Friday, December 01, 2006

The End of the Beginning: Closing One Door and Opening Many More

At a time when blogging is taking off and seems to be a practice many are partaking in, the opportunity to join in on this trend was greatly appreciated. Across the campus of USC, many students are using blogs to supplement or enhance their academic experience in the classroom. The use of a blog to showcase one’s work in Writing 340 was a wonderful idea. It not only allowed students to express themselves in a way that most had never done but also introduced them to a growing form of communication. In addition to having students develop their thoughts in a newer medium, they were pushed to go beyond a well crafted argument. Excellent prose became only part of the equation as support would need to be enhanced by links and photographs. This is an opportunity that should be afforded to more students, especially those hoping to enter the field that this blog chose to discuss, broadcast journalism.

Broadcast Journalism, and journalism in general, has embraced the blogsphere and allowed it to leave its mark on the industry well into its infancy. Most news organizations have a blog for various different programs or divisions that make up their company. Networks like MSNBC have created a blog for almost every show on their air. Even more traditional outlets, like the evening news have blogs for their programs. While the acknowledgment from the industry’s best is significant perhaps the more revealing aspect of the blogging phenomenon is how it has leveled the playing field and offers much more depth than before. The blog TVNewser has reached the status of a trade paper for the latest in the field of broadcast journalism. On many occasions it has been the first to report on the happenings of the TV news business, breaking the story before any established news outlet. While that is impressive for any blog, this one stands out even more because its editor is a college senior. As for focus, some blogs are able to choose topics for truly niche audiences like LAObserved, which exclusively covers the second largest media market in the country.

The obvious lesson here, anyone planning on entering the profession that has been this blog’s focus, will need to be comfortable with this medium. Many more will be asked to maintain or contribute to a blog on a regular basis. As someone who is a part of the above mentioned group, the opportunity provided over the last semester will definitely open doors in the years to come. So while the door may be closing on this blog, at least initially, it will always be remembered as crucial point in the training of this broadcast journalist.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Brian Williams: America’s Anchor and Broadcast Journalism’s Honorary Trojan

Every year the University of Southern California bestows an honorary degree on a set of select individuals who have made a difference based on their achievements and contributions to USC and the world. For the current nominating cycle, there is at least one individual from the field of broadcast journalism who is worthy of this honor. Brian Williams is at the forefront of his profession as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, the number one evening news program. His rise to the top of one of most competitive fields in the country is an achievement worthy of recognition. Moreover, his story of how he achieved his success mirrors the values of this university and will inspire its students. There is no question that Williams’s contributions to society as a journalist are exceptional and that he is worthy of USC’s highest honor. The university should acknowledge this fact by conferring upon him the Doctor of Humane Letters, a degree that celebrates the work of outstanding citizens.

According to the university’s website for Honorary Degrees, recipients are chosen based on the following four criteria: They have “distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements” in their profession or various endeavors; they are alumni or other individuals who have made “outstanding contributions” to USC or their respective community; or they have made “exceptional acts of philanthropy” to the university and / or the nation or world. The final reason would be to honor an individual in order “to elevate the university in the eyes of the world” by acknowledging this person’s achievements in their respective field. Selecting Williams fulfills two of these expectations for granting an honorary degree because one, his achievements in the field of journalism are “extraordinary” and two, his presence on the USC stage would “elevate the university” and its journalism program in “the eyes of the world.”

USC requests that those who choose to nominate someone for an honorary degree address four questions in their reasoning. The first asks “What is the specific content of the nominee's contribution?” In less than two years at the anchor desk, Williams has brought so many important stories into the homes of Americans. Often these stories required him to get out of the anchor desk and so he did. Just weeks after succeeding Tom Brokaw on Nightly News in December of 2004, Williams left New York and went to South Asia to cover the tsunami that left hundreds of thousands dead. In 2005, he anchored from Rome to report on the death of Pope John Paul II. Later that year, he went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. NBC’s coverage lead by Williams, garnered one of the highest honors in broadcasting, the Peabody Award. On the one-year anniversary of Katrina, Williams interviewed President Bush and discussed many issues including the War in Iraq. “Do you have any moments of doubt that we fought the wrong war?” Williams asked. The president began to explain why he “had no doubt” the war was not a mistake and said “we were attacked.” Williams interjected with “But those weren’t Iraqis.” The president agreed and continued on his point. Regardless of one’s view of the war, Williams proved his concern to get clear answers for his viewers even when face to face with the most powerful leader in the world.

