The Convergence Newsletter
The Convergence Newsletter

From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina

Vol. X No. 2 (March 2013)

Common Issues Face Journalism Programs Today

By Chris Winker

While attempting to shape curriculum, journalism programs across the country face similar, complex issues to keep pace with today's evolving field. With more skills required for entry-level journalists, one of the challenges is shaping classes to not only what students need to know but also the skills they already bring.

In this issue, Dr. Jeff Wilkinson of Houston Baptist University writes about the effective steps for building a better journalism program, the decisions that need to be made in the trenches. He says it's vital for educators to assess their program in three areas. Once they've done that, the proper steps can be taken to get a program to the next level.

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A note from the executive editor
Yes, this is the "March" issue. We're a little late this month, and we could blame it on spring break and spring fever. But we also found the cupboard a little bare when several good projects in the works had to be pushed back.

Remember, this newsletter exists for you as a way to bridge academic and professional issues and as a way to publish in areas of concern that might not rise to the level of peer review but are just as important. In short, we need your articles.

The Convergence Newsletter poses a forum for developing research, for discussing best practices in researching with new technology, and for highlighting professional and pedagogical issues of concern. We're always interested in those ideas or parts of research projects that are compelling but deserve fuller treatment beyond a journal article or that do not make an article's final cut.

We all have parts of our research that are valuable but that won't make a journal, and the newsletter is the perfect place for it. So please think of us and e-mail articles or suggestions to us at even as you dance around the Maypole.

Doug Fisher


Quick Glance Calendar (Details)

April 19-20: The International Symposium on Online Journalism, Austin, Texas

June 17-19: International Symposium on Language and Communication, Izmir, Turkey

June 17-21: International Communication Association, London

Sept. 12-15: Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium, Phoenix

Sept. 26-28: American Journalism Historians Association National Convention, New Orleans

Oct. 24-26: Beyond Convergence: Mobile, Social, and Virtual Media, Las Vegas

Oct. 28-29: International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communications, Phuket, Thailand


Featured article

Better Journalism Programs Start With Decisions Made in the Trenches
Jeff Wilkinson
Houston Baptist University

To train 21st century journalists, every college program needs an online platform or presence to house and display student work. Whether your program is called converged, multiplatform, integrated, webverged, or simply journalism, you must be able to explain to administrators what you're doing, where you're going, and why the school needs to be behind you. You can then determine whether you are meeting your unit's objectives, both immediate and long-term, and the administrations.

Most large accredited programs have things in place and may already have changed. Smaller, understaffed, under-equipped programs can change faster, but the burden is on fewer shoulders – perhaps one or two people do everything. This is both a blessing and a curse, but the guidelines presented here remain the same.

First, assess your three resource areas – faculty, facilities and equipment, and students. You are only as strong as the weakest of the three. Good faculty and talented students who don't have the facilities and equipment equals a struggling program. Having great students and great facilities but no faculty to pull it off means an underperforming program. Good faculty and facilities but few students, for whatever reason, is a program soon to be under the knife of administrative restructuring.

Once you assess this, you can implement specific changes incrementally. In general, you need to decide how extensive you wish to be in offering a convergent journalism online program.

Curriculum is key; try to offer fewer courses

This goes against our nature. As teachers, we typically say we need more time with students in more classes, and they need to do more projects to better prepare them for the uncertain hypercompetitive future. That is a given and it's true. But from an administrator's perspective, journalism principles are taught relatively quickly and then it's practice, practice, practice.

To remain viable, relevant, and safe, look over the curriculum and find ways to eliminate or combine material (like 'writing and reporting II' with "ethics" or "media and society" and "introduction to mass communication"). This is an editing exercise – what basic skills and materials do students need to learn versus what we want to teach them. It might result in reducing your favorite hourlong lecture on radio history to a 10-minute introduction of audio principles, but it will set up the real lesson of creating exciting podcasts.

Programs on a small or medium-sized budget can structure a number of courses around a student-generated online news presence. The result is still a degree program that's both practical and theoretical. Student discussions on numerous journalistic skills and their effects on society can be launched by what is happening through the student news website.

