Questions about the skills college journalists need to master to prepare for successful careers in a new media landscape aren’t new -- but the answers keep changing.
For instance, in 1995, an article in Quill, a publication  of the Society of Professional Journalists, deemed the ability to “deal with new media such as electronic newspapers or World Wide Web pages” as “nice, but not necessary." So David Wendelken, an associate professor of journalism at James Madison University, told a chuckling crowd Friday during the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's annual convention  in Washington.
Suffice to say, precious few journalism educators would agree with that assessment today. And yet journalism education is lagging behind industry in embracing the new media technologies that students will need to be competitive in the work place, according to a paper presented Friday.
“We don’t face the same problems economically that the industry is facing,” said Eastern Illinois University's Bryan Murley, who found in a survey of college newspaper advisers that 58.7 percent in 2006, and 53 percent in 2007, thought campus media had not kept pace with the advances in commercial media. “But the industry is requiring reporters to have different skill sets."
Advertising revenue and readership for college newspapers remain strong -- Daniel Reimold of Ohio University cited one study that found that about three-quarters of college students pick up the print versions of their campus newspapers at least twice a week. But the success of the print model at the college level masks its struggles in commercial media, and while college media outlets have made gains in incorporating new media platforms, the progress has been slower than it should be, Murley said.
About 91 percent of college newspapers had online presences in 2007, but the percentages are much lower for other forms of college media -- 36.3 percent for radio stations, 20.9 percent for television stations, 18.1 percent for magazines and 6 percent for yearbooks. There were, however, “appreciable gains” in the proportion of college media outlets using multimedia technologies in 2007 compared to 2006: For instance, in 2006, 20.9 percent used podcasts, versus 38.4 percent in 2007. The use of Weblogs increased from 19.8 to 35.8 percent, RSS feeds from 23.5 to 35.1 percent, streaming video from 16.6 to 30.5 percent, embedded video (including YouTube) from 9.6 to 42.4 percent and comments features from 39.6 to 57 percent.
Meanwhile, even the smallest commercial newspapers, with 10,000 readers or fewer, are looking for reporting candidates with experience writing for the Web and uploading stories to the Internet, according to a survey of newspaper managing editors conducted by Wendelken and Toni B. Mehling of James Madison University. Of nine respondents in the “large daily newspaper” category (those with a circulation of 44,000 and above), eight required reporters to have skills in capturing audio while four required audio editing skills. Five required reporters to have skills in capturing video, while one required video editing expertise. Major newspapers, said Wendelken, “are looking at reporters to do these things from the start.”
When discussing barriers to new media education, panelists and audience members cited costs (although Murley stressed that many of the technologies can be used fairly cheaply), in addition to resistance from some faculty who lack multimedia skills themselves or otherwise don’t see the need to instruct undergraduates in the emerging platforms. But they also cited resistance from journalism students themselves.
“A lot of college students select their medium in high school. When they come onto campus, they’re already a TV person or a radio person or a newspaper person,” said Wendelken.
“I’m a print journalist,” he continued, imitating the attitude of many aspiring journalists. “Why do I need to learn video?”