The university also requests that the uniqueness of the nominee by addressed. The second question asks “What is original about that contribution?” which a nominator has identified as meriting an honorary degree. Network news anchors have been covering important stories for years and have made the evening news an institution in American society. One that many felt was coming to an end with the retirements of Dan Rather and Brokaw as well as the death of Peter Jennings. As the first to replace one of these three, Williams kept the newscast relevant. Today, we have a similar race for number one among the big three networks now that Katie Couric and Charles Gibson have taken the helm at CBS and ABC. In the time that Williams has led NBC, he has taken steps to make Nightly News his own. One such attempt is the broadcast’s regular feature, Making a Difference. At a time when there is so much conflict in the world, it is easy for viewers to complain about too much “bad” news on television. So Williams and the team at NBC launched this segment to highlight some of the “good” in society each week. Additionally, he has worked to make the program more current with the creation of its own blog, The Daily Nightly. It seeks to make the process behind putting together a newscast more transparent for the audience. Another sign of Williams embracing technology was the decision to have emails from viewers read frequently on the air. Sharing feedback from the audience would have been unheard of in prior incarnations of the evening news. In this case, however, it is one more example of Williams reaching out to viewers and trying to make his service to them even better.

The points made above, in part, address USC’s third question in selecting a nominee, “Of all possible contributors to the field of endeavor, why is this nominee of exceptional merit?” Again, Williams is the most watched evening news anchor and was the first of the current three to sit in that chair. What is perhaps more impressive and more significant is how he got to that position. Williams attended The George Washington University and The Catholic University of America but he never actually graduated from either institution or any college for that matter. In July, Williams gave the keynote address at the South Asian Journalists Association’s annual convention in New York. During the address, he explained why he dropped out. While in college he landed an internship with the White House. Williams realized that this opportunity was offering him much more than college and his instructors ever could. As it turns out, Williams had seen more of the White House than his instructor whose only experience with that building was the public tour. “To have come to class from the West Wing, what was I learning that my own book teaching wasn’t telling me?” Williams asked. Given his financial situation and the opportunities presented outside of college he left. “The meter was running and I was losing money and I quit,” he said to the SAJA audience. The journey that started as an intern and later would take him to a studio inside New York’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza is one of inspiration and “exceptional merit” that places Williams above all others in his field.

The final issue the university wishes any nominator to address, “Why is the field of the nominee especially appropriate to USC?” One can sum up the answer to this question in a word, “Annenberg.” That is to say, the Annenberg School for Communication, which gives out degrees in Williams’s field, as well as in disciplines directly related to the business he is in, each year. More specifically, the area of communication was one of the earliest majors at USC. The School of Journalism, now a part of the Annenberg School, was established in 1933 and was the first of its kind in the western United States. This subject has great history at the university and today is one of the strongest programs on campus. Michael Parks, the school’s director emphasizes this on the Annenberg website. “We have a passion for our profession and for the role we play in society,” he says. Every year, as journalism students graduate from USC, many begin their career with hopes of achieving the same success as Williams. Some may aspire to take his place or join that group of a select few who sit behind the anchor desk for a major broadcast network. Most will probably settle for half of the success that Williams has achieved. He is the kind of person who can actually impact the storied reputation of the journalism program at USC. Annenberg has been recognized as a leader in education and research when it comes to this field. This has benefited both journalism students as well as the entire university. Honoring Williams will guarantee USC’s continued presence as a leader in this area.

For journalism programs, connections between J-schools and industry leaders are pivotal to the advancement of the program. James O. Freedman makes this point in his book, Liberal Education and the Public Interest. The book devotes an entire chapter to “Conferring Honorary Degrees” where the former president of Dartmouth College explains that the process leads to the creation of a special relationship. “[Honorary Degrees] often forge enduring bonds of friendship and mutual regard between the college and the recipient. In the years that follow, honorands often are amendable to visits from students, becoming sources of summer jobs and career counseling, opening doors to professional opportunities, and providing personal encouragement” (130). This is by no means the rationale for why Williams should receive an honorary degree but the potential advantages are ones that any journalism program would dream of, including USC. Therefore it is worth mentioning that bestowing the university’s highest award to him would have many perks in addition to elevating the university and its journalism program in the eyes of those in the industry and the public in general.

