What’s a medium?

At CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism we just told the students that they no longer need to commit to a media track – print, broadcast, or interactive. We believe this is the next step in convergence. All media become one.

Since the day we opened our doors, CUNY has taught all students all media. In the first of three semesters (plus an internship), everyone takes the fundamental of interactive course and (as of this year’s class) a fundamentals of broadcast course. They all learn how to gather news and tell stories in audio, video, blogs, live blogs, wikis, Twitter, social tools, and whatever comes next. Of course, they also learn the eternal verities of journalism and techniques of reporting and writing. They are now exposed to the fundamentals of the business of journalism. As they progress through other classes in their subject specialties, they are required to create stories in various media.

We had still required our students to pick a track and I’ll confess that many people asked us why we did that. My answer was that employers would expect this specialization. It was, in truth, a dash of caution. But then we heard – particularly from adjunct faculty still working in the field – that this wasn’t necessarily so. We also watched our students from any track work in any track. And we’re getting better (and still need to get better) at requiring work in many media throughout the program.

From the day the school started, various faculty members – including, notably, the head of broadcast – wanted to find the way to tear down the walls between the tracks. Now we thought it was time.

So what we’ve really done is simply give students more choice. We still have the same media courses and department. We still have prerequisites for the ultimate course in each medium (you can’t take interactive III without having taken interactive II). But now we will advise students to select courses based on what they want to do professionally as well as what they already know (because many students enter the school proficient in various new media).

We’ve given the students various scenarios: Someone who wants to work in broadcast or online will likely take the courses they would have taken anyway. But now a student can take the full track in both electronic media. Or a student who comes in with good skills in those electronic media may choose to strengthen skills in what we used to call print (we’re not sure what to call it now so we’re calling that core). Electives that used to be offered mainly to students in a track – like my entrepreneurial journalism course – will now be open to all.

We also offer many workshops during our January academy between semesters and through the year: in photojournalism, Flash, copy-editing, VJ video storytelling, and so on. We’ll add more, especially as we also offer our graduates refresher courses as part of our 100,000-mile guarantee to keep them up to date.

Those are the details. The bigger point is that media is becoming singular. Especially as newspapers die and more people watch what we used to call TV online or on mobile, it will be absurd to separate the forms. In my day (picture me blogging that from a rocking chair), we had to pick our medium once for a career. Now, every time a journalist goes out to cover news, she must be equipped and prepared to gather and share it in any and all media. That’s what we mean when we say convergence.

We’re very lucky at CUNY that we’re new and don’t have the legacy of old media practices and turfs to deal with. I don’t say that to pile on other journalism schools that are struggling with how to change as fast as the media world around them, reflecting the same struggle in newsrooms (more than once, I heard the cry, “fuck new media”). Nor do I want to pretend for a second that we’ve solved the problem; we are constantly updating our thinking and our curriculum. It’s a never-ending discussion that we have in faculty meetings and training sessions on RSS, mobile, blogging, wikis, Twitter, new media architecture, new news business models, and so on. As Rich Gordon at Northwestern’s Medill J-school has long said, the most important skill we need to teach is change. And we can’t teach it fast enough.

  • Joe O

    “The bigger point is that media is becoming singular. Especially as newspapers die and more people watch what we used to call TV online or on mobile, it will be absurd to separate the forms.”

    It took me the day of graduation to realize that. Members of the pioneer class served as great guinea pigs, but dammit I think we all feel like we missed out on the party. Still, I’m happy as hell the kids are getting the full bredth of everything available.

  • invitedmedia

    is it worth noting that cisco just bought the maker of the “flip”?

  • Agreed. We just teach ‘Journalism’ at undergraduate level and students can pick from a range of media depending on what they want to do. The one element running throughout? Online.

    Having said that, I’ve just announced an MA in Online Journalism – http://www.mediacourses.com/courses.asp?cat=2&courseID=27 – I didn’t want to be medium specific (it’s actually for journalists in all industries), but calling it MA Journalism would have been misleading, and ultimately the people I want to attract will be searching for ‘online journalism’.

    Google decides the name, not me.

  • A wise move, Jeff, and one that I predict will be widely emulated.

  • WatchOut

    One has to be careful with those changes… Twitter is not journalism. Twitter can be ONLY used as an old fashion SOURCE… it’s the reporting that journalists have to do that can be called news. What is the quality of journalism that is reported in 140 characters on Twitter? POOR! Also, if one can think that she or he can do broadcast pieces just because they told one how to turn on a camera… it’s a mistake. Believe me, if you won’t respect high quality broadcast pieces, there won’t be another A.H. at major network, because one won’t be able to produce a good quality piece! And that’s what you get when print professors will judge broadcast pieces… Absurd! This new “no walls” (no need to choose track) is the biggest mistake in this school’s history. Convergence is good, but don’t go crazy. You are playing with students’ future jobs.

    • No one is saying that Twitter replaces the rest of journalism. It is a tool, another one in our pack. It can be used to bring readers to stories. It can be used to impart facts during an event. It can be used to find witnesses to interview. It has a use. The point is to give journalists the power to use all the tools they can to do the best journalism they can.

      Sorry you feel this way, whoever you are, but there is no change for an individual student, who can, as I said, take the exact same classes as when tracks were required. The only thing that happened here is that students get more choice – and more advice about those choices.

    • You say that Twitter is not journalism, but that’s the same as saying that a notebook is not journalism. You’re identifying the tools use in the process of journalism — and I agree with Jeff that Twitter is a tool — with journalism itself.

