Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reinventing journalism education for the future

by Christopher Callahan - Nov. 16, 2008 12:00 AMCronkite School dean

Guided by the best values of journalism past while inspired by a new vision of news in the digital age, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is on a bold mission: To reinvent journalism education at a time when the news media has been simultaneously never more important to our democracy and never more in danger. And in the process, we hope, we will help chart a new path for the future of news.

This week, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication celebrates our rich past with the 25th year of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and the invaluable role the former CBS News anchor continues to play at the school that proudly bears his name. There will be a series of public discussions about the most important issues facing the rapidly changing news media, featuring some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. And we officially dedicate our spectacular new state-of-the-art home on the new downtown Phoenix campus.

At the core of our mission is reemphasizing the most important qualities of great journalism - accuracy, objectivity, fairness and truth-telling - while embracing revolutionary technological advancements. We are doing this through a series of programs that immerse students in model newsrooms and innovation laboratories that give them the tools to not only enter this ever-changing world of news media but help shape it in the years to come.

In research and development labs such as the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and the Gannett-sponsored New Media Innovation Lab, students from across the university - journalism, business, design, computer engineering - work together in teams to create new digital products to engage news consumers who are turning away from traditional media.
In our newest program, News21, two of the nation's leading philanthropic foundations - the Carnegie Corp. and the John S. and James. L. Knight Foundation - have asked us to lead a 12-university, $7.5 million effort to create sophisticated, issue-based journalism and find ground-breaking new ways to distribute that information to news consumers. And in another program in partnership with The Arizona Republic, Cronkite students serve as "backpack journalists" - fanning out across the Valley to record events with words, photos, audio and video and produce breaking news for azcentral.com.

Advanced students in Cronkite News Service are covering important policy issues on multiple platforms and creating news stories that are used by newspapers, Web sites, radio and TV stations throughout Arizona.

Cronkite NewsWatch students produce an evening newscast that reaches hundreds of thousands of Arizona households via KAET's digital station, Cox Cable, Channel 88, and ASU-tv. Twelve days ago, NewsWatch students produced more than three hours of prime-time, live election coverage.

Our students and faculty also are focusing on some of the most critical issues facing our country. With the help of the Carnegie Corp. and the Knight Foundation, we are creating a new specialization in how to cover Latinos and Latino issues. The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism improves coverage of business and economics journalism around the country through seminars and Web-based instruction. And the school is designing a new specialization for students entering the complex but increasingly important world of business journalism.

While in many ways the quintessential 21st century communications complex, the new Cronkite building also emphasizes the most important values and traditions of journalism past. The words to the First Amendment are emblazoned- floor-to-ceiling - on all six floors. Those 45 words are our intellectual cornerstone, and we want to make sure every student, faculty and visitor remembers that each and every day.

The First Amendment Forum, the multi-level heart of the building, has quickly become the social, professional and intellectual hub that we envisioned. Students watch breaking news on the giant high-definition TV during the day and gather in the evening to talk with media leaders.
The Marguerite and Jack Clifford Gallery tells the story of the history of the news media as well displaying a special collection from our namesake and guiding light, Walter Cronkite.

Remembering the best of our past ensures the greatness of our future.
Right across the hall from the Clifford Gallery are displays of the extraordinary - and growing - number of student awards from the Hearst Foundation. Cronkite has now finished in the Hearst Awards Top 10 for a record seven consecutive years and took first-place nationally in the Society of Professional Journalist's Mark of Excellence competition for the third year in a row.
Visitors also will find a portrait gallery honoring the winners of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. The PBS duo of Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer are the recipients in this, the 25th year of the Cronkite Award.

But beyond the public spaces, news laboratories and tributes to great journalism past, perhaps the most significant part of our new building is the location, in the center of the nation's fifth-largest city. The promise of this unprecedented university-city partnership, conceived and championed by ASU President Michael Crow and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, is already being seen in our first months downtown. Student journalists are walking to cover major events at City Hall, county, state and federal agencies and major sporting and cultural venues in Phoenix. Our partnerships with media companies around the Valley - already strong - have grown as the distance between us in now often blocks instead of miles. And the vast professional opportunities for our students continue to grow.

With our new home now in place, our future is truly limitless.

Christopher Callahan is the founding dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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