Monday, April 15, 2013

Cronkite School focuses on hands-on experiences

Eighth in a series on entrepreneurial journalism programs at universities and media organizations. 

Retha Hill, director,
New Media Innovation Lab
Arizona State University differs from some of the other programs in entrepreneurial journalism profiled in this series since it does not offer a degree in that field. Instead it emphasizes hands-on experiences in its programs for developing new digital media.

Both graduate and undergraduate students can work in its New Media Innovation Lab, operated by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where their research and computer programming help media companies create multimedia products.

Working hand in glove with the lab is the school's Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship,  which also encourages students to develop new media products.

Students from all departments on campus can participate in both these programs, bringing together experiences from engineering, business, computer science, and other disciplines.

Media clients pay for research, programming

Retha Hill, director of the lab, says it generates revenue from clients such as the Newspaper Association of America and Gannett Co., one of the nation’s largest news corporations. The lab helps media companies innovate and bring ideas to reality.

For example, the lab created a campaign finance database tracker that Gannett incorporated into 100 of its news sites.

Newspaper Association of America Foundation hired the lab to study the adoption and usage of smartphones by Americans 16 to 20 years old. ASU students surveyed 1,500 young people to understand how they are using the phones to connect with their social networks for everything from planning their weekend to checking the news.

The Lab also conducted research for Gannett on social media sites to understand 14-to-24-year-olds’ usage habits on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. Gannett is using the findings to help guide its social media strategy and to formulate its mobile development plans.

Capstone projects

This semester, seven graduate students and four undergraduates are working in the lab on their capstone projects. They spend two eight-hour days a week there working on projects of their own or a client's devising.

Helping them are three graduate students from the engineering school who are paid to do computer programming on student and client projects.

Three of the students working in the lab are doing their own projects and the others are working in teams on such projects as designing software that allows news organizations to quickly develop games for their readers. The goal is have a tool so simple to use that journalists can plug in some parameters and develop a game.

Roots at BET, Washington Post

Hill was an early media innovator who helped launch the Washington Post’s first Internet news operation, Digital Ink. She came to the Cronkite School after eight years at Black Entertainment Television, where she was vice president for content for its online unit.

In June 2010, Hill won both a $12,000 New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant and a $90,000 Knight News Challenge grant to develop innovative iPhone applications.

She is very proud of the graduates of her program. Some have gotten jobs with NPR. Others are new media content producers in Lebanon, the Virgin Islands, and other locations around the world.
She says her students "are used to talking with vice presidents and executives of media companies in the lab, and these students are getting promoted."

Center for Entrepreneurship

Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, teaches entrepreneurial thinking and skills to a cross-section of students majoring in journalism, computer engineering, design, and business.

Students also work individually with an entrepreneur in residence to develop their own innovative digital media products and services. Some of these projects get attention in the New Media Lab.

Gillmor said in an interview that entrepreneurial skills are increasingly essential both for students who end up working in traditional media companies and those who will create new media startups.

Universities can help students understand the financial realities that exist in media today, which is new for many of them. It can help them understand the techniques of digital media in any number of ways, and all of that should be an overlay on basic journalism principles. That would be an improvement over what journalism education has been. Giving people as much hands-on experience as possible is also a good thing. We can help them understand and not be terrified by the reality" of the current media revolution.
Gillmor believes the idea that numerous successful product launches will come out of a classroom is unrealistic. "If we define success (in university programs) that way, I'm prepared to say that's not going to happen. But if we define it as some people trying to do things, with the occasional success mirroring the low rate of success in the startup world, I think that would be a fine outcome, as long as the students are all getting this understanding and appreciation of business that we're trying to bring into the curriculum."

Arizona State University, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Requirements: 36 credits
Tuition for master's program: $16,577 total for three semesters for Arizona residents, $29,395 for three semesters for out-of-state residents


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