Teaching Print, Broadcast, and Online Journalism Concurrently: A Case Study Assessing a Convergence Curriculum

Article excerpt

About 60% of U.S. journalism schools are preparing students to work across multiple media platforms. In fall 2002, the University of Southern California launched a Convergence Core Curriculum (CCC) in which all journalism students learned print, broadcast, and online journalism concurrently. Both students and instructors reported that the classes slowed the learning process, and that class content was diluted. However, students nevertheless showed marked improvement in key skills. These results and a review of the relevant literature provide insight for educators and practitioners as they assess convergence teaching practices.

Introduction

"Convergence" has become one of the most hotly contested topics among journalism educators. Defined for the purposes of this paper as teaching students to think, report, and write across print, broadcast, and online media platforms, numerous convergence courses and/or new convergence curriculums have been introduced at journalism schools across the country in recent years. While some educators strongly believe that teaching students how to work in more than one medium will better prepare them for future jobs, others argue that journalism schools should instead put a stronger emphasis on critical thinking, and basic writing, reporting, and grammar skills. This article addresses these issues by reviewing existing convergence education research, describing the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism's new Convergence Core Curriculum (CCC), and presenting baseline data from two in-depth surveys of students and instructors that assessed the CCC, which was launched during the fall of 2002.

Literature Review

The topic of media convergence began appearing in trade publications as early as 1994, when veteran journalist John Seigenthaler, founder of The Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, predicted a new sort of journalism education that "will train the student for citizenship in a technologysaturated new information age, in which there will be a marvelous multifaceted array of career opportunities."1 During the past decade, most schools have been forced to contemplate the issue of convergence. A survey by Huang found that between 1998 and 2002, "about 60 percent of the }-schools in the United States redesigned their curricula or developed new courses to prepare students for practicing news in multiple media platforms."2 His survey also found that the majority of respondents agreed that journalism students should learn how to write for multiple media platforms, and that they need to learn "to cooperate and collaborate across newsrooms so as to bridge different newsroom cultures."3 Another study by Criado and Kraeplin found that nearly 85%, or almost nine out of ten of the 240 university programs surveyed, have adopted or were in the process of adopting convergence curriculum. The same study also noted that most of these changes "represent a minor shift" that "accommodate the industry emphasis on convergence" and are not complete revamps of the curriculum.4

Technological advances and the new media landscape have been two major catalysts for change at J-schools. There is no denying that the Internet has allowed online journalism to flourish. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling on 2 June 2003 that eased restrictions on media ownership has sparked even more interest about convergence among journalism educators. The FCC ruling allows media organizations to own and operate a newspaper, a television affiliate, and a Web site in the same market. That means they can provide news together as a "team" instead of as "competitors." Given this conglomeration of ownership, it stands to reason that future newsroom hires may be expected to have at least a rudimentary understanding of how the three media work, and perhaps even to work in more than one media.

More than thirty years ago, Highton wrote that "journalism educators were bitterly split into two camps, the 'green eyeshades' and the 'chisquares'-also called the "communicologists. …

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