New tools for journalists will change postsecondary programs

Poynter Institute instructor Al Tompkins

Poynter Institute instructor Al Tompkins

After a week of intensive training at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., my thinking about how we train journalists has changed in some ways and remained firm in others.

I became convinced of the Poynter faculty’s argument that journalism instructors in our universities and colleges need to become “platform agnostic.” Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this would mean the end to academic programs that would stream students into print, broadcast or online specialties. Instead, every graduating journalist would be able to tell stories across the platform spectrum — video, print, still photos, illustration, audio, mobile, etc. — depending on the demands of the story. After all, the story is the thing, isn’t it? Start there and imagine the most effective ways of telling it, then choose the platform best suited — or some combination of platforms. The collapse of segmented specialties may not be what traditionalists or journalism program administrators want to hear, but it is the inconvenient truth of journalism in our age.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly a “legacy” journalist like me could begin to get a handle on some basic new media technologies. Over the course of the week, we got training in Audacity, a sound editor; SoundSlides, for still image and audio presentations; Utterli, a service for posting video to the Web and cross-posting to a variety of blogs, Final Cut Pro, the industry standard software for editing video, and a few other programs and web-based services. By the end of the week, every course participant who didn’t yet have a blog (and there were many) had one and was familiar with the process of posting.

The coolest tool of the week, as far as I was concerned: Videocue, a piece of software that lets anyone with a camera-equipped laptop produce a fairly professional-looking standup from just about anywhere. It’s even got a built-in teleprompter. I’m looking forward to playing with that one some more.

The faculty at Poynter are convinced that, in the very near future, journalism students will be required to have an Apple iPhone 3GS (or whatever the current leading technology is at the time) upon entry to their program, and that it will become an indispensible part of their work. They’ll shoot video, edit it, record audio, post it, research stories and file them — all from their phones. Colleges and universities, meanwhile, will ramp down their inventories of expensive cameras and recorders. It’s an intriguing possibility.

Speaking of faculty, Poynter’s broadcast/online group leader Al Tompkins was ably assisted by several other instructors, all of whom contributed to the high-quality experience that was this course. They were Regina McCombs, Poynter’s virtual teaching specialist; Sara Dickenson Quinn, Poynter’s visual journalism faculty member; Katy Culver, a professor at the University of Wisconsin’s journalism faculty in Madison; and Theresa Collington, executive producer online at WTSP-TV in St. Petersburg. Program coordinator was the irrepressible Jeannie Nissenbaum.

Thanks to Poynter for a top-notch experience. The name of the course, for others who might be interested, is Multimedia Journalism for College Educators. It’s offered once or twice each year.

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