A Case for Graduate Programs for Television News Directors

Article excerpt

From a pragmatic viewpoint, colleges and universities offer degrees because of a perceived market of students with different needs to enroll in their programs. When enrollment declines the business of higher education may employ the same response other enterprises rely upon in times of decline. Staffs and product lines may be reduced, and resources may be redirected to those areas where consumer demand remains or is increasing. In other words, while the lofty ideals remain, higher education in America is fundamentally a business which depends upon customers.

In the graduate arena, mid-career professionals can provide an important customer base when academic offerings are tailored to the specific needs and scheduling concerns of those professionals. The success of the executive MBA concept, in developing a niche market nationwide, is evidence that customers respond when institutions tailor their programs to fit the needs of mid-career professionals. By 1991, following a four year surge of 27 percent in admissions, over 9,000 managers were participating in 102 executive MBA programs which "typically enroll full-time managers with 10 years or more of business experience, offering them the best professors and an enriched curriculum" (Ezell, 1991). Typically, executive MBA programs are conducted in concentrated weekends of classes. The practitioner needs orientation of the executive MBA concept is a model for masters degree programs in journalism and mass communication. Particularly in large metropolitan markets substantial numbers of potential masters degree customers are working in media industries.

One segment of journalism practitioners recently investigated, television news directors of the traditional network affiliates, ABC, CBS, and NBC, provides a study in wants and needs which specifically tailored journalism and mass communication graduate education could readily address. Journalism education would benefit in two fundamental ways by aggressively embracing mid-career practitioners. First, the ties between those embattled in the media wars of the marketplace and those within the journalism schools would be reinforced. Second, it is the socially responsible thing to do; to provide continuing intellectual support, encouragement, and personal development vehicles to those engaged in the daily exercise of media message making.

TV NEWS DIRECTORS' WORLD

The world of the network affiliate television news directors is one of intense pressure (Flander, 1986) which results in substantial turnover (Stone, V.,1987,1992). The demands of the job include managing budgetary issues, implementing market research, selecting and motivating staffs in high stress environments, supervising newscast content, and engaging in strategic thinking for a dynamically changing industry (Flander, 1986). As Powers (1991) has underscored, their job includes responsibility for budgeting, hiring, firing, departmental organization, product supervision, leadership, and interface with senior management. Already stressful environments have become more so because of the mounting pressures on newsroom managers to cut costs and maximize productivity (Kwitny, 1990).

Network affiliate news directors are faced with trying to hold their audience share against increasing competition in the midst of continuing pressure to trim budgets due to declining station revenues which have focused owners and managers on the financial bottom-line (Stone, E., 1987; The business, 1986). Since the 1970s station managers have placed great importance on the ability of newscasts to generate viewers. News is a "major profit center" in most television stations (Stone, V., 1990, p. 16). Throughout the decade of the 1980s, a climate of extraordinary change fostered major shifts in federal regulation of the television industry, audience trends, station financing, and ownership of both the traditional networks and their local station affiliates, which has been well documented (Auletta, 1991; Bates, 1988; Bettelheim, 1992; Blumler & Spicer, 1990; Changing hands, 1985; FCC grilled, 1987; Mermigas, 1991; Rattner, 1986; Staff, 1988; Tyrer & Granger, 1990; Zoglin, 19901. …