Multimedia journalism education in U.S.: What (indeed) is a multimedia journalism program?

This post summarizes my observations of the “fully integrated” multimedia journalism  programs on my popular map of “multimedia journalism degree programs in U.S. and Canada.”

I have been categorizing the programs based on the way multimedia journalism is integrated into each program’s curriculum. While the category and definitions prove instrumental in understanding the nature of a new, multimedia journalism program, they also have their limitations.

How I came up with the category structure and definition

The map was started in March as a simple list for me to collect a few sample “new” journalism programs in preparation for a new course for fall 2012. However, I quickly ran into troubles with the few such programs I located – how to define a new or multimedia journalism program?

There are huge differences in the way multimedia journalism is being taught at different universities and colleges. Some journalism programs have one or two elective courses in multimedia reporting, whereas some others have a completely revamped curriculum with several such courses required of all students. It does not make sense to put them all together without any differentiation.

With the help of Mindy McAdams, I developed a category to describe the different programs. Depending on how multimedia journalism is integrated into the curriculum, a journalism program may be “fully integrated,” “partly integrated,” “silo,” or “electives only.”

  • Fully integrated: All students must take courses that focus on multimedia or multiplatform reporting, production and/or dissemination, along with reporting and production courses for traditional print and broadcast platforms.
  • Partly integrated: All students must take courses that focus on multimedia or multiplatform reporting, production and/or dissemination, and choose a concentration or multiple courses that focus on a specific print or broadcast platform.
  • Silo: Students choose a concentration or track focused on multimedia or multiplatform reporting, production and/or dissemination. Separate tracks exist for other platforms such as broadcast or print.
  • Electives only: Students may choose courses that include multimedia or multiplatform reporting, production and/or dissemination, but they are not required.

Observations from categorizing the programs: What is a “fully integrated” multimedia journalism program?

The “fully integrated” definition focuses on the program’s core courses or required skills courses. What I look for is (a) courses that clearly focus on multimedia or multiplatform reporting and production, (b) a set of essential text, audio/video, and maybe photography courses.

The rationale is that a multimedia journalism program should train a student on all fronts of journalism: print, audio/video and multimedia; so a “fully integrated” program should have in its core or required courses both (a) and (b).

With that definition, I am able to identify about a dozen BA/BS programs that are “fully integrated” with multimedia journalism. Upon a closer look of their curricula, a pattern seems to emerge.

The “fully integrated” multimedia journalism programs seem to have something in common: (a) they no longer require students to choose among traditional journalism concentrations such as print, magazine, broadcast and photojournalism; and (b) they all have a few required courses that have a clear focus on multimedia or multiplatform journalism, the courses may come with vastly different titles though.

Check out the following programs and pay attention to the core courses and required skills courses.

Beyond the basic courses that are required of all students, these programs all offer advanced skills courses in traditional platforms. A program may have clusters in print, audio/video, photojournalism, or multimedia, and require students to choose one or two courses from each cluster (platform). For instance, Emerson College requires students to take at least one course for each of three platforms: broadcast, writing, and multimedia. Arizona State University requires that students take three or four courses in advanced text, video, multimedia courses and other conventional journalism areas.

Limitations of this category and the definitions

The four-category definition has its limitations in describing a multimedia journalism program. Unlike the established areas of study in communication and traditional journalism, multimedia journalism programs are not easily definable. From time to time, I ran into issues with the definitions.

Per my definition, the journalism program at Temple University should be defined as “partly integrated.” All students are required to take core courses such as Audio/Visual Newsgathering; Writing for Journalism; Multimedia Storytelling. Students are then required to choose from about a dozen areas of specialization such as broadcast journalism, photojournalism, magazine journalism, etc.

This definition was devised primarily to describe “old-style” programs with one or two required multimedia journalism courses. It works fine with programs such as the one at Gardner Webb University, where students are required to complete a Digital Media Convergence course, then choose a concentration from three areas: News-Editorial, Photojournalism, and Broadcast Journalism.

However, “partly integrated” seems to be an underestimation of the scope and depth of the multimedia journalism training Temple University journalism program offers.

Another issue is with programs that build multimedia journalism into existing courses. Take for instance the journalism program at Boston University, where students in radio courses learn to produce audio slideshows, pairing sound and still photography; and photojournalism students create web sites to showcase their work.

Undoubtedly, multimedia journalism is being “fully integrated” into such courses and programs. A new category may be needed to account for such programs with built-in multimedia journalism components.

However, without carefully reading through individual syllabus, it is very difficult to identify such courses and programs just by reading the course title and/or the brief catalog description. That said, at least for marketing purposes, such programs should make their multimedia journalism components more salient in course descriptions, degree requirements, or program descriptions.

About mulinblog

I am a college journalism instructor who has a great interest in multiplatform journalism.
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