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Class of the future: JMA students learn ways of tomorrow

By Crissy Holtzer
On November 14, 2012

  • Whether you're hosting or attending, every Super Bowl party needs three things. good company, good food and the game.

Ten page papers and studying for midterms are a thing of the past for students in Charlie Gee's multimedia journalism class. Instead, substitute video journalism with iPads and class trips across state lines.

This past summer the Journalism and Multimedia Arts Department was awarded a grant of $125,750 by the Knight Foundation to explore new avenues with regard to technology and the future of journalism. The Knight Foundation is a national foundation that "supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts" according to their website.

Gee, who was responsible for creating the class and handling the grant itsself, has used the money to purchase equipment to assist students in creating video news packages throughout the semester. The class focuses on the potential of mobile technology. Similar grants were offered to Arizona, Ohio and Missouri State universities in past years.

"We're trying to incorporate more multimedia," Gee said. "It's the evolution of journalism."

During the semester, students in Gees' class were given backpacks similar to one a "one-man show" journalist might use when producing content. The bags included two types of microphones, a DSLR camera, a video camera, audio cords, a small light, a tripod, a laptop, editing software, an iPad and an iPhone 5. Research gathered through this class, which will be reported back to the Knight Foundation, will determine whether "mobile journalism" is as effective as "backpack journalism."

According to Michael Dillon, chair of the JMA Department, the multimedia class will give its six students "real world experience in a world where traditional boundaries have been erased."

"[This class] will allow us to take a decisive leap into the multimedia journalism," Dillon said.

He added that journalists today need a wide range of skills to succeed in today's challenging work environment.

Students covered local stories around the area: everything from street art in the South Side to Pittsburgh cyclists. Junior broadcast journalism and digital media arts major Miranda Costa recently reported on a large fire in the Indiana, Pa. area. 

"I went there [to the scene] and they kicked me out. I didn't want them to call the police on me [so] I left," Costa said.  "Dr. Gee said I should've stayed and filmed from the street. He expects a lot out of us. He's going to make us better journalists."

Thanks to the grant, students traveled to Norris, Tenn., a small working-class town of approximately 1,700 people. Students created video news packages focused on a particular business in town by interviewing members of the community to enrich their stories and illustrate how different small town life can be, specifically at the business end of things.

"Basically we did a series of business stories," Gee said. "It's been a political issue about 'Main Street' and the recession."

Second-year graduate student Anastasia Farmerie said the people of Norris were more than happy to be interviewed.

Farmerie filmed a story about a family-owned grocery store that has been open for 60 years. While the technology was the focus of the trip, the students learned about storytelling in a whole new arena.

"I think the people make the stories," Farmerie said. "I'd try to focus on a really cool character."

Knoxville Sentinel, the area newspaper, is working on incorporating some of the students' footage on their website. Students worked on a tight deadline while in Norris. They were instructed to head out in the morning and return by 6 p.m. with completed packages, including filmed interviews, editing and voiceovers, as well as uploading the project to a server hosted at Duquesne.

Though most students agreed that the DSLR and JVC cameras and handheld microphones produced better quality video and images, the implementation of iPhones, iPads as well other "smart" technology has shown to be a viable option for the future of journalism.

Farmerie explained that the type of journalism highlighted by this class varies a great deal from traditional journalism.

"I think the class also kind of challenges you to do things by yourself," Farmerie said.  "You usually have a group or a partner. You have to put it together. That is what backpack journalism is. I think that's important for our department to learn."

Technology is advancing much faster than professors can learn to teach it, Gee admited. With everyone walking around carrying a mobile computer equipped with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in their pockets, it's tough to tell which media platform the next generation will prefer.

"Very few universities are using the iPhones or are testing out this backpack versus this phone," Gee said, holding up his personal iPhone 4S. "It's like nailing Jell-O to a wall."

Journalism education as a whole is placing more emphasis on multimedia studies, Dillon said, and Duquesne's curriculum will be a leader in incorporating web, video, photography, and editing into its programs.

"We have to understand that we're dealing with multiple audiences," Dillon said, adding that a journalist is now required to find his audience on several different platforms. "The model is no longer 'Build it and they will come.' It's 'Find out where they are and go there.'"

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