How to rethink broadcast journalism teaching in the digital age
Student presenters chat with Montclair State University journalism professor Mark Effron on election night. (Photo: Natalie De La Rosa)
A recent New York Times Magazine article on driverless driving focused on the iconic Ford Motor Company and how its CEO is reinventing the business from one who makes cars to one that is a “solution provider. mobility “. This is a tricky prospect, especially when your income still comes from large factories, a massive workforce, and a traditional dealer network. How do you navigate the transition, beyond what has traditionally worked, as you step into a new, uncharted world?
As a former head of television news and now professor of journalism at the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, I am particularly sensitive to this challenge. I spent my career in the world of broadcasts, deadlines, packages, backtiming and standups. Even when digital changed everything and we embraced social media, it was just a hug, not a wedding.
“How do you navigate the transition, beyond what has traditionally worked, as you move into a new, uncharted world? “
So how do you approach teaching video journalism? In Ford’s lexicon: should I think about how to turn my students into “visual journalism solution providers?” It might be overkill, but obviously it’s not enough for budding journalists to figure out how to use, say, Snapchat and Instagram anymore, because the hottest thing today is yesterday’s Foursquare.
How to prepare students for a digital future where Facebook and Google (at least today) suck most of the income from the digital information ecosystem, while most jobs are still in the mainstream of local television , network television and cable? if the “cool factor” is no longer there?
Uploaded on election night
I encountered this recently as I was hosting multiplatform election coverage of New Jersey’s recent gubernatorial race to replace Chris Christie. At Montclair State, we are fortunate to have a state-of-the-art open learning center with the latest Sony 4k equipment. We have a brand new News Lab (a simulated cross-platform newsroom) with an anchor desk, studio interview sets and control rooms that put my old MSNBC to shame.
And everything was used on election night. Control Room C was busy and bustling, with students launching live shots, signaling talents, and rolling coins. The studio was packed with professional journalists affiliated with the school’s Co-operative Media Center, working alongside student journalists.
Vern Gantt, veteran TV news executive turned teacher, turned to me early in the evening, as his chefs were still trying to pick up the pace when the joint was cooking and the news broke, and told me. says, “I feel like I’m 20 years younger. He remembered the euphoria of election night he had helped coordinate in the big world of cable news.
I looked at the students he was helping. One looked pale. “And they,” I say, “look 20 years older.”
They quickly proved me wrong. The pale quickly regained her color, found her voice, her position and, along with her co-executive producers, guided the several-hour affair with regularity. Her name is Georgia Salvaryn, a senior: “I learned a lot about myself that night; I’ve learned that I enjoy being in these very stressful situations where I’m under pressure to get things done and work with others in that situation and stay both cool and assertive to do what needs to be done.
A cultural and generational change in coverage
Part of what made this teaching and professionalization experience so vivid and at times confusing was that many of these students were participating in an American ritual – election night on television – without being familiar with the genre. I had wondered how they would adjust to the madness of the live news on election night. Consider playing baseball if you’ve never seen the game. Most of these students are completely weaned from television news. They get their news from links in their Facebook feed and from Twitter. The information they consume is disaggregated and unmarked.
We didn’t have a broadcast signal and we weren’t transported by cable. Facebook Live was our carrier (revenue sucker or not), and we broadcast our programming on several college websites and Facebook pages. We shot live statewide, but without those expensive satellite trucks of yesteryear. Skype (especially) worked very well.
But I was worried: were we teaching them a skill and a genre that were the model yesterday? How to take a forward-looking approach to journalism education when no one has the answer to what it is?
Another colleague of mine, Tara George, former reporter for the New York Daily News and now TV, Digital Media and Journalism coordinator, gave her perspective: “Staying relevant in journalism education is an ever-evolving target. . We need to ensure that we teach students skills and provide them with experiences that will be valuable to them and make them marketable in a hyper-competitive media environment. What the students learned the other night was how exciting journalism can be, how important work is, how to work with colleagues and how not to be afraid to try new things, to make mistakes and learn from them.
Reflection after a successful election 2017
At the post-broadcast celebration, you could feel the excitement and you could see in the eyes of the students watching: Phew, that was something. Maybe not my thing, exactly, but phew. It was not a vintage race; there was no Donald Trump at the top of this post. The shadow of Chris Christie was great, and none of the candidates for his replacement inspired much passion among the students. They had to go out and do their research, ask their questions and learn to be journalists. It wasn’t a race they talked about in the dorms at night.
Elderly Madison Glassman covered the winner, Phil Murphy, headquartered in Asbury Park.
“I had never done live shooting before,” she said. “I was surrounded by reporters from CNN and the Philadelphia stations with all their sophisticated equipment. My producer was holding two cell phones, one above the other: one was filming me on Skype, the other had the flashlight app on, so I could be seen. The night drove me home: This is what i want to do in my career. It makes me happy.”
I was happy for Madison because I understood that feeling. But I also felt ambivalence. I want her and her peers to think beyond the TV box, both literally and figuratively. I want them to understand that the lessons of the night transcend format and delivery system. I want them to be blown away by innovation, even if it’s using this flashlight app. What will never go away is the need for good, timely decision-making, collaboration, an understanding of the “tools” and, of course, solid journalism.
As for the future, I imagine a world that continues on its hybrid path: CNN, for example, will continue to hire show producers. and digital journalists. Some of them will migrate from one domain to another, and others will switch seamlessly between TV and digital domains, like Brian Stelter. My former NBC colleague Lester Holt tells students that everyone has to be a Swiss Army Knife. I go even further. I think journalists and media professionals of the future will be like a Swiss Army Knife with new snap-on accessories, as formats and technologies evolve.
I think of my niece, who recently became a Snapchat Discover channel designer for Self, which closed its print magazine earlier this year. She is not attached to the print and does not miss it.
I want my students to take the forms and structures of my generation, subvert them, transform them, expand them and create something new. Somewhere in this post-celebration bacchanal, I hope one of these students was thinking, “It was interesting… but it could be a lot better. I have an idea…”
Mark Effron is a veteran of news broadcasts with companies such as The Washington Post, MSNBC and New York Public Radio. He is currently a journalism professor at the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he coordinates the News Lab.
Photo gallery Images of Natalie De La Rosa