A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Multimedia journalism: A classroom tour

By Quill

Here is a look at how several journalism schools are teaching media convergence:

Brigham Young University

Over the past five years, BYU has strengthened its multimedia emphasis and is working toward even more integration and cooperation among its various news operations, says Associate Chair Ed Adams. But the program has gone “back to its roots” by taking most multimedia out of the introductory writing course for all majors.

Adams said the course had begun with writing for print, then continued to TV, online, public relations and advertising. “We just could not cover all the basics and technology adequately. While students could do a whole lot, they did not have the depth,” he said. So a year ago, BYU changed the course “back basically to newswriting (for print) to provide students with a stronger foundation,” he said.

The school, in Provo, Utah, has separate tracks for print and broadcast majors. Most of the convergence happens in the school’s award-winning multimedia operation called NewsNet. Print and broadcast students work side by side in the lab, producing more than 200 stories a week for the campus newspaper, radio station, television station and Web site.

“It’s been a fantastic experience for all of us to learn from each other and to have so much exposure to the technology,” said Andrea Ludlow, editor of BYU’s Daily Universe newspaper. “I feel prepared to do anything (professionally) that I choose.”

University of Kansas

The William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications has collapsed a half-dozen undergraduate sequences into two main divisions: news/information, which includes broadcast, news-editorial and magazine journalism; and strategic communications, a combination of public relations, advertising, marketing and management.

Journalism 301, the research and writing course all majors must take, reflects the significant change: Students produce news stories, press releases and advertisements for print, radio and video – all in one semester. The course replaced several others taught in “silos” for different sequences.

“We are wide, but not deep there,” said Professor Rick Musser, who has coordinated the new course. The goal is to expose students to all media platforms and functions and have them learn in-depth skills later.

The changes have required faculty members to adjust, especially their approach to technology. “I come down on the side that you should not get yourself too bound up in teaching technology,” Musser said. “What is important is how to use the technology to produce good journalism.”

Indiana University

In 1998, the journalism school abandoned its structure of four tracks – print, broadcast, magazine and photojournalism – and “opened up the curriculum so that students could create their own paths,” said Associate Professor David Boeyink.

Courses were redesigned for multimedia, with the focus on critical thinking and four fundamental skills: writing, reporting, editing and design. The introductory skills course was revamped to include four-week modules in newspaper, magazine and broadcast writing. Students in a second core class do a major writing project for the Web. Advanced courses offer in-depth concentration in specific platforms.

If a student “wants to be a newspaper reporter but focus on online, that is possible,” Boeyink said. “Or a PR major can have a broadcast emphasis.”

The toughest challenge has been “preparing faculty to teach the new curriculum,” he said. Journalism schools across the country “have a lot of pressure on them to deliver a curriculum that is meaningful to students and that is loaded on top of everything else. But it is something we all have to do.”

Ball State University

The departments of journalism and telecommunications have collaborated to develop a convergence curriculum being launched this fall. In the entry-level course NEWS 201, students will learn writing for print, broadcast and online from faculty from both departments.

The new curriculum also includes an introductory reporting course with a strong video component; a course in “multimedia storytelling”; and a capstone experience in which students will work in teams to create multimedia news products.

Ball State, in Muncie, Ind., took its lead from the Chicago Tribune’s multimedia newsroom, said Marilyn Weaver, who chairs the journalism department. “We knew our students needed this type of preparation … so we have planned a curriculum designed to ensure that students can perform in this new converged environment.”

The convergence initiative is funded in part with $20 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. The initiative includes an Integrated Media Lab where news for print, video or online can be produced from any workstation.

Weaver says an interesting dynamic exists between industry and journalism education. “As I talk to people in the industry they say, ‘We are looking to you.’ And I say, ‘We are looking to you!’ … We all are treading in unknown waters.”

Southern Methodist University

The Dallas school is using $3 million from the Belo Foundation to build a digital newsroom that the journalism division will occupy this fall.

“Our goal is to have the most advanced and integrated convergence journalism program, though not the largest, in the country,” said Chris Peck, who became head of the division in January after 20 years as editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Some elements of a convergence curriculum have been in place, but most students specialize in one track – print, broadcast or online. The new curriculum, Peck said, will integrate online and emphasize convergence in all courses, beginning this fall.

Journalism schools must gear up to serve a growing number of students from other disciplines, from international studies and art to theology and engineering, who want “to become literate in media,” Peck said. “We are entering an age when more people may at some time in their lives end up being journalists.”