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The Cross-Training of Future Journalists

The Cross-Training   of Future Journalists

As television and print news outlets increasingly form partnerships with each other to gain larger audiences, journalism educators are cross-training more students. At a growing number of journalism schools across the country, students are not only learning a specific craft such as newspapering or TV broadcasting, but they’re also getting opportunities to tell stories in other ways.
“We want students to be excellent in their ability to produce for one medium, but to be conversant in many media,” says Rich Gordon, associate professor and chairman of the new media program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
“Conceptually, our faculty think students need to be conversant in print, and in TV and in new media. The question is, how to incorporate multiple forms of media into the curriculum or whether to add new requirements?”
Medill faculty are in the middle of an extensive curriculum review and developing a strategic process that includes, but isn’t limited to, addressing such questions.
At the University of Missouri, journalism educators also have been grappling with these issues. Consequently, the school is poised to start offering a “media convergence” sequence as early as the 2005 fall semester. It will mark the first time in more than 50 years that the nationally renowned school adds a new area of emphasis. “Media convergence will create a whole new outlet for our students without overbearing the existing ones,” says Brian Brooks, associate dean for journalism’s undergraduate studies and administration.
Missouri’s faculty are still developing the courses, but Brooks envisions the curriculum including basic newswriting for the print media and Internet; audio-visual skills; and practical experience that simulates on-the-job experience. Online journalism courses will shift to the media convergence sequence.
While everything will be housed initially in existing facilities, plans call for convergence operations to move into a new campus institute in 2007. Funded by a foundation grant, institute plans call for a media convergence news facility, a technology demonstration center, research lab and faculty offices. It will allow the online operations of the Columbia Missourian newspaper and KOMU-TV station to be clustered there as well, Brooks says.
Officials at the historically Black Florida A&M University are considering adding an in-depth reporting class, says Dr. James Hawkins, dean of the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication there. Such a class would incorporate not only writing, but also storytelling elements such as audio, streaming video, and computer-assisted reporting and technology. “We want to encourage producing more than just 200-word stories and calling it a day,” Hawkins says.

Less Competition, More Cooperation
Driving the curriculum changes are industry hiring trends as well as news outlets setting aside — sometimes — their traditional competitiveness to boost ratings and readership.
Missouri’s Brooks says a few recruiters specifically ask for “graduates who can write a Super Bowl piece for the newspaper but also do a standup piece on camera for TV.” In those cases, Brooks says, one company typically owns more than one media property in a local market.
Although the Federal Communications Commission currently bans such monopolies, some exceptions exist and have been grandfathered under the law.
The Tampa Tribune in Florida, for instance, and TV station WFLA not only occupy the same building, but news executives of both outlets have merged their daily meetings so that each side knows what the other is working on. Although the practice has essentially eliminated either one “scooping” the other for news, the co-mingling of resources has let the paper “make a deeper, broader footprint among the community,” says Larry Fletcher, the Tribune’s deputy managing editor.
Some print reporters do occasional on-air pieces, even though most Tribune staffers didn’t learn broadcast skills in college. Fletcher predicts, though, that cross-trained journalists are likely to become more highly sought.
Arrangements of such depth between TV and print are still rare, however. Much more common are cooperative agreements between local TV stations and the newspapers in those communities, says Northwestern’s Gordon. In response to shrinking audience numbers, TV and newspapers are often promoting each other’s work and collaborating on stories. For example, a TV anchor might interview a print reporter about a high-profile trial if cameras aren’t allowed during the proceedings. Or, a newspaper feature series might refer readers to a TV newscast for live interviews on the same subject. Or, a TV anchor might interview a newspaper editor about highlights expected in the next day’s paper.
“There’s more value now in cooperating than in competing,” Gordon says. “Each news outlet is trying to get an audience that it doesn’t already have. And, it’s quite clear that at least in newspaper journalism, more and more print people are going on the air, answering questions on air.”
With that in mind, Northwestern offers an “Introduction to TV News” elective course for print journalism majors. It teaches them the basics of broadcast delivery. Northwestern graduates working at newspapers have called the exposure to TV “invaluable,” Gordon says.
Meanwhile, news-editorial students writing for the Columbia Missourian are occasionally tapped to re-write their stories for the campus radio station, Brooks says. Not only does the crossover teach print students an additional skill, but it gives the radio station more story options for newscasts. “Our students are still gaining strong expertise in one field, but they are becoming competent in others,” says Brooks, who’s also a professor.

Challenging Tradition
The teaching of crossover skills poses some challenges. The traditional lines between print and broadcast, for example, are so ingrained among some faculty that they’re a little reluctant or even nervous about experimentation and new technologies, says FAMU’s Hawkins. Also, many journalism programs call for low faculty-student ratios, meaning it’s been historically tough for broadcast students to squeeze into advanced writing classes, and so on. But Hawkins and his counterparts at other universities are working to change that, without compromising quality. Their confidence is based on their success in integrating online journalism into the curricula.
New media education has mirrored the rise, bust and leveling out of the dot-com industry. Because the last recession claimed so many dot-com jobs, the applicant pool to new media programs at some universities hasn’t increased in recent years, while numbers have grown in specialties like print and broadcast. However, the quality of students in online journalism “has improved tremendously, now that the get-rich-quick times are over,” Gordon says. Currently, Northwestern’s new media program requires students to take the same core courses as their counterparts in other specialties. Students not only work in newsrooms for hands-on experience, but they also do “capstone” projects developing new, Web-based publications for target audiences, complete with business plans explaining how the publications would earn profits.
Much like the convergence in journalism education between broadcast and print, new media programs everywhere continue experimenting with ways of preparing students for the future. At Northwestern this summer quarter, graduate students are taking a multimedia, workshop-style class in which they invent a new way of telling a story. They are using tools such as audio, images, text, graphics, animation, searchable databases and so forth. “Ideally, they’ll put those pieces together to try something new,” Gordon says. “If we do our jobs right in these classes, we’ll prepare them for jobs that don’t even exist right now.”
It’s that innovation, and the promise of more, that continue to blur the once-distinct lines among traditional media.

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