It is clear that Williams has merit but his nomination would not come without controversy. The conferring of honorary degrees has become an elaborate process, demonstrated by USC’s need to give the annual tradition its own website. In the case of Williams, the university would have to look into the potential criticisms of him as a journalist as well as honorand. As a member of the mainstream media, Williams has been accused multiple times of having a political bias. Websites like NewsBusters from the conservative leaning Media Research Center have detailed a list of stories where they felt Williams was out of line. On the other side, the liberal leaning Media Matters has done the same. While the allegation of bias is serious, the fact that Williams receives hits from both sides suggests that he is probably doing a good job. Perhaps that is why he is the most popular evening news anchor and therefore USC should not worry about the issue. As for the other concern, Williams’s lack of a college degree, careful consideration of his unique story will not only excuse him of this but confirm that he is the right choice for the university.

Support for Williams can be found in writings about the state of the working world. Mike W. Martin discusses some of the moral issues professionals deal with in his book Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics. Part of his book tries to examine the motives that people have in finding a career. He believes that society today is “guided primarily by economic and self-interested values” (12). Martin goes on to say that these “individuals benefit the wider community without intending, trying, or even wanting to do so” (12). The professionals described here are the ones universities must try and avoid when selecting commencement speakers. Williams’s career has proven that he is not this kind of person. Journalists who have had beginnings such as he could not have wanted to enter that profession if not to benefit others as the advantages for young and new journalists are next to none. Moreover, the newscast Williams anchors is not as glamorous as it once was and the stories covered by that broadcast can only give him satisfaction if he knows he is informing and helping others.

The case for Williams is strengthened by Freedman’s discussion of the significance bestowing an honorary degree has on the community. “A university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most” (117) he says. USC has a special section on its website where it states what qualities it values most. “The central mission of the University of Southern California is the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit,” the website says. What the university goes on to say in its Role and Mission establishes the relevance of Williams as a speaker for USC, “The principal means by which our mission is accomplished are teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice and selected forms of public service.” The key word in that sentence is “professional,” other universities may frown on that type of education but USC celebrates it.

The Annenberg School is just one of 17 academic units on campus that are deemed “professional schools.” These programs embrace the experts in the disciplines they teach by asking them to work with their students based on their experiences regardless of whether they have had training to be an instructor. USC’s many professional schools have adjunct faculty who are current and former journalists, filmmakers, engineers, musicians, consultants, and actors who succeeded in their crafts but may not have received formal guidance in education. To the university, their expertise and love for students is enough to convince USC that they are the right people for the job. In some cases, even full-time faculty match the description of instructors mentioned above. As far as the university is concerned, what is on paper is not as important as what one is capable of. The presentation of an honorary degree to Williams would be a small gesture of this, reminding the faculty of their significance as a vital piece of the USC experience.

One last person who might shed light on why Williams is the perfect commencement speaker is Tommy Trojan. Standing tall and proud in the center of campus, on his side are the five qualities of a Trojan: Faithful, Skillful, Scholarly, Courageous and Ambitious. It is safe to say that Williams has all these traits including that last one. His accomplishments will offer inspiration to USC graduates who plan to enter a field, like him, where the odds of great success are against them. “Here I am with this dream as a little kid fixed on getting someday one of three jobs in the world.” Williams said in his address at the SAJA convention this summer. As someone who started from humble beginnings as a volunteer firefighter, he explains how his journey to get one of those three jobs could only be done in America. “Now I have one of them, where else is that going to happen to a fireman, college drop,” he said. These observations on his career will transcend beyond journalism into others disciplines like theatre, business, film, medicine, and the arts. This is evident in his response to the question of how he obtained his success. His answer embodies the spirit of a Trojan. “There is nothing more powerful than a person who wants something, more than anything else,” he concluded. So in keeping with the university’s requirements for nominations here is a citation that will hopefully be read by President Steven B. Sample in the near future: “For his outstanding contributions to the field of journalism and dedication to informing this nation, USC bestows its highest award to Brian Williams.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This is BBC News: Putting Great Online News Content First

