August 27, 2010 / by Lauren Bigge

August 27: After three years of planning, the University of Missouri’s school of journalism will begin offering students a course in the fundamentals of multimedia this fall. It is the result of a digital age, where young journalist hopefuls wanting to establish careers in the field are confronted with a landscape dominated by video, Twitter, iPads and Facebook.

In response to this changing media environment, journalism schools across the country have been digitally enhancing their programs. “Everybody will now get some HTML training,” said Brian Brooks, University of Missouri’s associate dean of undergraduate studies, in an e-mail interview. During its planning phase, Brooks said staff consulted a variety of alumni for tips on what the next generation of journalists should learn before entering the real world.

Temple University has tweaked its undergraduate curriculum as well. The school got into the game eight years ago by offering classes in both audio visual news gathering and design. This fall, Temple will introduce a multimedia storytelling class at the junior level. The faculty is now “adding in a little more about SEO, and probably we’ll be folding in HTML5,” said Andy Mendelson, journalism department chair at Temple. “All of our students come out with design HTML skills and a basic understanding of Flash. We want to make sure students can understand what you can do with HTML and Dreamweaver and blogs.” Not to be outdone, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh offers a variety of multimedia classes, including Web development tools, streaming media and server side scripting.

Last summer, Virginia Commonwealth University launched a master’s program in mass communication with a concentration in multimedia journalism. Other schools that are also embracing the new media frontier include Columbia University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Rich Gordon, director of digital innovation for Medill’s journalism school, said more than 150 students have graduated with a master’s degree in programming journalism, which is now called interactive publishing. The first group graduated in June 2000, just as employers were recruiting Medill’s students for Web publications.

“About half of the students in the program went into traditional journalism jobs but did so with a deeper understanding of new media – which has helped many of them in their careers,” Gordon said in an e-mail interview. “Others went into jobs directly related to digital media and have done quite well.”

Columbia University will welcome students into its new journalism and engineering program in fall 2011. The students will study in the school of journalism for two semesters and in Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science for three. In addition to the fundamentals of writing and reporting, the students learn about both computer science and software design.

Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, said he started discussing the need for this program more than a year ago with the school’s dean, Nicholas Lemann. “Jonathan Landman, who at the time was deeply involved in the New York Times’ website, was one of the people who came to us to urge that we think about educating people this way,” Grueskin said in an e-mail interview. “He saw, as did I in the newsroom, a gulf between journalists on one side and programmers and developers on the other. has bridged this better than most, but still, the need persists throughout the journalism industry.” Grueskin’s observations confirm what many in the industry already know about skill gaps within media organizations. Thus, well-trained young professionals are in high demand as journalism schools send them out to face the new digital world.

“We don’t have separate staffs of editorial and Web managers,” said Greg Coleman, Huffington Post president and chief revenue officer, during the 2010 Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference in June. “At HuffPo, they’re one in the same. We’re only hiring the top journalists from the best schools.  But they also have to be experts in coding and HTML…We’re doing hundreds of [page] refreshes a day, so just being a great editor isn’t enough.”

— Lauren Bigge

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