Rich Beckman discusses how to reshape journalism education

I keep forgetting to post these notes, but tonight’s grand conversation on Twitter about journalism education reminded me.

Read the Twitter discussion: Twitter discussion about journalism education or see it as a Wordle visualization.

Context: Rich Beckman, Knight Chair in visual journalism at the University of Miami, gave a presentation on Nov. 11 about how we should reshape journalism education. He spoke as part of the first Knight Chair Lecture Series.


(everything should be attributed to Beckman unless otherwise noted or in brackets)

  • This is a time of great change
  • We’re at the point where almost all of our students are coming out a high-speed Internet culture
  • They’ve changed their behavioral habits
  • “None of us were raised in the environment our students were”
  • Question: How do we interact, how do we teach, how do we get on the cutting edge? Maybe we can’t, but we need to think of ways to try.

New York Times cut 100 positions from print newsroom and added 30 new jobs in online newsroom, but doesn’t really work in academia.

We can learn from everything that went wrong in the newspaper industry

  • Reactive rather than proactive strategies
  • Failure to make appropriate hires
  • Lack of appropriately trained Web and multimedia savvy young journalists
  • Reliance on inflexible IT platforms (one of the biggest problems under the radar — wed to technology that’s not friendly to the Internet such as social networking, interactivity, dynamic content, etc.)
  • Failure to understand the impact of niche publishing (e.g. travel, people go online now instead of going to newspaper)
  • Loss of revenue translated into loss of training dollars (“We cannot say we cannot afford to train or re-train people. We have no choice but to re-train people in the new environment”)
  • Failure to integrate social networks, blogs and citizen journalism strategies
  • Failure to understand best practices
  • Failure to adopt integrated marketing strategies and publishing strategies (didn’t link within their site, refused to break news online — “All critical mistakes leading to declining readership and declining revenue”)

Major challenges

  • Continuing education – experiential learning, reduced teaching loads, professional internships, team-teaching opportunities, summer study grants (“Multimedia is a team sport” –> used West Grove site as example of teamwork)
  • Stratified curricula – most programs still feature tool-based curriculum tracks, rather than practice-based curriculum tracks; for instance, documentary film, documentary broadcast and documentary multimedia in three separate sequences (film, broadcast and visual journalism); the goal is the same; the tools are sometimes different, but the storytelling is always more important than the tool (“This integrated use of multimedia has permeated our industry not only in the U.S., but throughout the world”). We need to find a way to bring those kids together
  • Graduates working in jobs did not exist three years ago or have evolved to require additional skill sets, but most schools are not designed to react to quickly evolving industries
  • Staffing – you are what your Web presence projects and you are limited by your technical infrastructure and support staff; you cannot excel without appropriate technology and appropriate tech expertise. Most schools still do not understand the need or appreciate the need for a stellar CIO and staff, do not fund these positions at an appropriate level and do not involve them properly (“That is your new face, your Web site.”)
  • Textbooks – “In my field, there’s no textbook I can use”; when your audience is student who don’t read newspaper because news is not timely, you can’t expect them to learn about new tech from a year-old book

What’s happening

  • NYT publisher saying he doesn’t know if print product will be around in five years
  • Kaplan accounts for 50 percent of The Washington Post Company’s revenue
  • Christian Science Monitor dropping print edition except for weekly

Is this good news?

  • Newspapers running extra copies, this doesn’t mean newspapers are alive, just that people want documents
  • Most people get their coupons from the Sunday paper

Sign of the times

  • Traditional intern description
  • Intern plus audio gathering and audio slideshow skills
  • Intern who can train staff, create interactive database-driven Web products

Where are the eyes?

  • Google, Yahoo, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook
  • CNN is highest news site at no. 9

Your skill set

  • [same as the list in this post from ACP/CMA]
  • (Many schools refuse to offer programming, say go to comp sci school; you can’t say/do that)
  • We should have eye trackers here for usability

Pieces of the puzzle

  • You have to have the skills, but having skills is simply the foundation
  • “I can teach software to a monkey”
  • Knowing how to use these skills to best communicate on top of the foundation
  • Multimedia storytelling has the potential to produce better journalism

Fitting the pieces together

Understand every storytelling tool in your expanded tool palette, having the skills to implement or to guide implementation, knowing what is possible, understanding your story, understanding and engaging.

“I don’t believe in telling stories about people unless those people can understand it.” Examples:

We’ll take Grove site to the Grove because many residents don’t have a computer

“Our job is to help our subjects better tell their stories”

Challenge yourself and your students

  • Students learn best when they are engaged and actively participating in the learning process
  • Do not teach software; teach students to use software to become stronger storytellers and researchers
  • Involve your students in real world projects, not classroom exercises (he’d require people to go abroad)
  • Be willing to learn from your students (see how they interact, communicate)
  • Maintain high expectations and adopt professional standards

Multimedia for social change

  • Multimedia has the unique ability to give your subjects a voice, to let them tell their own stories. Audiences relate to your subjects, not to you. It is not your story. Your jub is to help your subject best tell his or her story.
  • Never before has an individual had such an inexpensive and …
  • [30 UM students signed up for Idaho, 16 coaches including Jim and Kim, Andrea and Shell coaches, coaches from big media outlets, three newsrooms running 24 hours, 200 total students]

Endless opportunities

  • It is one of the most exciting times in history to be a member of a university community. The world is our classroom, technology is our partner and both students and faculty are excited about learning. It is also one of the most challenging times to be an educator because every day you stand still is another day that you fall behind.
  • Challenge yourselves to go forward and make a difference

Gina Maranto, English composition professor, asked a question about IT, team teaching, doing those things in research institution.

Beckman responded:

  • “I don’t think there’s problems, I think there’s challenges and opportunities. I’ll work within the system or outside the system. Here, I think I’ll be able to work within the system”
  • At UNC, they hid away and bought their own server, developed their own CMS, etc. When they got recognition, then school jumped on the bandwagon
  • [Beckman was executive producer for Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai in 2007 with videos and photos from all the athletes and events.] CEO of Special Olympics, said this is the new face of Special Olympics, will keep site forever and keep doing it.

My thoughts


WEIGH IN: What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Rich Beckman discusses how to reshape journalism education”

  1. “Require people to go abroad” – with full funding from the program, I’d hope. Otherwise, is journalism education only for the well-off now?

  2. @glmaranto (Gina) Thanks! I’ll be sure to check that out.

    @Travis: I can’t speak for other projects, but here’s one example:

    Beckman is the executive producer of the webcasting team for the Special Olympics World Games in February. He’s taking 30 students from UM (out of the 100/200+ students from across the world covering) to Idaho and we’ll have all expenses (minus food, perhaps) covered.

    Obviously, that’s not abroad — but it’s just to give you an idea.

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