A new journalism degree course is born…

Our new BA (Hons) Journalism degree structure has got the official stamp(s) of approval and is set to launch in October [2008].

We spent a lot of time trying to understand the changes which have occurred in the industry and what it means to our students. The new degree has convergence journalism at its heart and this has required a far more integrated approach to teaching.

When it comes to technology, to paraphrase a speech by the BBC’s Kevin Marsh,you don’t need to be right, just be ready.” I like the sound of that approach. We don’t know exactly where things are going in the industry, but I think we’re on the right lines now. Our students will be much better prepared for entry into the industry.   

A few reflective points:

Here are a few reflective thoughts about the process…

1) Convergence journalism IS happening: Yes sir! Sounds pretty basic, but some people still seem to think that it’s some kind of blip. We’ll somehow return to a time when people only get content from the newspaper or radio. Normal service WON’T be resumed soon! It won’t ‘settle’. Most UK media companies run converged operations. It may not be quite as advanced as what is happening in the US media, but even the smallest local village paper normally has a web site. If they have a web site then there is usually a desire to integrate (even if it’s just to save money). Social media, crowd sourcing…these are not just buzzwords.

2) ‘Online journalism’ versus ‘convergence’: There is a difference! All students need skill in convergence/multimedia. We kept online journalism as an option. Read on for more…

3) The old pathways remained: Initially there was an idea to have a separate online journalism pathway (possibly even an entirely separate degree!). This would be a mistake.It was decided to keep two pathways at L2 and L3 –  ‘print’ and ‘broadcast’. It would have certainly been easier to simply add a new pathway for online (in terms of timetabling), but that would be a non-converged approach. We decided that convergence had to be embedded into the existing print and broadcast pathways.

4) Students can still specialise: We want students to be able to operate in a multimedia and multi-platform way, but we were not creating ‘jack  hacks of all trades’. Students must have competent multimedia skills, but we kept the specialist teaching in the pathways and options. It’s pretty obvious that good research, interview, reporting and editing skills are as important as ever. You don’t want to do anything to damage the teaching of  the sacred cows.

5) Have something to converge with: You have to worry about those courses based around single media ( like all those NCTJ pre-entry courses). How can they teach multimedia? We already gave students flexibility

6) Some software is non-converged: Students get teaching in a range of industry standard software, like : Quark,
InDesign, Photoshop, FinalCutPro etc. But some of this software is pretty non-converged [take a look at Quark]. Adobe products are better because they have been built around the ‘web workflow’. There is a whole new raft of software that needs to be looked at for internet publishing. New content management systems etc.

7) Visual skills are really important:
Students often think they are on a writing course, but they need to understand how content is presented in linear and non-linear ways and the role of images. Audiences need help in navigating their way through vast amounts of information slush. Students need skills in managing content in different formats.

A few challenges still needing to be faced:

There is a lot more than this, but what the heck…..

1) Closer links with the computing courses: The design director of  [see the full post here]  explained what he looked for in an ideal candidate (it makes for quite a list): XHTML, CSS,
JavaScript, Flash and a “commercially viable comfort level
with database and application programming”
. Wooooooah!. With the exception of some Flash, we don’t teach this stuff in the arts faculty. But I am guessing there are specialists in the computing faculty who are experts in this. Cross-faculty links can be tricky to arrange, but we need to do it. 

2) Mobile: Will this eventually become a significant platform for media consumption? Mentions of mobile are a little absent from the unit descriptors that I wrote! 

3) Web First?: I’m slightly skeptical about this. How many ‘newspapers’ are really operating in a ‘web first’ way? Come the big story, don’t  we always save it for the paper version or broadcast? 

4) Getting students to take multimedia seriously: It can no longer play second fiddle to the perceived ‘glamour’ of print or TV!

There are some links and journal articles that influenced the thinking about convergence and I will list these soon. I will also be blogging about how I am getting on writing the new Inside Multimedia News course material and New Media contexts stuff. Speaking of which, I better get on with it…

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