Journalism and technical communication: A media marriage
It was a merger that was a long time coming. After an on-and-off courtship of more than 25 years, the journalism and technical communication programs finally said “I do.”
November 6, 2013
By Cliff Foster
It was a merger that was a long time coming.
After an on-and-off courtship of more than 25 years, the journalism and technical communication programs finally said “I do.” The two disciplines joined in July 2012 to become a full-fledged department. Journalism left the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences and joined its new mate in Professional Studies – a better fit for programs that are more career-oriented than theoretical.
Last fall, the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication moved into the Central Classroom building, creating a physical bond to complement the academic one resulting from the merger. Each side encourages – and in some cases requires -- its students to sample what the other has to offer.
“We already knew we were turning out pretty good graduates and had good programs,” says Assistant Professor Shaun Schafer, journalism program coordinator. “Updating the curriculum in both programs to find where we can work together better [is] creating a more valuable end product in the people who come out of here.”
The four full-time journalism faculty members pitched the merger in light of the rapid changes in how information is delivered and consumed, the expectations of employers who communicate across platforms and the ongoing transition of old media to the new digital world.
“The journalism program had the foresight to see journalism was changing,” says Bob Amend, department chair and professor of video production. “This not only allowed them to start changing their curriculum, updating it and making it more relevant, but with the merger we can now incorporate some of those things they otherwise might not have been able to do, and it’s the same for the technical communication side.”
Since the merger, both programs have had a makeover.
Journalism, for example, no longer has news/editorial or photojournalism concentrations, though courses in each discipline still are taught. In their place is convergent journalism, a major that, as the department website puts it, “is on the cutting-edge of 21st century journalism publishing” and prepares grads for jobs in print, electronic and online.
Part of that preparation involves traditional values and some of the skills familiar to ink-stained wretches. Schafer still teaches a class in copy editing. His journalism fundamentals class instills the values of accuracy, balance and objectivity and he gives weekly quizzes on the Associated Press Stylebook, the rules of the road for many writers and editors.
Technical communication has dropped its corporate communication concentration and replaced it with mobile and social media, which joins concentrations in video production, interactive media production and technical writing and editing. Mobile and social media involves understanding how to use new digital tools to reach an audience and achieve a communications goal.
“Whether that’s done though Twitter or through LinkedIn or through Facebook or some other social media site … the essence is still being able to communicate the message, which boils down to can you write, can you tell the story,” Amend says. “That’s the one overriding thing we do.”
What do all these changes mean for students? School officials say they are preparing graduates for jobs that often require writing, editing, sound and video production, website posting and more.
“The merger of journalism and technical communications will allow the two programs to better collaborate and give students a state of the art education that takes into account the ‘new normal’ of journalism,” said Sandra Haynes, dean of the School of Professional Studies. “Journalism students will benefit from learning how to use tools of the new trade such as social media, producing video, and writing blogs. Technical communication students have the advantage of having journalism professionals in easy access as well to learn new techniques such as creating social documentaries. “
Employers “are clamoring for people who can do public relations, can do websites, can provide social media,” Amend says. “But they also want them to know the AP Stylebook.”