Dr. Sara Netzley, associate chairperson of Bradley University’s Department of Communication, explains how the department is changing to prepare its students for the evolving media world.
What is Bradley doing to prepare students for the realities of the current media landscape?
The Department of Communication has overhauled our journalism curriculum to reflect the realities of the jobs our journalism students will be taking when they graduate. Prospective employers were telling us that recent graduates need to know how to tell a story on multiple platforms, particularly online. It’s not enough for a print reporter to just write an article for the paper. She needs to be able to shoot video to put up on the website and gather information to make an interactive graphic. Television reporters need to do more than put the script of their broadcast stories online; they need to use the online article to offer more in-depth information than could fit into the 30-second or 90-second story. So we’re focusing on how students can use new technologies to tell the most complete and engaging stories possible.
How has your teaching changed because of recent media trends?
To be honest, my teaching itself hasn’t changed much. For one thing, all of our classes still focus on the basics: good writing and good reporting. If students know how to gather the information they need to write a solid article, they’ll be able to adapt to just about any changes that will happen in the news industry as time goes on.
That said, I’m also focusing on new ideas and techniques. I do follow new social networking tools more closely now. For example, I first looked into Twitter because I wanted to see how media outlets and journalists were using it, and I wanted to be able to explain that to my students. I have days in class when we just look at examples of how the media use Twitter, what their reporters’ blogs cover, or what kinds of video they feature online. I also try to bring in news professionals who are involved in the online side of things for their organizations, from web producers to journalists who blog.
How are communications classes different than they were a few years ago?
We’re focusing on news skills and techniques. Some students aren’t comfortable shooting digital video, so we have assignments to get them comfortable with the camera and with editing techniques. Others need practice in writing headlines that will entice online users to click and read their articles. There are a host of new tasks that today’s journalists have to master, and we try to prepare them for as many as possible.
What new ideas and concepts is the curriculum trying to address?
We’re interested in how different media outlets are using new technology. What kind of videos does the Journal Star put up on its website? How does the Chicago Tribune interact with readers on its Twitter account? Which reporter blogs work, and which ones don’t? We’re trying to incorporate all of these ideas into our classes. Students need to know which parts of a story would work best as a video, and which parts work best as a print article. They need to know how to interact with readers on blogs and in the comment sections below stories. They need to understand the power of social networking to drive readers to their product.
There’s also a whole shift in how journalists need to think about the story. In the past, reporters would focus on the final content: the newspaper article or the story for that night’s broadcast. Now, reporters need to think about updating the newspaper’s website first, then focusing on the story for the print version or for broadcast. It’s a shift in priorities, and it’s a shift in storytelling. The public turns to media websites for the most recent information, so journalists need to be continuously updating their stories as more facts emerge or as the story changes. Sometimes this means shorter stories, or short, continuous updates. It’s changing how journalists think about deadlines and news content.
What new classes have been added to the curriculum?
Two key classes are Digital Journalism, which teaches students many of the concepts and skills I’ve been talking about. That class has been offered for almost two years now. We have a new class that’s being added in the upcoming semester called Visual Storytelling. This will teach students how to shoot video that will work well on the web, and how to create slideshows and online photo essays that tell a complete story or illustrate a process or event from start to finish. In addition, we’re adding elements of multiplatform storytelling to many of our current classes by requiring students to write blog posts as if they were reporters on a beat in their basic reporting class, or providing online video or photos for a slideshow along with their articles in their feature writing class. iBi