One of the most respected news organizations on the planet and finest models of broadcast journalism, BBC News and Current Affairs, has set a standard for covering the world. The journalistic arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation, its online division stays loyal to the principles of the news group with its depth and diversity in reporting. On the web at, the website has been recognized by The Webby Awards as the special honoree in the “News” category as well as the People’s Voice Winner in the “News” category. Considered the “Oscars of the Internet,” the awards are given by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences based on six criteria: Content, Structure and Navigation, Visual Design, Functionality, Interactivity, and Overall Experience. BBC News keeps readers informed and “Puts News First” but above all stays with the BBC trademark. There is a distinct brand that consumers receive when getting their news from the BBC, whether on the radio or from television. This idea is preserved on the website for the most part. Ultimately, the site will need to push itself to incorporate more of the BBC brand to become a better service and a better website.

The Webby Awards say good content “is not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video -- anything that communicates a sites body of knowledge.” Based on that definition, to say that BBC News is rich with content is an understatement. They Webby Awards go on to say that content should be “engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience.” Again, the BBC delivers. Every topic the BBC reports on is well covered. The site divides the world into six regions: Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and South Asia. Users can get their news on these different regions in multiple languages, totaling 33 in all, on the website. Additional news categories include: UK, Business, Science/Health, Technology, and Entertainment. When one clicks on an article, regardless of the section, they are immediately given context on that story. From other recent articles to analysis and historical data to help better understand the topic, the website offers a side panel with a variety of options to help readers learn more. Having these options separated rather than sprinkling them into one story allows for concise articles that easily lead to analysis, context or historical background. For example, in a recent story entitled Vatican ‘clarifies’ pope speech, on the left side of the page were regular features of the BBC navigation bar. On the right, users could find links to other stories about Pope Benedict XVI, features and analysis on the current controversy, an in-depth section on the pope, related internet links as well as other stories happening in Europe.

The site is truly a wealth of information with unique features like Country Profiles. These offer encyclopedia entries on the nation of interest along with an index of recent text and multimedia stories including online exclusive special reports. For the Republic of India, the site introduces the country with this short paragraph: “The world's largest democracy and second most populous country has emerged as a major power after a period of foreign rule and several decades during which its economy was virtually closed.” Following the introduction is an overview as well as the additional content mentioned above. Other online news groups offer similar services but never as many or as frequently as the BBC.

Multimedia is becoming a defining element in quality news sites. Whenever possible, relevant video and audio are made available by link in articles. There is a small section of video and audio on the main page with additional video or audio clips presented as “special features” at the top of the page. Links to one type of media are frequently shown when one logs on to the site. In terms of the Web Style Guide, the MLA equivalent guide for properly formatting a website, BBC audio could quite possibly be the gold standard. The guide explains that audio is “an extremely effective way” to deliver information and proclaims “audio only” as a great way to enhance the presentation of a website. The quality of the audio is impeccable and one of the site’s strongest features.

As for news consumption, in general, it tends to be consumed by older, educated, and wealthy members of society. In the case of the internet, all is true except for the age. Eighty-eight percent of 18 to 29 year olds use the internet compared to 32 percent of those 65 years old and above, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. One of the challanges for the BBC and the news media is to make their sites more attractive to the majority of the internet audience rather than depending on their poll of readers and viewers. There is some promising data to encourage future online journalists. Pew found that68 percent of those surveyed said they “Get News” as an internet activity. However, less than a third say they do it daily.

Navigation is general, is another strong point of the site. Content is well organized and the navigation among topics, regions, and services is crystal clear. This stays in line with the expectations of The Webby Awards criteria, which says navigation should be “consistent, intuitive and transparent.” Additionally, it should get “you where you want to go quickly and [offer] easy access to the breadth and depth of the site's content.” According to the Web Style Guide, “A rich set of graphic navigation and interactivity links within your Web pages will pull users' attention down the page, weaning them from the general-purpose browser links and drawing them further into your content.” On the BBC News homepage, the main tool bar achieves this by offering navigation in both modern and unconventional ways. Links lead users to the front of sections of the six regions of the world, and other news topics. Additionally, a map is available for one to click on the region they want more news on, a feature that appears to be exclusive to BBC News. As discussed earlier, each news story is bracketed by two bars offering direction for the user’s next move. This easy to follow setup leads users to related stories as well as analysis and historical background. Having these features consistently located in the same place allows for a format users can depend on.

