they moved to a new building and converged news operations, and he has worked with other newspapers and companies. “If this were easy, more (journalism) programs would have done it,” he said. “You hope to outlast the Valium.” Gentry said this past year was “a real hard one for the faculty” in the “nitty-gritty” work of the transition. “But I have also heard faculty say this has been energizing and challenging,” he said. The big payoff, according to KU professor Musser, is providing an education that “makes our students more competitive … and better prepares them to survive in a corporate environment or hold other careers in which they may be more of a sole provider” of news and information. The curriculum hinges on team-teaching, as Musser and other faculty learn new skills from each other and from tech-savvy students. “It’s frightening to have to teach stuff which you do not feel competent enough in yourself,” he said. “This takes people outside of their comfort zone.” KU and other schools provide in-house training for faculty, and the news industry offers other opportunities. In late spring, Musser, who Gentry called a “driving force” in the curriculum shift, had one bag packed on his way to Chicago station WGN-TV, where he will spend part of the summer on a fellowship from the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation. TECHNOLOGY AND HANDS-ON Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, agreed that while traditional journalism skills are paramount, training in multiple media is essential. He, like many other educators, points to hands-on training as an important element in any technologically savvy curriculum. “Students are going into newsrooms … their stories on going on the Web, and they end up in a corner on TV because the company has a cable station,” he said. “It’s important that they understand and are not afraid of technology … we want to make sure all of our students have some exposure to the various media.” Maryland shed its public relations and advertising programs in the past few years, which Kunkel said has given it a “laser-like” focus on journalism from the undergraduate through Ph.D. levels. Only a few miles from the nation’s capital and known traditionally for its strength in print, he said the college “plans to become stronger in broadcast and online journalism.” The college launched this spring its first major initiative in online journalism – Maryland Newsline, a Web newsmagazine designed to give print and broadcast journalism students practical experience and to provide Marylanders with a “source of political, public policy and off-beat feature stories,” said Chris Harvey. She is a faculty member and a former associate metro editor of washingtonpost.com who serves as Newsline’s executive editor. (http://www.newsline.umd.edu) Newsline – considered a fourth bureau for the journalism program – is housed in the new Online Media Lab. The program builds on the Annapolis and Washington, D.C., print Capital News Service bureaus and a daily newscast produced for the college-operated UMTV cable station – the school’s TV bureau on the College Park campus. The newscast was launched simultaneously with Newsline, which is produced by students in Harvey’s advanced online journalism course. Using print stories and TV packages from the three other bureaus, the online students design Newsline’s Web pages, shoot photos with digital cameras, post TV and audio clips, learn advanced Web coding, develop interactive quizzes and do non-linear writing for photo galleries or packages or captions. The TV newscast and online initiatives have added a significant dimension to the education of students at Maryland, said Elizabeth Schubert, a senior broadcast journalism student who worked on Newsline. “Just the exposure to online gave me an appreciation of the different ways news can be put together and delivered. … We all need to learn things about computers and how to build Web pages,” she said. The University of Kansas has also made plans to update their hands-on technology. In the next few months, the school will create a new converged, digital newsroom. Complete with laptops, cell phones and the “latest in technology,” Gentry said the multimedia lab will be a “fairly realistic environment” for students and is modeled after converged professional newsrooms such as those in Tampa and Chicago. The newsroom should be up and running full speed in a year and is designed as the “brain center” for building multimedia, online stories and packages for a variety of KU media, said associate professor Ann Brill, who is in charge of the planning. The space will be “open” and “flexible” – nothing is nailed to the floor – and will allow “access to a lot of outside media for a sense that news is happening all the time,” Brill said. She said it is designed as a “place where people can come together to talk about and plan stories.” Developing multimedia “cannot happen at the end of the cycle … there must be thoughtful ideas at the beginning.” Digital Jayhawk is a unique high-tech online publishing “hub” designed for convergence and launched two years ago by the Kansas program. KU students can use DJ to access news stories – some developed by multimedia classes – or for various services, such as finding an apartment. Created with the help of a Freedom Forum Fellow, the site even allows students to download information into a Palm Pilot that has been self-posted by campus organizations. (www.digitaljayhawk.org) DJ will be housed in the converged newsroom and other KU media will have adjacent space or a presence in the building. At Kent State, students were able to work on a “converged” project last year that commemorated the 30th anniversary of the shooting of four students on the campus by National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest. The project included a “live” May 4 Web site, deadline stories from events on campus, a documentary, CD-ROM, and a virtual tour of the scene of the shootings with a 360-degree camera, said Pam Creedon , director of a new multimedia lab at the university. PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION Medill new media graduate student Hiser said her education has been “all about journalism … storytelling and providing information.” But she said it also has given her the skills needed to work as an online designer or writer later in her career with interactive systems that may come along. “What editors want most is good journalists who can become great reporters … and who are skilled in the basics of the profession,” said UC-Berkeley’s new media director Grabowicz. He said journalism education must ensure that students are ready to enter a profession that is evolving “and have the tools, including technology, to help define the journalism profession” in the years ahead. Maryland’s Kunkel said the journalism profession and education are in “a shake-out period.” At Maryland, he said, the attitude is “you do not take your eye off the ball. The ball is journalism … and we must make sure that students know right from wrong, how to think, know what a story is and how to edit and write.” Lehigh University’s journalism department, though small with some 150 majors, developed an emphasis in online journalism about five years ago. Some of its graduates now work in online news for national organizations such as WSJ.com and CNN, according to department chair Jack Lule. But the Internet and new media are presented in classes as “simply one more tool” to provide news,” he said. “As long as journalism education’s roots are down,” said Lule, “we should not have to worry about the winds changing.”
June Nicholson is an associate professor in the School of Mass Communications, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. and a member of SPJ’s Journalism Education Committee.