The Millennials in our journalism classrooms are supposed to be wizards of the Web. After all, almost their entire lives have been spent consuming media in a converged landscape, reading newspaper stories and watching TV reports online while communicating with one another via online social networks.
A Pew Research study from February backs this up: “For (Millennials), these innovations provide more than a bottomless source of information and entertainment, and more than a new ecosystem for their social lives. They also are a badge of generational identity. Many Millennials say their use of modern technology is what distinguishes them from other generations.”
The study cites technology as the top factor that those born after 1980 say makes their generation unique. At 24 percent, it’s twice the rate of that of Gen-Xers. But the twist to all this is that our journalism students are not so different than grizzled veterans of legacy media, at least not in practice.
They know they spend their entire lives connected, but it doesn’t mean they automatically default to multimedia and a convergence culture in the classroom or the workplace. They seem to have a hard time translating how they consume news and information to how they should produce it. Many, though certainly not all, of them still see themselves as part of traditional media. It’s a sense that’s reinforced when campus newspapers and radio and television news staffs remain in separate quarters, rarely (or never) working together.
Bringing them together in the same room was the first step toward converging. Last fall, the Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University opened a new 2,300 square foot Convergence Center, the centerpiece of a $5.6 million renovation of the facilities for the school. The facility is home to the TCU Daily Skiff student newspaper, the TCU News Now broadcast and Image Magazine. The three were previously in separate rooms and their content kept separate.
“As a print journalism student, just being close to the broadcast students made sharing content much easier,” said David Hall, the fall 2009 editor-in-chief of the Skiff. “We’d constantly bounce ideas off of each other and share news content, and sometimes students would do a print and multimedia element to their story, something unheard of back in the day of separate newsrooms.”
The Convergence Center is built to facilitate what the name implies. Every one of 36 Mac computers is loaded with Adobe Creative Suite (including Photoshop, InDesign, Flash and Dreamweaver) and Final Cut Express. The center also has a high-definition video camera and TelePrompTer that are connected to a new studio.
“Because News Now and Skiff staffers were working in the same newsroom, we were much more aware of what the other one was doing than we were before,” said Julieta Chiquillo, the Skiff’s managing editor in fall 2009 and editor-in-chief the following semester. “Even then, we had to establish a system to better communicate.”
And that’s the key. While the outlets are now all in the same room, the process to convergence requires more work.
“Prior to this new facility, I felt that student media were very disjointed. They did not share information or work together. Instead, they had a mindset of ‘competition’ with the other outlets,” said Christina Durano, the News Now news director in Fall 2009 and convergence producer the following semester.
Students truly working across platforms had its moments. There were times when a reporter, like Durano, produced a breaking news video for the Web, worked on a text story for both the Web and Skiff, and later a broadcast story. Still, that was the exception, based more on an enterprising student than standard organizational practice.
“While moving to the convergence center undoubtedly helped the Skiff and News Now feel more comfortable with each other, both outlets need to improve on communicating their expectations of each other if they are to successfully converge,” Chiquillo said.
Changes in the curriculum are helping, too.
Separate degrees in news/editorial journalism and broadcast journalism have been replaced with a new overarching journalism degree that exposes all students to multimedia, although there are traditional certificates in broadcast, convergence and news/editorial for students wanting those designations.
Current courses have been updated. Accompanying text stories and a multimedia element are now required in addition to the video story for all News Now stories students produce for classes. In the traditional print reporting course that feeds the Skiff, multimedia stories are now required.
The challenge is getting all of the content where it needs to go with any regularity. The organic approach of simply putting everyone together hasn’t produced consistent results.
We have to keep in mind that students are still learning. Expecting them to be able to report across platforms while they are maneuvering around the basics is a lot to ask, although a realistic demand of the marketplace – and that’s not taking into account that their work in student media is just a small piece of their college life, not a full-time job.
That’s not to say there is nothing that can be done. Student leaders from the Skiff and News Now began holding budget meetings together, sharing ideas and pooling their limited resources. The new student leaders are continuing the work and are developing systems to ensure better content flow and integration of all of the media.
“I think the biggest challenge was changing the mindset of reporters and developing a system through which to converge,” Durano said. “Convergence is a process – and we certainly aren’t finished yet – but we are a thousand times more converged than we were.”
Aaron Chimbel is an assistant professor of professional practice at TCU’s Schieffer School of Journalism. He also advises TCU News Now. Before this TCU grad returned to campus in 2009 he worked for television stations in Texas, most recently WFAA-TV in Dallas. There he won five Emmy Awards and a national Edward R. Murrow Award.