Visually, the site is pleasing as well. “Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting. It communicates a visual experience and may even take your breath away,” according to The Webby Awards. The website matches the color scheme of the BBC and also captures the simple style of the on-air graphics used by the news group’s different channels.

The site is quite functional based on The Webby Awards’ standards, which states that a site “loads quickly, has live links, and any new technology used is functional and relevant for the intended audience.” On BBC News’s website, media clips do load quickly on the application of your choice, Windows Media Player or Real One Player. Elements of the website suggest the BBC is in tune with the latest forms of news delivery. Listed as “Products and Services,” the site offers users the chance to get their news by e-mail, cell phone, desktop alert, RSS News Feed, and podcast.

Have Your Say allows the world to speak back about what they are hearing or seeing from BBC News. The feature is just one way that the site meets the requirements for They Webby Awards. Good interactivity allows the user “to give and receive.” It also “insists that you participate, not spectate” the awards criteria says. Recently, the section asked for thoughts from readers on the situation in Lebanon. The site gave a short summary of the tension between Lebanon and its government’s opposition and then asked, “Are you Lebanese? What is Hezbollah's standing in Lebanon? Do you agree with its tactics for gaining more power? How can the opposing sides resolve their differences?” Responses varied in tone and emotion. A comment by Ahmed Matala said simply “the demo [demonstration] is bad news for the two U's, uk and usa.” While others were more upset and added longer posts. Part of Craig Cudworth’s comments said “Did a lot of people just forget this summer's events Israel fully backed by the USA bombed and killed thousands of people!”

In addition to posting messages in discussions on all the major topics of the day, BBC News online visitors can also put on their journalism cap by sending their pictures and stories. Some of the comments supplied by readers will be added directly into news articles as links and perspective to users. The BBC’s broadcast divisions have segments and programs devoted to letting people have their say, and clips of these are available on online.

When it comes to areas of improvement, the delivery of video is of greatest concern for the site as it is below standards. There is no hub for video or audio like there is on other sites, this causes readers to look for that kind of content in comparison to other sites that almost throw video at readers. Many rival sites actually offer completely separate pages storing the latest video in addition to archiving older clips. The Web Style Guide explains that there are so many complications with video that it is the “most challenging multimedia content to deliver on the web.” The key, according to the guide, is to “shoot original video.” Something the BBC clearly does not do, instead it recycles video from its collection of TV channels. The structure of the display of media clips is problematic as it is spotty throughout the website. One knows where to look for these features but they are not easily available.

In addition to issues of navigation; the site does by no means “take your breath away” as outlined by the Webby Awards criteria. BBC News comes off as a little on the simple side of graphics at times. While the site is well organized, the simple white background and small font can sometimes appear squeezed. A key element to the BBC on television is the moving graphics that cut from segment to segment and the moving letters that form phrases on the screen. A ticker on the site is reminiscent of that idea but besides that lone feature and the colors atop the BBC News homepage, the website is bare and lacking excitement.

There is the option for “low graphics” which takes the site to an even more simplistic state, making the site appear as if it is a high school project. In reality, users probably wish there was a “high graphics” option to step up the visual appearance of the site. The Web Style Guide explains that most news sites have “adapted the existing design genres of print newspapers.” While the BBC is guilty of this, the site comes off as much more cleaner and attractive than that of The New York Times.

The overall experience at BBC News is rewarding as readers will always leave the site smarter and more informed. The Webby Awards say a user has “probably had a good overall experience if (s)he comes back regularly, places a bookmark, signs up for a newsletter, participates, emails the site to a friend, or stays for a while, intrigued.” This site is one that many consumers will want to make a part of their routine. It is well built and nicely organized but its content is what places it in a league of its own. Moving forward, the BBC will hopefully integrate more of what we see on-air, online. The programs and reports that made BBC News one of the most respected names in journalism should be easily available. Additionally, the signature look of the networks should be stepped up online. They are attempting to match that simple, smooth look seen on TV but it is not there, yet. Doing this will only make a great site better.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Remembering 9/11: Our Anchors

