If you looked at JournalismJobs.com on Aug. 25, you would have seen that in the reporters category for newspapers/wires, 59 out of first 100 jobs called for skills beyond traditional writing and editing.
The list of skills employers wanted included a willingness to work in multiple platforms, including audio, video and print; multimedia experience; an understanding of Web analytics; and a high digital IQ. Even among the listings that did not include a call for additional skills, many linked directly to websites that were being updated throughout the day, an indication of the importance of the Internet to the organizations.
As journalism educators, our goal is to teach students how to tell stories, expose wrongdoing and hold people and institutions accountable. Beyond that, we also have a responsibility to respond to changes in the industry. We have to make sure our graduates have the tools to tell their stories in ways that reach as many people as possible.
Journalism educators across the country are doing just that. Not everyone agrees on how, but the move to revise journalism programs to reflect the changes in the job market is happening at many universities and colleges.
Some, like the University of Missouri, Northwestern and the University of Kansas, now require students to take specific courses that emphasize multimedia and journalism. Others, like the University of New Mexico, Abilene Christian University and Lewis University offer majors or emphases in multimedia or converged journalism.
At my school, Webster University, we merged what had been two majors, print journalism and broadcast/digital journalism, into one j-major. This decision came after we examined current job openings, talked with working professionals and sought feedback from alumni.
What seemed clear to us was the need to continue a strong reporting and writing core, and enhance it with increased technical and digital skills. Students need to know how to shoot, edit and present their stories in multiple formats. That’s what we have them doing, beginning with our basic reporting class.
For more than 30 years, our programs required students to take one freshman-level production class, but for the print majors, that was the extent of their exposure to photography, video or audio production. We no longer felt this was enough, and we piloted a “boot camp” experience, which combined two existing classes: an introductory journalism class and a freshman production class.
From their first semester, we want students to learn how to recognize news stories and have the skills to tell them across platforms. Besides traditional writing, they now produce work that requires audio and video recording and editing. An additional upper-level cohort class will combine an advanced reporting class with a production skills class. Ideally, by the time students have completed these four classes, they should have the tools to produce stories suitable for a variety of media, stories that exploit the Web’s interactive nature.
Students will also take a cross-platform editing class, and all students are required to work on the student newspaper and its companion website for at least one semester. Since they must do two semesters of news production, they can also choose to focus on producing news for radio, television or the Web.
Also in the works is an entrepreneurial journalism course, which we are developing with input from our business school. We’re finding that while some of our students are working in a variety of newsroom jobs, more and more are freelancing in positions that combine their skills and fulfill the needs of a changing marketplace. The new models for news are still developing, and we hope and expect to see new enterprises arise as the industry changes. Our students need to position themselves to be part of these new realities.
Few could have predicted how quickly the business of journalism would change, and we can only begin to imagine what’s going to happen next. What’s important in journalism education may be the only aspect that doesn’t change; students need to be curious, persistent, precise, nimble and responsible. As long as we keep emphasizing these principles, adjusting to new developments should be easy. We just have to remember to do what we tell our students to do: Pay attention!
Eileen Solomon is a journalism professor at Webster University in St. Louis. She currently serves on the Journalism Education Committee and can be reached at email@example.com
Tagged under: Freelancing