Convergence and Globalization:
How One College is Educating Broadcast Journalists for the Future.
The concept of the Renaissance “Man” – one individual who is educated and accomplished in a wide variety of academic, artistic, and technical areas – is as old as, well, the Renaissance. In modern times, with increasing specialization, the demand for such multi-talented folk has been on the wane. Or so it was thought.
However, in the universe of Media and Communications, the demand for talent who can write the story, shoot and edit the footage, and also shine in front of the camera will continue to increase. In fact, according to Frank Bianco, television production and directing professor at Columbia College Chicago, the media polymath will become the industry standard.
“What we need to address as we educate the next generation is that ‘Hybrid Talent’ is the wave of the future,” says Bianco, who is one of the faculty team-teaching the unique Newsbeat course to broadcast journalism majors at Columbia. “Because things will continue to be automated and robotized there will be one tech job where there used to be three. The job pool is changing and the competition will be fierce. The media terminator of the future will have chops as talent, a presence on camera and will also be able to interview, to shoot, to edit. On the training side, that’s what convergence is all about.”
There’s no college that knows that better than Columbia College Chicago, the country’s largest private arts and media college, where the teaching philosophy focuses on a hands-on, minds-on approach to preparing students to hit the ground running in their chosen career field.
Convergence is the watchword in Columbia’s Broadcast Journalism program, an interdisciplinary undergraduate major housed in the Journalism department, but working across disciplines with the Television and Radio departments.
As broadcast journalism majors, students learn the essential elements of journalism including historic and current overviews of media and the field of journalism; basic journalistic writing; and media ethics and law. They also select course electives from interest areas such as urban affairs, business beat, and science and medicine news, as well as receiving a solid liberal arts foundation in a range of core courses in the social sciences, humanities, composition, science and math.
Broadcast journalism majors then immerse themselves in courses focusing on their specialty: the dynamic world of broadcast, taking courses in radio production, voice and articulation, writing TV news, reporting TV news, television arts production, television production and editing, aesthetics and storytelling, creating the TV news package, and the capstone or practicum course in which students produce their own television news shows.
In the capstone experience students may choose between “Metro Minutes,” a TV news update show and “Newsbeat,” a live TV newscast. Metro Minutes and Newsbeat are broadcast over Frequency TV, the college’s closed circuit television station. Frequency also produces its own content and employs advanced TV and BJ students to staff the station. Students aiming for a career in radio get hands-on training at Columbia’s own radio station, WCRX, 88.1-FM.
In the Metro Minutes course, segments are produced in an edited format in the Journalism department’s state-of-the-art Convergence Newsroom. Content in Metro Minutes focuses on “evergreen” feature reporting, including pre-recorded briefs and anchor minutes.
Newsbeat is a live, deadline-oriented, half-hour, full-up news show with breaking news, feature segments, weather, and sports. Three classes – TV Production, broadcast journalism production, and broadcast journalism reporting – with a total of 30-35 students and five instructors, work together to create the weekly news program that airs live twice weekly all over campus with repeats throughout the week.
In both courses students learn all facets of planning and executing a local news program including story creation and assignment, research, interviewing, shooting, editing, anchoring, and stand-ups.
Zally Adams, a broadcast journalism major who will be graduating this spring, is enrolled in the Newsbeat course. Zally stresses the importance of the real-life experience that the Columbia program provides. “I read an article last year in a professional journal complaining that Journalism students are not being prepared to work, that the college and university programs are only teaching theory. That is absolutely not true at Columbia. You are grounded in theory and then trained in the practical, technical, hands-on realities of today’s media scene. When we get out there, we are ready to work.”
Zally is a Chicago native and graduate of Walter Payton College Prep. Her aptitude for writing led her to a career in broadcast journalism because she wants to use her abilities to “inform, educate, and advocate.” With a talent for communication and a passion for social issues, her next step is to pursue a graduate degree in International Relations at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “My dream job, after graduate school, would be to work at the United Nations. I would then take those experiences and apply them to a career as a political reporter.”