Four relatively simple questions

Control: Do you host your own site or contract out?
Is it do-it-yourself or through the school? If DIY, WordPress can sufficiently host content for a few years, but it will need increasing maintenance and care as more content is added. One of the functions of online news is to keep an archive of local events. Over time, thanks to the "long tail," this will become one of the most valuable assets a student online news operation can have.

If you can afford it, there are a number of professionally or college-oriented content management systems. Costs are relatively modest, and anything that gives you templates, shells, and 24/7 tech support so you can focus on the teaching and management of content is the way to go.

What is your capacity: students and equipment?
Do you want online audio, video, photo galleries, animations, interactive chat, and live blogging? How extensive can you afford to do it in terms of student person-power? Plan as far in advance as possible, and try to promise only what you know you can deliver. If something is iffy in advance, chances are it will fall through. Students are young adults learning time management and deciding what they want to do in life. They will commit with all sincerity and then change their mind the next morning – or forget entirely because they entered a new romantic relationship. That's college life.

Next, assess hardware and training facilities. Do you have video cameras-dvcams, digital single-lens reflex cameras that also do video, or both? Do enough students have smartphones and service plans that enable them to do mobile uploads? And if so, how diverse are those devices? Can the students practice this in a particular class, or would it only be through involvement with the student news website?

Where do your students come from?
Are they majors or non-majors? Campuses have different setups. Student media can be a club, student organization or part of an academic department like journalism, but maybe engineering or fine arts.

Depending on your answer to the capacity question, are the students given systematic training? If they are majors, you have a lot of control and can easily implement training through courses. If they are non-majors in a student organization, it can be a bit more difficult and take planning. You'll need to structure some means of training or development outside of your classes. That can mean additional time, effort, equipment, and facilities.

How do you balance stakeholder demands?
It is often said content is king, but this king is not well defined. Students are a key, but this must be balanced with the expectations of the university community – the administration as well as alumni, parents, local media, and key contributors. The smaller the school, the more important it is to have donors and outspoken core advisers.

The issue here is how you might balance print and online coverage. Print tends to get more attention from older folks such as administrators and donors than online stories do. Video gets more attention than online. Online video gets more attention than online text. A potentially sensitive photo draws less attention in a photo gallery than by itself.

Administration looks to the faculty in the trenches for decisions. They want us to tell them how we're using the resources given to us. Budgets are always tight, making anything new a tough sell. That's why we must plan and provide a long-term vision. You must be able to articulate a three- to five-year plan for building nothing into something – or something good into something great.

This is also your best chance to acquire equipment and facilities upgrades. The principle of university budgeting is to know you're not so much asking for something "now"; you're alerting administrators to what you need in the "future." Budget requests are simply putting things into a queue, along with all the other units. The answer may still be no, but they can't hold you off forever without the risk of looking like they're not the shrewd administrators they want everyone to think they are.

Yes, you have to manage those above you as well as those below you – and alongside of you. That's being in the trenches.


Conferences, Training, and Calls for Papers (Return to top)

The International Symposium on Online Journalism
April 19-20
University of Texas at Austin


International Symposium on Language and Communication
Izmir, Turkey
June 17-19


International Communication Association
June 17-21


Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium
Sept. 12-15


American Journalism Historians Association 32nd National Convention
New Orleans
Sept. 26-28
Deadline to submit paper: May 15


Beyond Convergence: Mobile, Social, and Virtual Media
Las Vegas
Oct. 24-26
Deadline to submit paper: June 15


International Conference on Journalism and Mass Communications
Phuket, Thailand
Oct. 28-29


Publisher and Editorial Staff

The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Executive Editor: Doug Fisher

Editor: Chris Winkler

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The Convergence Newsletter provides an editorially neutral forum for discussion of the theoretical and professional meaning of media convergence in all forms including technological, organizational, operational, psychological, and sociological. We welcome articles of all sorts and encourage those addressing the subject in new ways and with new perspectives. We also accept news briefs, book reviews, calls for papers and conference announcements. Our audience is both academic and professional; the publication style is AP for copy and APA for citations.

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