Broadcast Journalism Education and the Capstone Experience

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study assesses the current state of the television news capstone experience in accredited journalism and mass communication programs in the United States. Specifically, the authors employed a mixed-methods approach, interviewing 20 television news capstone instructors and conducting an analysis of broadcast journalism curriculum information obtained from 113 schools. More than 90 percent of accredited schools offer a television news capstone, and faculty had similar insights about television news instruction and how best to teach the television news capstone course.

Keywords

journalism education, television news, capstone course

Mass communication educators have debated how best to train journalists for more than a century. Much discussion has focused on whether a skills-oriented or a liberalarts- based curriculum is the "best" approach to educating young journalists.1 In recent years, however, dramatic shifts in the production and consumption of news content have reenergized this debate as educators attempt to find ways to prepare students for an increasingly complex media environment.

Historically, most journalism and mass communication programs have educated aspiring journalists using a traditional approach with students focusing specifically on one area of mass communication, such as print or broadcast journalism.2 For broadcast students, this traditional method of training includes a series of courses in which students learn how to write, report, and produce for television news.3 A capstone course, which may include some type of hands-on or news-laboratory experience, is typically required so that students can integrate and apply the knowledge they have learned.

But this specialized, medium-specific approach seems to be evolving into a broadbased instructional endeavor, with mass communication administrators and faculty focusing heavily on media convergence and the wide array of conceptual skills that students need when entering the workplace.4 As journalism programs trend toward convergence, less instructional time may be devoted to specialized journalism instruction, such as broadcast journalism, as students are increasingly trained across media platforms.5 In light of these changes, this study assesses the current state of capstone courses in broadcast journalism programs. Wagenaar has defined a capstone course as "a culminating experience in which students are expected to integrate, extend, critique, and apply the knowledge gained in the major."6 The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) defines a capstone as "a final course that synthesizes the knowledge, values, and skills of a sequence, department or core curriculum."7

Although recent scholarship has examined the current state of journalism education in colleges and universities,8 few studies have assessed how curricular changes in JMC programs have influenced the educational outcomes of broadcast journalism courses. Little academic research exists on capstone course experiences in JMC programs.9 The current study addresses this literature gap by examining broadcast news capstone courses at the 113 colleges and universities accredited by the ACEJMC. By assessing the capstone course, this study seeks to evaluate how accredited JMC programs are preparing students, through transitional or summative educational experiences, to become broadcast journalists in a new media environment.

Literature Review

As institutions of higher education and accrediting bodies have intensified efforts to document student learning outcomes, they have increasingly emphasized the capstone course as a curricular element across disciplines.10 The capstone has thus emerged as a key method for assessing and measuring both cumulative student learning in a major and the effectiveness of a program's educational mission.11 For example, the ACEJMC has identified the capstone course as one important arena in journalism and mass communication education in which student learning can be directly measured through analysis of student performance across time. …