Fixing Cal Poly's journalism department

At Cal Poly, we're adding a "new media" track to our journalism department (as a supplement to broadcast, editorial and public relations). But in an economic crunch when money and resources are low, we shouldn't create a new track-- we should revamp existing tracks. 

Current situation:

There is one "new media" class in our entire journalism department: applied multimedia reporting, JOUR 410. I put "new media" in quotes because that phrase bugs me. It's not really new anymore, is it? That already puts us behind the curve when we're thinking of it as something new and emerging. It needs to be integrated. It needs to be like breathing. When it's "new," it's scary. Students don't like scary.

This solitary multimedia class is not a required course; it's an elective class open to all tracks within the journalism major. It's taught by the ONE tech-savvy professor in our department, our savior, Brady Teufel. 

From blogging to podcasting to soundslides to flash to video editing to HMTL to content management systems, students are expected to learn it all in one 10-week session. Each of those topics separately could fill a cirriculum for their own separate 10 week courses, so you can imagine how rushed it is. That's not the way to learn. You can't edit one 30-second video and expect to be a pro. But when we only have one professor and one class dedicated to multimedia-- what other options do we have?

To give you a feel for a few classes that are required for all journalism majors: writing for the media, mass media in a multicultural society, mass media law, visual communication, journalism ethics

Print concentrations: copy editing, public affairs reporting, feature writing, advanced newspaper reporting

Broadcast concentrations: Broadcast news, broadcast announcing and editing, ENG reporting, advanced radio reporting, advanced TV reporting

Public relations concentrations: Intro to public relations, advanced public relations writing, public relations campaigns, advanced public relations practice

If our department really wants to take a proactive "new media" approach to prepare its students for the world ahead --while being economical and saving money/resources -- this is how it should be done:

1. Scrap print as a track

Although the technical name for the track is "news editorial," internally, it's a print track. Instead, it should be called the multimedia concentration, although it would be ok to maintain a few print elements. Why scrap it? Because there is no such thing as a purely print publication (and if there is, it's sure to go bankrupt soon). 

For example, students are required to take a feature writing class with a basis in writing 2,500 word features. For students who want to go into magazine writing, it's great -- but it should be an elective. A required class that could replace it would be a class about newswriting for the Web, since it will be valuable to every concentration.

The curriculum for a web-writing class could include:

  • Blogging
  • Tagging posts/articles
  • Using keywords
  • Hyperlinking
  • Writing effective headlines
  • Effective, web-based research (RSS feeds to find story ideas)
  • Engaging in discussion with your readers
  • Crowdsourcing via social networks to find sources
  • Commenting on other blogs/drawing readership

...just to name a few.

2. Make video a must for all concentrations Combining talent and resources with the broadcast track, the multimedia track should require students learn how to shoot and edit video. In addition, broadcast students should know how to get their video on the web, since most of them have the editing/shooting down, but are clueless about what a flash player is. PR students need to take a video shooting/editing class too-- because what better way to represent a client than to do something viral on YouTube? The concepts apply across all three concentrations. 

Structure for the video class:

  • Video shooting basics
  • Coordinating teams to shoot video
  • Video editing (Final Cut)
  • TV broadcasting basics
  • Exporting/uploading video to the Web
  • Incorporating video with 3rd parties (Google Maps, timelines, etc.)

3. Restructure JOUR 410 (Applied multimedia reporting) This class, which currently touches briefly on many facets of new media, could be more focused. Under the current circumstances, this cannot happen, but if we split it up among professors, it can work. With video taught in a broadcast class, JOUR 410 can focus on three basic topics:

  1. Slideshows/Soundslides
  2. Podcasting
  3. Interactivity: Livestreaming/Live chats
4. Creating a class about social media  Let's face it. Social media is becoming a huge part of the way we find and spread news in the journalism industry, but the average Cal Poly journalism student wouldn't be able to tell you that. Any public relations professor would be able to teach a class of this nature because it's about conversation. It's about creating an image and communicating with the public-- that's what PR is all about. Again, it's an example of how to use current resources to create modern classes. Whether it's plausible to stretch our professors any more, I'm unsure. In theory, though, dropping outdated classes for new classes seems reasonable.      

This class, however, would not teach how to use existing social networks, although that's part of it. The real lesson exists in concepts. How to adapt to changing mediums and communicate without compromising your objectivity and credibility. This class could not focus specifically on platforms because you cannot teach something that is continually changing. You cannot make Twitter the basis of a class when something new will exist soon. But you can teach concepts and ideas. 

5. Create a course about the business aspect

Traditionally, the business end of newspapers was left to the advertising side. But these days, editorial has to at least understand it and think about it.  Andrew Dunn, a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and university editor at The Daily Tar Heel, created the following plan for what a media business class might look like

  • Case studies that focusing on how models have weathered the past few years
  • Start by looking at models in 1960: How modern newspaper business models developed, from when the large chains began buying up newspapers
  • Analyze nonprofit/unique business structure. How does that affect its model?
  • Look at recent business models like Spot.Us, with revenue generated by crowdsource funding, and the Huffington Post, an entirely online-only news site

Read the entire post and course description here.  

We can't give students the choice of learning "new media" or "old media." They're both intertwined into current media. You can't learn how to write or how to make a slideshow-- you need both.  Old and mew media are both important and should be treated that way.