The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Measuring the landscape

Last week at the AEJMC Convention in Chicago offered me a unique chance to get a feel for how new media is working its way into college program offerings. Because I am entering the final phase of my PhD program here at Missouri, I spent four-plus days during the convention interviewing for a number of jobs teaching new media. I purposely interviewed with programs of all shapes and sizes because I wanted the opportunity to see for myself where we are with all of this new media and journalism.

And the answer is: All over the place, and size doesn’t necessarily matter.

I talked with recruiters and professors from small schools who wanted a person who can innovate, big schools who wanted a person to teach entire courses on Dreamweaver, liberal arts colleges that were clinging to a model that saw the town newspaper as the big pipeline for students, and large research schools looking to blow up the model.

Some thoughts I take away:

Silos are still in: I was surprised to see the number of programs that still do convergence as a standalone program. I think I expected it to be more integrated across different platforms, especially at the smaller schools that require more versatile faculty. In talking about it with a faculty member at MU here today, they made a good point that I hadn’t considered: The industry hasn’t figured out what it needs or wants, so it’s tough to expect colleges to know what they need to do.

Skills vs. storytelling: The tension I saw over and over again was where the need to teach technology skills fits into the need for basic storytelling. One school wanted to teach all the hot tech things such as Flash, with little mention of how the journalism fits in. Regular readers of this blog probably know where I come down on this one, but I don’t see how teaching technology benefits students in the long run if it isn’t connected to storytelling. Technology still is merely a tool for storytelling in the hands of the journalist, and I’d rather teach students to think like journalists in relation to these tools so that they can focus on what is important when times change.

To blog or not to blog?: People who do curriculum are not always sure what to do with blogs in their program, whether to teach them as a publishing platform for the entrepreneurial journalist or as an outlet for news writing. My view is to do whatever you can with them, but make sure your students are blogging in every class. Blogging teaches so many good things (writing, editing, how hard it is to build an audience, etc.) that you literally could tap into different strengths with each course and still not cover them all.

College newspapers: Some of the smaller schools especially that have independent newspapers not part of the curriculum are having trouble convincing student editors of the need to get on the convergence train. So it is difficult for them to push innovation when they have no control over what the newspaper does and the platform it pursues. In makes me realize how lucky MU students here are because there are professional leaders in the newsroom to set the agenda for them.

All in all, an interesting week. I came away encouraged that schools on the whole are really thinking about this stuff, and I’m more encouraged when they’re wrestling with it rather than waiting around for the industry to solve the problem

Blogged with the Flock Browser


August 12, 2008 - Posted by | Jeremy Littau

1 Comment »

  1. I just wanted to confirm what Jeremy is saying. I was surprised how many schools wanted to hire a Ph.D. to teach students how to build Web pages. One smaller, state school, which will remain nameless, even asked me directly if I could teach flash and HTML.

    It made me wonder how much universities should focus on these skills. Like Jeremy, I think undergraduate journalism education in the Internet age should focus on the core storytelling skills that translate to any medium. It’s important to know what technologies and design possibilities exist, but focuses on technology too much leaves journalism mired in the same quagmire it is now.

    Comment by Hans Meyer | August 14, 2008 | Reply

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