For graduating senior Damon Maloney, the college’s Digital Convergence Newsroom is key to the hands-on educational process. “The convergence room really brought new energy to the program,” he says. “We are able to learn all the latest tools in one area, editing – on AVID – voice over, producing multi-media spots. And, we’re taught by professors who all work out in the field. They’re not just regurgitating textbooks and dusty old notes. They teach their students what they live every day.”
Damon, a native of suburban Minneapolis, will return to that area this summer to pursue a career as a local news reporter. He has a good start as his success as a student has already provided him with many networking opportunities. In addition to his internship at WCCO-TV, the Minneapolis CBS affiliate, he’s had a number of other career enhancing experiences. As the Carole Simpson scholarship winner of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, he attended the association’s 2006 conference in Las Vegas, meeting such broadcast luminaries as Dan Rather, MSNBC/NBC’s John Seigenthaler and Charles Gibson of ABC. Damon also attended the 32nd Annual National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Convention & Career Fair. The event provides a virtual world for student reporters to write, produce, and report on “NABJ-TV,” a real-time set provided by KTNV-TV, Las Vegas’ ABC affiliate. (Yes, this was Damon’s second trip to Las Vegas while studying at Columbia!). The convention also gave Damon the chance to meet with talent representatives, get his resume tape critiqued, and network with some of the top talent from around the country.
Speaking of top talent, this January students had the opportunity to take a special “J-Term” masters class in Broadcast Journalism with television icons Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. The anchor team that ruled Chicago’s 10 p.m. airwaves for more than a decade spent two weeks with Columbia students examining issues of ethics, reportage, and rapidly evolving media technologies.
Another J-term class that had students rubbing elbows with political reporters – and politicians – was “Covering the Iowa Caucuses.” Professor Suzanne McBride took ten Journalism majors and two Photography majors to Bettendorf to provide coverage of the pivotal Iowa caucuses. Columbia reporters’ blog entries can be read at http://cms.colum.edu/iowa08
But Columbia students are definitely not strangers to the movers and shakers in broadcast journalism. Chicago is the third largest news market in the country, providing rich, varied, and exciting internship possibilities. Some of the recent internship placements include spots at CNN, WFLD-TV-Fox 32, Telemundo 44, FOX Sports Net, KSWB-TV, San Diego, WGN-TV, WLS-TV, WGCI Radio, WMAQ-TV, WTTW-TV, and WBBM-TV, as well as many of the stations’ web initiatives.
Columbia students also land jobs. All across the country, Columbia alumni are working. From the NBC-affiliate reporter in Beartooth, Montana, the weatherman/news anchor/producer (read Convergence!) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the dozen or so Columbia grads reporting and producing for CNN all around the world, to the glamour of Oprah’s studio and “Access Hollywood,” alumni are making their diverse voices and distinctive perspectives heard in the media and, therefore, in the minds of the public.
It is the need for a diversity of voices in the media and the diversity that Columbia provides that is the passion and priority for Lillian Williams, director of the Broadcast Journalism program. “Journalism programs must be proactive on issues of diversity, and this is where Columbia really has a head start,” says Williams. “Yes, we have a great faculty of working professionals, a fabulous market location, state-of-the-art equipment, and a top-notch internship record. We also are consistently responsive to industry changes and needs. We keep up with current trends and best practices. Our students learn podcasting, writing for the web, blogging – all the aspects of media that make up the convergence trend and which current journalists have had to pick up quickly, or they’re out.
“But the real Columbia difference is that we have a very diverse student body and faculty who value the multiplicity of experiences and passions that our kind of multicultural student body brings to the profession,” continues Williams. “Our emphasis on cultural literacy, combined with the students’ lived experience in an environment of diversity, provides them with more capital. We live in a global community and a speed-of-light communications environment. We need to understand each other to investigate, write, and fairly and accurately report on stories that can change the lives of countless people in a matter of minutes. In both theory and practice, Columbia students leave here ready to thrive in the real, complex, world of the twenty-first century.”
For more information on all of Columbia’s degrees in the arts and media go to www.colum.edu