In a world where broadcast journalism is criticized multiple times daily, 9/11 is a day that everyone points to as one of the finest moments in the medium's history. Central to this belief was the coverage found on the broadcast networks anchored by Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Dan Rather. Five years later, one way or another, we were reminded of their exceptional coverage. If it was NBC's ability to turn to Brokaw or ABC's inability to bring back Jennings we missed having them in the anchor chair. I have commented on the blogs of these news organizations to reflect personally on these two men and their importance to this field in regards to 9/11. On anniversaries like 9/11/06, it reminds us of how good these three were and how lucky we were to have them for as long as we did. Their presence is irreplaceable. The new generation of Couric, Gibson, and Williams are off to a great start but achieving the status once had by their predecessors will be a challenge that defines their careers, something Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather faced themselves in the post Walter Cronkite era. It is hard to say but most likely those of us who are the future of this business, will have trouble taking the reign over our predecessors as well. For now, the fact remains that we are committed and will cross that bridge when we get there. 9/11/01 was not the day I decided to begin "training" to become a broadcast journalist but it like no other day reinforced why I decided to become one.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Internships: Applicants Must Pay (or Receive Credit)

All broadcast journalists in training know that part of the "work out" at any J-School is interning in a broadcast news outlet. The opportunity is comparable to a beginning level job with a real news operation and exposes students to a professional newsroom, an experience not available inside the classroom or even on-campus. Of course there is a catch, most internships are unpaid. Therefore, someone decided that receiving academic credit would be ample compensation for students. They were wrong; credit is not an acceptable trade for all the efforts of an intern, these students must be paid for their hard work. News organizations that gave hourly wages to their interns would offer less spots and therefore create a more competitive environment. In turn, the students chosen would take on more responsibility and walk away with a greater experience. In the end, soon-to-be professional journalists would be better prepared when that first day on the job arrives. The quality of journalism would be raised and the public could count on the next generation to manage and uphold the Fourth Estate.

Currently, "federal labor law requires that students" who are interning either get paid by their employer or be enrolled in an internship for-credit course, the USC Career Planning and
Placement Center says. But this is not fair. Internship sites act as if they are looking out for students by insisting that their interns receive credit. While it is the law, the language used on their websites suggest that news outlets believe they are doing interns a favor.

On the websites of two popular internship destinations among USC students, ABC News and KNBC, this language is evident. ABC News says that "Applicants must receive academic credit in return for the internship." The same message is delivered by KNBC, the station says that because interns are not being paid they "must" earn credit.

The problem arises when meeting this requirement takes students beyond the normal amount of coursework. This occurs when students intern during an academic term in which they are taking on a full load of courses or when participating in an internship over the summer. Which happens to be the case for many students in the Annenberg School.

At USC, a full-time undergraduate student is defined as taking 12-18 units a semester. Students have the choice to register for any amount of classes in that range after paying for that semester's tuition, which at USC is no small feat. Based on the curriculum at Annenberg, many students choose to take all 18 units and are forced to register for more units to be eligible for an internship during a given semester.

The best course for students in this situation would be JOUR-090x, "Internships in the Media." While it does not count towards degree credit it is geared towards journalism majors. Students can take up to 8 units in this class during their time at USC, taking one unit for each internship. This is perfect for students taking 16 units during a semester (the norm at USC). It is problematic for students taking 18 units as they need to pay for this additional unit. At the undergraduate level, one unit will set them back $1,121. Suddenly, that "unpaid" internship is quite costly. Students not wanting to pay that much can go to a nearby junior college like Santa Monica College, where the cost for an internship course might be anywhere from half to one-fifth of that at USC. But for an Annenberg major, this credit would equate to nothing as it will not advance their studies towards a degree at their school or a junior college.

Even if students have the funds for this additional unit, it is time consuming. For those students taking on a full-load, they have busy schedules that require them to be engaged not only in journalism but other disciplines on-campus. Other departments may not be as sympathetic to internships and will expect students, regardless of their major, to give ample attention to their classes. At the same time, these journalism majors who are taking 18 units are enriching their journalism education with areas of expertise to aid them in their careers. The extra units allow for student to pick up additional minors and majors to complement their journalism education. They also fall within the J-School guidelines for accreditation.

