ASU journalism school gets transformed - East Valley Tribune: News

ASU journalism school gets transformed

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Posted: Monday, September 1, 2008 5:36 pm | Updated: 11:45 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

For years, the only thing high-profile about ASU's School of Journalism and Mass Communication was its namesake: Walter Cronkite. No longer.

SLIDESHOW: ASU's new journalism school

Many of Arizona State University's academic programs have undergone transformations in the six years since Michael Crow became president. But arguably, none has been as radical as that of the journalism school.

Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Phoenix, ASU, Central Ave., Fillmore St., Van Buren St., Interstate 10, Washington St., Jefferson St., McDowell Rd., 7th Ave., Grand Ave., 7th St. Map by Jayson Peters/East Valley Tribune

The school has new leadership, a new building, a new location, a new curriculum, several big-name hires and research and development centers intended to develop new media products.

With the start of classes last week, the journalism school opened its six-story, $71 million building in downtown Phoenix. The facility is more newsroom than classroom.

These many changes are to fulfill one aim.

"The goal and objective here is to build the best journalism school in the country," said Crow, who made the school its own stand-alone program in 2005. Before that it was a program within the College of Public Programs.

And the changes have caught national attention.

"ASU always had a good reputation (as) a good, solid school," said Howard Finberg, interactive learning director at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center in Florida. "Now it seems to have a reputation of being very innovative, digitally focused institution. I think there's a certain amount of head-shaking amazement at all the things that have been going on."

ABC News picked ASU as one of five universities to establish an on-campus multimedia news bureau, opening this semester, that will use students as reporters. The school's faculty now looks like a who's who of top journalism practitioners. Among these are Aaron Brown, former CNN anchor; Chris Anderson, former Orange County Register publisher; and Rick Rodriguez, former editor of the Sacramento Bee.

Perhaps most important, the school wrote a new curriculum.

"It wasn't a revision," said Chris Callahan, the journalism school's dean. "We blew it up and created a completely new one."

Faculty designed the new course of study to ensure students gain the core values of journalism - gathering accurate information, telling stories compellingly - while preparing them to enter a changing media industry, Callahan said.

Daily newspapers are in serious financial trouble as advertising revenue and readership move to the Internet - where they've struggled to make money. The Internet has also changed broadcast journalism, forcing on-camera reporters to file written articles to Web sites.

And media companies face a multitude of new competitors online every day, targeting niche audiences.

ASU's journalism school intends to teach students to work for all of the above.

"You could do any kind of reporting from any workstation in this whole building," said Mark Lodato, news director of Cronkite NewsWatch, a student-produced, 30-minute news program that airs three times a week when school is in session. It is also a required class for students studying broadcast journalism, the school's largest program, Lodato said.

ASU journalism students can also get hands-on experience writing for the Cronkite News Service, a wire service covering state government.

Historically, journalism schools have focused solely on training students to work for products that already exist.

Callahan said he hopes students come up with new platforms to distribute their work.

To help students along, the school created the New Media Innovation Lab and the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship.

The news industry has added to its woes by failing to do its own research and development for new products, Callahan said.

"On the other side, I think journalism schools are deeply culpable," he said. "Journalism schools did very little, traditionally have done very little, to help the industry look forward and to help lead the industry."

With a few notable exceptions, many of the nation's journalism schools have been slow to alter their programs, even now. Finberg said the journalism programs cannot blame ignorance for their hesitance now.

"Unless they've been locked in a cave for the last five years, everybody recognizes the changes that are under way in the news industry," Finberg said.

Lodato said many of the upgrades at ASU have been in the works for two years. But faculty could only do so much in their old, cramped facility at the main campus in Tempe.

"It's kind of like at NASA, you say you want to shoot for the moon. But at some point you've got to build the ship that's going to get you there," Lodato said.

For ASU's journalism school, the new building is that spaceship.

NewsWatch now broadcasts from the building's top floor, using a set donated by KPNX-TV (Channel 12), the Phoenix NBC affiliate. Its newsroom is packed with brand-new Apple desktop computers.

Two weeks before classes started, Karlene Chavis and Courtney Brink, both ASU seniors majoring in broadcast journalism, were working on the computers to learn software they'll use to air weather reports.

A trainer from the software firm marveled that he was training students directly. "Nobody else really has this opportunity to learn how to use such professional equipment," Chavis said.

Neither of the students intends to cover weather as a career. But Brink said having that ability could help land a first job, when they are competing with 250 other applicants.

However, the students' first journalism job is unlikely to be in as attractive a setting as the NewsWatch studio, with its view of Camelback Mountain.

"They're spoiling us, we know," Chavis said.

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