      Maybe Twitter won’t last. Maybe it will burn itself out as it becomes more and more mainstream. Hard to say. But that shouldn’t stop us from using it to its full extent — and then some — while we have it in our toolboxes.

      Shirky (and others) have said that this is a time for experiments in journalism. Let’s get off the reactionary “it ain’t what it used to be” track and try some new approaches. Failures provide lessons too.

  • Bravo Jeff! You all at CUNY are leading a change that I suspect we’ll see throughout J departments in the next few years. I know I’ve been advocating for doing exactly this within mine.

    Keep up the great work.

  • It still amazes me how academia (communication especially) has been so reluctant to accept the internet. Instead of recognizing the potential it has often run scared clinging to their “old media”. I am glad to see you all at CUNY are taking note. I work in a special lab called the ACTLab at UT where we have been doing New Media since 1993 with Sandy Stone. While there are many people late to the party (15+ years), they are always welcomed and we hope that people will learn that collaboration and exploration is the key to find the “new” in new media, rather then just trying to box it up and re-teach it. Good luck with your new program direction, it sounds wonderful!

  • Candice

    I agree with Joe O. As a member of CUNY’s inaugural class, I’m happy to see this change made, though it doesn’t help the broadcast and interactive students of ’07.

    Am I bitter? To say yes would be an understatement. Have I gained new confidence in my alma mater for finally waking up? I think so.

    Keep leading the way Jeff!

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  • Mike Manitoba

    Guess I jumped the Twitter train too early (2006). Bores the hell out of me now.

    • J

      Same here. These days, after ten minutes or so on the internet – reading tweets, emailing, facebooking, blah, blah – I realise that all i really want to do is go out and go fishing.

      • Take me with you. And while you’re at it, lure others to follow you on Twitter.

        I got to here via Jay Cross while surfing for Weapons of Mass Instruction (the book).

        Go figure.

        By the way, I’m glad you spelled fishing with an F or else I’d be inclined to think you were PH-ishing.

  • great decision Jeff.

    you guys are making lots of smart decisions over there

  • Leslie

    This is EXCELLENT news! But I see that many people here are missing the point. As the official guinea pig for the CUNY inaugural class…straddling a journalism, broadcast and new media education was challenging but necessary.
    To Watch Out… who said anything about Twitter??? Students get a first rate JOURNALISM education first and foremost…new media is a just a broad name for various publishing tools–not the journalism itself.
    To everyone else…this is not just about new media. Anyone can pick up a camcorder or ipod and hit record…making quality material is what should separate the professional journalist from the amateur. Students need to learn to record broadcast quality media–audio, video, and print-worthy photographs, that can stream online, run in a nightly news broadcast, or command a front page. To focus on New Media without the journalism and broadcast and photo skill is a big mistake and I am THRILLED that it only took a few classes for the our school to take this pioneering step. Kudos to Prout, Junnakar, and Jarvis! I am super-Proud!

  • Chad Manudo

    This is REAL jounalism…old school and new school…

  • Newsflash: This particular revolution has been going on since 1970. Have we only just noticed that the computer changed the way we communicate and associate? Those of us in journalism, and writers in general, have been blogging all our lives. It’s just a different presentation. Take all the technology away from me and I’ll get my message out. I promise. I’ll scratch it on the wall.

  • Gee. Flash. No wonder J-grads don’t have a frigging clue what HTML is.

    Mid-level business executives and blind teenagers are two groups who’ve been able to comprehend Web standards in minutes, while people like you are sending kids out with nothing more than the ability to export to “HTML” from MS Word and otherwise produce tag soup.

    Don’t believe me? Ask your kids this question: “What’s an alt text?”

    • On what basis do you say this? We do teach alt text. We also teach reporting.

  • Michelle Johnson

    Question: Have you guys or anyone else surveyed students to ask what THEY think of dropping tracks?

    Do they feel like they’re getting what they need to be competitive?

    • It’s what we heard from students – note the comments from graduates below. Once again, there’s no “getting rid of” here except getting rid of a requirement and adding more choice. Students may take the exact same courses they would have taken in tracks, and most will. But now they have additional choices. What’s not to love?

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  • This is the message I deliver to J-School students every time I get in front of them. Photos, video, graphics, Twitter, Facebook – these are all tools that go with the reporting basics to make you a storyteller. Understand them all (and whatever new tools continue to emerge), master some, and you will find success. No one is saying the skills and instincts of a reporter are not important. Of course they still continue to be. But knowing how to use all the tools at your disposal makes you a more valuable reporter and better at your job.

  • “Understanding Media” is a required offset to a millisecond connected Internet storytelling-feedback curriculum. McLuhan’s book reminds that even roads, clothing, and clocks are media. As each medium evolves do many see what in the inventory of effects is displaced. Today’s Internet squarely puts behind us, the newspaper print that is yesterday’s news told well.

    Computerized browsership is but one medium and but one lesson. The interesting discourse of media remains. What source, presence, and audience does a media best engage and more importantly, as journal-artist, what medium is to be chosen and what art makes it best? In school you can slow down what goes on in the crib: Sensitive play with media to make sense; owning one’s voice, visualization, feeling, the skilled hand; finally the playground to understand what is sensitive to which viewer – for some media play better with listeners, others with viewers, others for empathic souls. Surely for each media, the effect of time is key. Media vary with audience sensibility. For your audient might get it in an instant picture, hit with the idea of written, or feel it through the music of winding narrative. The presence inherent in a source takes sense to match a chosen medium for the intended effect.

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