Is the Next Generation of Communicators on the Right “Track”?

As the parent of a high school senior who wants to pursue a career in communications, I recently had the occasion to participate in the obligatory campus tours of her colleges of choice.  Our primary goal, of course, was to figure out which school offered the best program and represented the best fit for my daughter.  As a public relations professional and former mass communications graduate myself, however, I had a secondary goal as well.  I wanted to see firsthand how colleges and universities are preparing the next generation to communicate in our changing world.  Specifically, I was eager to see how journalism and communications programs had adapted to reflect the new world of digital communications.

Our academic targets included three mid-size mid-western universities, each with recognized and respected communications and journalism programs. To make the most of our visits, I contacted each school in advance and arranged appointments with professors from their respective Schools of Communication.  Since my daughter hadn’t officially selected her major, we agreed to meet with professors representing a wide variety of communications disciplines – advertising, broadcast communications, graphics/design, traditional journalism, photojournalism, and public relations.

The emphasis on digital communications, and more specifically, its impact on traditional communications and journalism programs, was evident at all the schools we visited.  Each had incorporated digital media into their curricula, each offered practical applications within each area of communications specialization and each promised to show my budding communicator how to apply her expert social media skills to communications from a much broader perspective.  But only one school – Ball State University – had created a specific degree track, called emerging media journalism.

Housed within the Journalism Department, this new program thoroughly intrigued me.  It seemed to answer the nagging question in my mind – is communications a practical major to pursue in the given economic climate?  Of course, I’m thrilled my daughter wants to follow in my footsteps, but will she be able to find a real job?  The more I learn about this new program, however, the more I think it may be just the ticket.

The program looks at new technology from a variety of communications perspectives.  It promises to help students understand “ the evolving use of technology and digital content to enhance work, play, and learning, to broaden access to information…” More importantly, assuming my daughter chooses journalism or public relations as her future career, this new program also emphasizes “digital storytelling,” which is described as exploring and incorporating the fundamentals of creating, remixing, and distributing both traditional stories (such as news/books) and emerging story forms (such as transmedia stories) using modern networked technologies. To me, that sounds like a practical approach that can translate into an actual job after graduation.

As for traditional communications and media, all the schools continue to stress the fundamentals, especially the importance of writing, which I am truly pleased to see. In all cases, though, there’s the added element of new media and a recognition that traditional methods of communication need to adjust in light of its emergence.  I think most schools are working hard at creating the appropriate balance.  On the surface, it seems they are
succeeding, but hard to tell without actually seeing it in action.  I’ll know more in about a year from now, once my daughter in happily enrolled somewhere next fall.

From a PR perspective, I am always on the look out for new graduates who not only know how to communicate on a personal level within the world of electronic media, but also who understand how this new technology can help us do our jobs more effectively for our clients.  Seeing first hand how universities are embracing digital media as a core element of their academic offerings gives me hope not only for the future of our profession, but as a parent, it gives me real comfort to know my daughter will be well prepared for a future career in communications, no matter which track she decides to pursue.

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