Creating tomorrow's journalists today

Topics: Emerging Media, College of Communication Information and Media

February 22, 2010

There will always be a need for professional journalists.

This fact remains a bedrock truth even as newsroom staff and advertising revenue are shrinking and business models are changing. And it's being driven by a ravenous public and its zealous appetite for news and information from diligent, objective sources 24/7.

Motivated by the urgency to help the fourth estate thrive in the 21st century, Ball State University torched — rather than tweaked — its courses and programs. By launching the Emerging Media Journalism track, the College of Communication, Information, and Media (CCIM) will produce graduates who can provide quality, in-depth news across multiple platforms and drive the necessary changes to help the media industry succeed, said Roger Lavery, dean of CCIM.

"Journalism is changing at an unprecedented pace, and I believe we'll see a shake out that will result in fewer but more relevant journalism programs in this country," he said. "At Ball State, both programs will still exist, but this new one will straddle it. This is the necessary step to emerge as a contemporary, leading program."

One New York Times editor in the newspaper's research and development lab recently said that newspapers and news organizations are not going anywhere. It's how news will be received that's going to change.

As newspaper circulation declines, in-depth news still is being sought out via cell phones and laptops. And soon more news will be coming to e-book readers and to media yet to be invented. Through Ball State's revamped courses, students will have the tools and experiences to navigate these monumental changes, Lavery notes.

"Our faculty and students understand and embrace this change," he said. "They understand that to be marketable, our students — tomorrow's journalists — must be able to meet the future demands of the industry by having the skills to tell stories across many platforms. They should play a key role in defining the future of news."

Students will gain these skills by learning core competencies from their first day in class. Student publications, once separate from the curriculum, now will be fused into the course work. Students also will be capable of tackling practical assignments with industry partners in their first two years and excel at even more advanced assignments as upperclassmen, Lavery added.

Academia responding to industry needs

The technology revolution on campus reflects the changes taking place in the media industry. Input was gathered from many editors and reporters from around the country to help shape the curriculum, said John Strauss, journalism instructor and adviser to The Ball State Daily News.

"When we began talking to industry professionals about the education our students would be receiving, they said this is exactly the type of graduate our industry needs," he said. "Even small newspapers looking for police beat reporters want employees who are comfortable with a broad range of new technologies. They want employees with a firm grounding in the art and craft as well as ones with the ability to be flexible to learn new technologies and grow."

This is demonstrated by a recent endorsement by The New York Times. The nation's pre-eminent newspaper has partnered with Ball State to offer an emerging media journalism certificate. Through The New York Times Knowledge Network, enrollees will be able to bolster their multimedia storytelling skills via online coursework focusing on writing, reporting, video, still photography and graphics.

Campus culture

Ball State's culture already is firmly entrenched in technology, as demonstrated by the university's Emerging Media Initiative (EMI), a planned $17.7 million investment in focusing the university's historic strengths in this area, accelerating benefits to the state of Indiana with media-savvy human capital.

To stay abreast of the ever-changing software, Internet and social media landscape, the technology courses will be nimble, explained Susan Smith, assistant professor of telecommunications.

"Our students have always had nearly unlimited access to the latest technology," she said. "With the new curriculum, they will be learning core competencies rather than specific programs. This will allow us to focus on skills needed for existing platforms as well as explore new programs and new media as well."

Journalism and telecommunications have played key roles in the university's EMI by leading efforts in news convergence and developing content for small screen devices. And the students have the added benefit of being surrounded by the latest technology of the David Letterman Communication and Media Building, the Art and Journalism Building and the Ball Communication Building.

The philosophy

To begin the process of creating the program, the two departments first defined a unified core philosophy.

"Delivering the news, at its foundation, is serving the public's right to know as guaranteed by the First Amendment; it's encouraging news coverage without fear or favor, promoting resourceful, accurate and ethical gathering and presenting of news," Lavery stated. "Once we identified the shared mission of the two departments, our faculty members were able to build a program to deliver quality news in technologically advanced environments."

To learn more about this program, visit the Emerging Media Journalism Web site or contact CCIM at 765-285-6002.

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