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Has multimedia blurred the lines?

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“Convergence” is hardly a new buzzword.

And it’s hardly a new development that news has moved increasingly online and most newspapers have delved — or at least dabbled — in the world of video and audio. But how has this transition translated in the journalism classroom? More specifically, have the lines finally blurred between traditional broadcast, print and visual concentrations?

Maybe not just yet, but the barriers that used to exist have fallen, said Terry Eiler, a professor at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication. Eiler works with the university’s multimedia graduate program, which blends different journalistic disciplines and focuses on interactive media.

“At the core of the curriculum is the ability to learn,” Eiler said. “It would make no sense to teach Quark when in a few years you’re going to be using InDesign. You don’t teach a software package — you teach the ability to learn.”

Traditional journalism concentrations may fade as curriculum embraces multimedia, but students will always have an area of focus, Eiler said.

“I think it will be a mix up,” Eiler said. “You’re going to have your traditional journalistic elements, you’re going to learn to take a picture, you’re going to learn HTML. It’s a challenge. There are a whole lot of things to to teach. But there’s been trade-offs — you don’t have to teach typesetting anymore.”

Like OU, the University of Missouri broke new media ground a few years ago by offering a degree in convergence journalism. I spoke with the program’s chair Lynda Kraxberger in an e-mail interview, where she discussed the merging of different journalistic backgrounds and the value of visual story telling.

How does the university’s convergence program differ from a traditional journalism concentration? How could a student benefit from enrolling in the program?

In convergence journalism students have an opportunity to learn multiple methods of telling stories rather than words alone.  Students learn how to tell stories for traditional media, radio, television and print, as well as photojournalism techniques.  Then, they learn how the different tools can help them tell stories using new information delivery platforms. (ie: live blogging, cell phones)

What prompted the University of Missouri to start a specific convergence program?

Our program launched in 2005 after a great deal of debate about how the World Wide Web (especially) was changing the media landscape.  We observed some places that tried to overhaul their programs and weren’t sure if every student would necessarily want or need to be skilled across media platforms.  The truth is it takes longer and students have to work harder to excel across media platforms. We wanted to provide this kind of program for some students while allowing others to continue to create in-depth specialties in one area.

Since the creation of the program, many more students and faculty now believe that all of our students should have some cross-platform experiences.  I expect that change to come within the next two years.  It’s difficult to implement however, when there are more than 800 incoming freshmen every year.

Are print, broadcast, photo and design academic concentrations becoming more intertwined in journalism education?

Absolutely. There are numerous areas where we cross into one another’s territories.  The best thing we can do for our students is to provide guidance about what was (in the past) while allowing ourselves to be flexible about new methods of storytelling that may not be defined precisely by the old rules.

Do you think that at some point most university’s will merge their broadcast and print disciplines in favor of a single “converged” journalism major?

Good question.  I really don’t know. Curriculum agendas in journalism schools are pushed and pulled so often by competing personalities and politics. There are still a lot of people who are afraid that they’ll lose something when it comes to change.

When people watch a video on YouTube or click on something that a friend suggests, they use a different filter and have a different set of rules than when they see something on a television network news program like CNN or FOX.  Some of the standards are different for what we expect.  Just like we teach students in an English program how to write for a variety of forms in poetry or informal essays—we need to look at the different forms that can be presented with still photography, interactive graphics and video.

So, I think it would be a good idea as a starting place to get more “word” people interested in visual storytelling.  I also think it’s important to get talented visual storytellers cross-trained as writers capable of writing with some depth of content using correct AP Style.