Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Multimedia Journalism Professors on an Island: Resources, Support Lacking at Small Programs

Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Multimedia Journalism Professors on an Island: Resources, Support Lacking at Small Programs

Article excerpt

Journalism educators no longer seriously debate the merits of offering undergraduate courses in online, convergence, or multimedia journalism.1 News has moved online, prompting changes in readership habits and the journalism workforce. Nearly three-fourths of American households have some form of Internet access at home (U.S. Census, 2014) and nearly two-thirds of Americans have a smartphone (Smith, 2015). Digital news consumption now outpaces print news consumption (Media Insight Project, 2014). While legacy print news outlets continue to make newsroom cuts, digital news outlets have produced roughly 5,000 full-time editorial jobs (Jurkowitz, 2014). News organizations expect multimedia journalism proficiency from new graduates (Powers, 2012).

Faced with a fast-changing landscape, journalism educators have long sought to keep pace. Between 1998 and 2002, at the outset of the transition to digital news, 60% of journalism schools in the United States redesigned their curricula or developed new courses to prepare students for producing news on multiple platforms (Huang et al., 2006). The most recent survey of journalism and mass communication administrators (Becker, Vlad, & Simpson, 2014) found that the vast majority of programs2 continue to update their curricula to reflect changes in the media landscape. More than 90% of administrators reported that their programs teach courses such as writing for the web, using the web in reporting, and social media (Becker, Vlad, & Simpson, 2014).

Still, many journalists, scholars, and media analysts argue that incremental changes are not enough and that fundamental shifts are necessary for journalism education to remain relevant (Finberg, 2013a; Claussen, 2009). Calls to "blow up" the curriculum "convey the urgency many journalism educators feel as they face students who must gain new skills, often skills their middle-aged professors don't possess, while also learning the fundamentals" (Martin, 2011, para. 1). Making such changes at institutions that are typically slow to adapt presents an immense challenge for journalism educators.

The pedagogical and administrative courage necessary when journalism education was established in the United States will continue to be needed as educators find ways of sending successful graduates into media industries that are shrinking, shifting and shaking with tremors of profound change. (Longinow, 2011, para. 1)

While surveys, news stories, and editorials about multimedia journalism education tend to focus on curricular changes (are journalism programs doing enough to stay relevant?) and brick-and-mortar investment (who's opening a new multimedia studio?), few studies have examined how professors3 tasked with implementing new or newly redesigned multimedia journalism courses assess their work environment. And while the resource-rich flagship state universities and top journalism schools garner much of the attention for their investment in multimedia journalism (Funt, 2015; Marcus, 2014; Herskowitz, 2011), less attention is typically paid to small journalism programs fighting for resources within larger departments or colleges.

The relevance of journalism education will depend on the ability of programs to utilize and support multimedia journalism professors and to ensure that teaching multimedia journalism becomes a widespread mission among faculty members. Through in-depth interviews (n=21) and a review of syllabi (n=11), this exploratory study examines how professors teaching multimedia journalism courses at programs of varying sizes describe the level of institutional support they receive, the pedagogical challenges they face, and what they hope their students learn at a time when industry demands are shifting rapidly and journalism educators are expected to keep pace.


Research about multimedia journalism pedagogy tends to focus on what professional journalists say students (and by extension their professors) need to know to be attractive to employers (Finberg, 2013b; Fahmy, 2008). …

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