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Programs

Journalism is alive, well, and progressive at CSU

September 3, 2010
By Greg Luft

It's a challenging time for journalists and professional communicators. As always, creation and delivery of information is vibrant, and critical. At the same time, communication technology is developing so rapidly that any one person easily can be confused by the complexity of systems, and overwhelmed by the options for reaching out and connecting with others.

Editor's note: Greg Luft is a professor and chair for the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication.

Proactive efforts recognized as necessary since the 1990s

Greg Luft and the faculty, staff, and students in the JTC department, have been proactively leading the way in keeping the practice of journalism alive and well in this challenging time for traditional media.

Faculty and staff members in the journalism and technical communication department at Colorado State University, as well as those at the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, have known for some time that a proactive effort is necessary to keep up with changes in technology and the resulting impact on communication. Our faculty and staff, along with students, have been actively working on this transition since the 1990s.

We developed our first computer-mediated visual communication course in 1996. Four years later, in 2000, the Department partnered with the University’s Information Science and Technology Center, or ISTeC. This groundbreaking partnership brought a number of departments together to provide education and conduct research in technical, conceptual and content-based communication systems. The resulting Interdisciplinary Studies Program in Information Science and Technology recognized students’ needs for an opportunity to merge technical and content development skills.

Technology-based approaches

The Department began working on a technology-based communication concentration in 2001. That concentration has been growing steadily. During the next few years, faculty members developed roughly one dozen courses focused specifically on communication technology concepts and practices. Individually, the Department’s faculty members constantly discuss, develop and integrate new technology-based approaches to teaching the practice of journalism and media-based communication. We recognize that change is inevitable, adapting isn’t easy work and when we teach, we also have to learn.

Everyone on our faculty knows that our curriculum is and will continue to be dynamic. In addition to new courses and the infusion of new ideas into existing courses, we’re changing the way students approach their program of study. The faculty spent two years studying and designing a new curriculum. The foundation of this curriculum will continue to create a strong sense of journalistic responsibility, with an emphasis on the development of excellent writing and editing skills. That stays the same. But by their junior year, every student also will be expected to understand multiple hardware platforms and software programs. They will leave the program knowing how to communicate across media platforms and venues.

Emerging communication career specialties

A 2006 copy editing and design class in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication's computer lab.

With this foundation, students can launch their own course of study in upper level writing, production, and theoretical coursework. Department advisors will help them identify a specific job or preferred career track, and provide resources so students can wisely choose the courses necessary to succeed. A fresh capstone course will put all of the pieces together and help students prepare their plan of attack for seeking the kind of job that they want.

Scores of graduates and professionals have been returning to campus for years to evaluate our students and offer industry insights. With more than 1,000 current and active online connections to alumni, we’re developing groups of graduates who are willing and able to help launch our students into any one of dozens of emerging communication career specialties.

Access to the best tools of the trade

With new communication environments and expectations, the tools of the trade include fast computers and numerous software programs capable of creating, manipulating, and shaping messages that include audio and visual media. Our students have access to the best, with 75 new computers in five labs, loaded with close to 30 current software programs – along with a newsroom, radio station and TV studio shared with the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, or RMSMC, and the University. Thanks to faculty foresight and University funding, every student and faculty member at Colorado State University also has access to Lynda.com, one of the best online software training services available. This includes 24-hour online access from any location to virtually every contemporary software program.

The Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation is a critical partner in the success of these endeavors. Students at RMSMC are in charge of reporting and creating media for Colorado’s only daily student newspaper, a daily television newscast, a full-time FM radio station, and a quarterly magazine. With outstanding technology, and more than 225 students on the job, the RMSMC provides one of the best media-oriented educational environments in the nation. During the last 20 years, student reporters, producers, disc jockeys, program hosts and editors have earned more than 500 regional and national awards for their work. When they graduate, they get great jobs.

Critical thinking and writing skills are most valued assets

Professional review of senior portfolios: Journalism and Technical Communication alumni and faculty in a senior capstone review session. Photo courtesy of Greg Luft.

Not surprisingly, even in the face of technological revolution, a recent alumni survey demonstrates that graduates believe critical thinking and writing skills are their most important assets. This seems to be the case regardless of whether they become professional communicators, lawyers, teachers, scholars, consultants, marketing professionals, business executives, even airline pilots.

From a research and theoretical standpoint, the journalism and technical communication department is at the cutting edge. An established master’s program and new doctoral program in Public Communication and Technology work in tandem – providing and developing higher-level discourse and theory related to the changes in technology and its impact on communication.

University administrators have openly encouraged and supported these efforts, and that support is paying off. In just its second year, the new doctoral program is breaking important ground. Graduate students presented more than a dozen papers at national and international academic conferences since July of 2009 – more than a year before the first group of doctoral students will finish their degrees.

Helping all majors know how to communicate

A spirit of learning: JTC faculty met with a number of professionals in order to determine the direction and foci of a new curriculum. Photo courtesy of Greg Luft.

A broad view of potential applications for journalism education across campus adds to the department’s impact. Courses focusing on mass media theory, ethics, history and effects, along with an advanced writing course, annually connect the Department with more than 3,000 students not enrolled in the major.

Over a four-year term, this means the department will engage more than one half of the undergraduate student body. Their home departments will help them understand what to say, and the JTC department is charged with helping them know how to say it effectively and professionally.

Additional connections increase that campus impact. Department faculty and students are actively involved in at least a dozen academic fields outside of the major, including international programs and cross-disciplinary initiatives in:

  • economics
  • health
  • technology
  • environment
  • scientific
  • agricultural communication, among others

Student interns contribute to more than 100 Colo. companies

Greg Luft and a student talk with CSU alum Jim Benemann at Denver CBS Channel 4.

Relationships within the College of Liberal Arts add depth and perspective to our mission. Outside of the University, faculty members are active in numerous professional communication organizations, and student interns contribute to the communication efforts of more than 100 Colorado companies.

Interdisciplinary research connections contribute substantially to the development of tools needed to communicate effectively. Expertise in communication theory and research methods can be applied to virtually any campus study – and evidence of this expertise in the department is recognized by a significant number of federal, state and private funding agencies. These agencies support scores of studies designed to invigorate communication quality in social, cultural and scientific settings.

The impact and importance of effective communication is broad and deep across campus. Faculty and students in this field are passionate and determined to contribute to the quality of information creation and delivery – and for decades have adapted to the technologies necessary to make that happen.

Opportunities for enterprise are exploding

It may look a bit different these days, but journalism is alive and well. It is an important word, an important title and an essential practice – based on the all-important process of gathering, interpreting and presenting information that creates an informed society.

While traditional media face significant challenges, the opportunities for journalistic enterprise are exploding. In the face of uncertainty caused by such rapid change, the opportunity, and the responsibility to keep the concept and the practice of journalism alive and well has never been more important. Faculty, staff and students at CSU are determined to lead the way, using clear messages that rely on critical thinking and writing skills – while unraveling and demystifying complex changes in delivery and consumption of those messages.