In the past year alone, more than 46,900 print and broadcast reporters, as well as other key newsroom personnel, have experienced layoffs throughout the country. Many have blamed technology ---the Internet, more specifically – for the decline in subscribers and viewers of traditional print and broadcast media outlets. Others point to the tunnel-vision, or lack of vision, displayed by media managers during the halcyon years when profits were double digits and budgets appeared to be endless.
News organizations’ failure to plan for emerging technology and new media platforms remain constant themes today as journalists struggle to regroup and regain some standing in an industry they cherish. For aspiring journalists about to enter a world filled with unknowns, it is imperative that they be prepared to “hit the ground running” when they leave college and enter the work world. No longer can journalism school graduates rely on the local paper or television station for employment. Today’s media environment requires students to be knowledgeable about multimedia platforms and digital technology. They must be focused, savvy and able to write, edit, shoot video and create compelling visuals often at a moment’s notice. Some may work for real or virtual newsrooms. Some will be freelancers, and others, entrepreneurs, having created their own media outlets.
Faculty in VCU’s School of Mass Communications have embraced these changes to the extent of implementing a Multimedia Journalism Master’s Program in the summer of 2008. Our undergraduate curriculum also has been revised to implement online reporting and other emerging media technologies. These new programs will enable our students to be more competitive in the journalism job market by their ability to simultaneously deliver news for print, broadcast and online.
Aware of the challenges facing the media industry, I last year (Fall 2008) applied for and received a $4,500 grant from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Teaching Excellence to create an online publication, CoED411. The publication was to be filled with student-generated content. The publication or Web site, was created and developed as part of my MASC 303 news writing course that incorporates online reporting. The course and publication’s objectives are to provide journalism students first-hand experience in creating, launching, operating and disseminating news online.
Fast forward to Fall 2009
CoEd411VA.com, will launch in November 2009, although it actually can go live any day. While the site’s original intent was to be a weekly, Web-based publication focusing on news, information and entertainment centered around colleges in Richmond, Va., Charlottesville, Va., Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., the publication thus far primarily focuses on news and events on VCU’s campus and the Richmond community. Once it is live, it can be and will be updated daily. Initial plans to have a broad range of titles ( publisher, editor, managing editor, reporters, columnists, multimedia producers, sales and advertising managers) were scaled back due to several realities. For example, rather than having a class of 12-15 students in my MASC 303 class, I only had five students in the Spring 2009 semester. A smaller class meant that there needed to be a stronger focus on sharpening students’ basic newsgathering, reporting and writing skills because none of the students, mostly broadcast majors, had written for a newspaper.
However, in the end, working with a smaller group proved to be a blessing. I believe that the groups formed a bond and camaraderie that may not have been possible with a larger class. I also believe that they enjoyed the status of being the first content-providers for CoEd411. Also, the project’s unique caveat---paying students for their work---proved to be a positive factor for most of the students involved.
VCU’s spring semesters always tend to move quickly, with one reason being that students have a week off in March for spring break. Thus, I did not have a lot of time to focus on building the Web site until the latter part of the semester. Again, the first part of the semester was spent helping students improve their interviewing, reporting and writing skills, learning correct newspaper style, polishing their photography skills, learning about multimedia such as blogs, soundslides and video. I then had to identify someone to design the site. A former student suggested that I contact Mark Harris, a graduate of VCU’s School of the Arts. Mark proved to be a good choice. He visited our class, talked about his work as a web designer for several businesses, listened to our students comments, and sought their ideas for the site. A few weeks after Mark’s visit, he presented a draft of the site. We were pleased.
By then, we had plenty of content to put online. From the start, students were provided a range of topics to write about. Such topics included coping with college, goal-setting and meeting objectives, financial and scholarship information, study abroad programs, dating and sexuality, entrepreneurship, addictive behavior and career goals and job opportunities. They also had the option of writing about healthcare, relationships, family, sports and entertainment, or more hard-nosed reporting such as immigration, housing, energy and foreign affairs.
Their final topics fit and went beyond many of those categories. Current articles on the site include a special section on Richmond’s Canal Walk, and other subjects focus on topics such as Going Green, Sleep Deprivation, Diversity, The Dangers of Using Expired Cosmetics, Pinching Pennies and the annual Monument 10K Race. I owe special thanks to Marggie Graves, a former colleague from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, who assisted in editing the articles. She did a fine job. I also want to thank editors, reporters and staff at The Virginian-Pilot and VirginianPilotonline.com in Norfolk, Va., who extended to me a one-week externship last summer to observe and work for its online news operations. (http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcmztzjg_56dcrrghgf) That experience proved invaluable in further enhancing my knowledge and expertise about today’s newsrooms.
In addition, I thank the Center for Teaching and Excellence for providing funding to obtain resources and provide stipends to students during this project. Most of all, I thank my students who were not only willing to participate in this venture, but demonstrated remarkable energy, enthusiasm and excitement through it all.
I personally am excited to know that my current group of MASC 303 students is also eager to add their work to the CoED411VA.com. My students are bright and cooperative. I know they will work hard to ensure that the site continues to be a success.
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