Which leads to a potentially larger problem for students who decide to take their internship credit at Annenberg. As an accredited institution, there are certain guidelines the school must follow. These standards, set by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, have specific requirements for the makeup of degrees in the country's leading institutions. Under "Curriculum and Instruction" the council explains that students must "take a minimum of 80 semester credit hours or 116 quarter credit hours" outside of their major and "a minimum of 65 semester credit hours or 94 quarter credit hours in the liberal arts and sciences." At USC, that means a Bachelors of Arts in Broadcast Journalism, which totals 128 units, will only have 48 coming from the School of Journalism. This requires Annenberg students to spend their units in the J-School wisely, in some cases, making them choose between internship credit and upper division courses designed to improve their technique and style or offer them historical perspective.

The Broadcast Journalism major at USC totals 40 units. So students are allowed to take up to two more courses in the School of Journalism. Since most courses are 4 units, if students use one of those 8 remaining units for internship credit, they will be restricted to only one 4 unit course and one 2 unit course, which are limited in selection. If they register for internship credit three times, they will not have room for that additional 2 unit course. Again, this may force students to choose between classes and internships. This should never be the case, internships are supposed to supplement the education in the classroom to create the proper training for future broadcast journalists.

The Bottom Line: Paid interns will be better interns who will become better journalists. An arena with fewer, more competitive internships would create more meaningful opportunities for students and better prepare them for their career. The stereotype of interns getting coffee and making copies would be eliminated. Instead, students would be getting better training and experiencing more while in a professional setting. Viewers and news consumers could rest assured that the state of journalism would be at a new high rather than a low. All would be better if interns got paid for internships, rather then having to pay for them.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Studying at USC: The Annenberg Advantage

While an education rich in the humanities and a love for writing was all one might have needed for a career in journalism in the past, these days the future reporters and producers of the world need training and guidance to stay competitive in a crowding field.

Enter the School of Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the Annenberg School offers one of the top programs for aspiring journalists.

Like many journalism programs, Annenberg has a distinguished faculty as well as multiple platforms for students to gain experience. An education at Annenberg, like many other schools, has a foundation in the basics. Courses for journalism majors require students to spend an entire semester improving their writing skills. Subsequent terms build off of this to improve their reporting and production abilities. Together, these three components make up the Annenberg Convergence Core Curriculum. Unique to USC, the broadcast and print sequences have students study each other’s style as well as the online medium. This portion of the major pushes students head first into the program and gives them the skills needed to become more than proficient in all three formats and some of the best in the business for their selected method.

The Annenberg School’s decision to be one of the first to embrace the changing landscape of journalism education has not gone unnoticed.

Back in March of 2002, Steve Outing spotlighted the fact that Annenberg was one of the first schools to take this big step forward in Editor and Publisher Online. Larry Pryor, a professor at USC, helped implement the online portion of “the core” at Annenberg. On the site he founded with USC Annenberg, the Online Journalism Review, he explains the success and weaknesses of the program. As the program improves, other schools stand to gain from USC’s pioneering move. “I admire them for their efforts,” Paul Grabowicz says. As the New Media Program Director at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, he responds to Pryor’s article explaining that some schools cannot afford to implement a program like USC chose to. His advice to those unable to fit the bill is to wait and see until a more reassuring approach can be identified. In the end, Grabowicz believes that everyone will benefit from the lessons learned at USC.

This leads to another point. As a private research university, USC had the resources to take on such a change. The Annenberg School’s endowment alone is around $180 million. This allows for state of the art equipment in addition to the innovative curriculum.

Lastly, since the university was founded in 1880, it has taken great pride in its location, Los Angeles. The city is what places Annenberg in a league of its own from other great programs in Austin, TX; Pullman, WA or Columbia, MO. Some top programs may be located close to major media markets like Chicago, San Francisco, or Washington, DC but Los Angeles is without a doubt the media capital of the world. Two schools in the city deemed the “news capital of the world,” New York, either offer only graduate degrees in journalism or have a small program unable to offer other great resources unrelated to location. No other university has a J-School and setting that complement each other so well. Los Angeles, the country’s second largest TV market and the world’s media hub; is at USC students’ footsteps.

Altogether, the curriculum and faculty, student resources, as well as location create an Annenberg advantage found no where else.