In this Q and A between Jayme Soulati and Assistant Professor Kenna Griffin of the Oklahoma City University Mass Communications Department, you will see what’s changed and what hasn’t about the world of writing and reporting in today’s social engagement era:
I began teaching in the mass communications department at Oklahoma City University in Fall 2003. I teach primarily journalism, although I also teach media law, media ethics and public relations courses. I also advise the university’s student publications staff.
Soulati Q: What are the basics in the curriculum students must have to graduate?
Because we are a pure mass communications program, all students take certain courses (introduction to mass communications, mass communications research, mass media law and ethics, and a senior capstone). The students then choose a track area—print journalism, broadcasting, advertising or public relations— to study. Most of our students study in more than one track area, which helps to make them more well-rounded in the job market.
Soulati Q: Are you seeing an influx of people entering J School or a decline in the numbers in the last five years?
Honestly, we have seen a decline. However, that has not been the experience of other journalism schools in our area. The economy has resulted in us, a private university, seeing an overall enrollment decline.
Soulati Q: How has social media influenced how you teach journalism now?
Social media has completely changed the way I teach journalism. The Internet as a whole has leveled the playing field for journalists. We no longer have to wait for the next publication cycle to provide our audience with the information they need and want. We can report news in real time for the first time ever.
Soulati Q: Is there a social media track in J School or is it woven into courses?
Social media has become part of every course we teach, from News Reporting to Mass Media Research. I, personally, only teach one social media specific course, which is Social Media Marketing and Online Promotions. The class is cross listed between the mass communications department and the business school. The students enrolled typically are studying journalism, public relations or marketing. The course’s purpose is to teach them to create a strategic, measurable social media campaign for an organization, instead of the all too common approach to “use social media.”
Soulati Q: What’s your view of how journalism will continue to evolve based on how things stand today?
It’s interesting to hear people saying that newspapers are dying. I’m not convinced that this is the case or that it even matters. We know people are seeking out and consuming more information than ever before. Therefore, the need to give them factual information via the platform of their choice is in high demand. It’s been 30 or 40 years since there’s been a more exciting time to be a journalist!
Soulati Q: What are 3-5 tips you can offer writers seeking a career in journalism?
– Learn the fundamentals of our profession. Understand what makes someone a journalist as opposed to just another person with a keyboard.
– Focus on the basics. Recognizing news value, gathering information through interviewing sources, using AP Style and the inverted pyramid… these are basic skills of journalism that lay the foundation for your career.
– Be adaptable to change. The basic skills stay the same, but the delivery platform changes every day. Get excited about the possibilities of new, different ways to deliver information.
– Take advantage of all presented opportunities. I’m amazed by the students who don’t attend networking and training events. I know you’re busy. We’re all busy. But you have four years to fit in as much learning as you can. What you do in that time will determine to some extent your success afterward. Take advantage of every opportunity presented to learn more about journalism and to hone your craft.
– Network like it’s your full-time job. I don’t agree with the idea that it’s not “what you know, but who you know.” Success actually is a combination of both. You have to understand journalism more than you understand most things. Then, you must position yourself for career advancement. This means meeting people and helping them understand what skills you have that benefit them.
Soulati Q: Is everyone a writer?
Everyone can be a writer, but it’s more difficult for some while being intrinsic to others. Anyone can become a writer, but not every writer is a journalist. Journalism is a profession that requires training, an understanding of professional values, norms and routines, a method for practical application of the craft, and a network of others serving the profession. Simply having a platform or being able to form a sentence doesn’t make you a journalist. A journalist is more than someone who strings together words to form a sentence.
Soulati Q: Is there a career in this profession, or are you seeing it erode from the academic perspective?
There are more jobs available in journalism than there are professional journalists to fill them. This is one of the key reasons I started posting a weekly list of media jobs. You can read more about that here. The short answer is yes – journalism is a viable, thriving profession.
Soulati Q: Should students of today insulate their journalistic career with other skills besides news or feature writing?
Absolutely! Anyone in media that puts on their blinders to multimedia or even public relations aspects of the industry is just begging to be extinct. Being a good writer still is a critical skills, but it can’t be the only tool in your professional arsenal.
Soulati Q: Has social media broadened the scope of opportunity for students and young professionals today?
I think it has. Of course, I’m a lover of social media. I see two critical ways social has broadened opportunities for students. First, social media have created a whole new genre of exciting career opportunities in content promotion and community management. Second, social media allow students to create and maintain a professional network that will serve them well throughout their careers. This network is no longer bound by geography or professional, institutional hierarchies. You want to network with the CEO of an organization where you want to work post-graduation? Follow him/her on Twitter and start the conversation immediately.
Soulati Q: Do have any further sage counsel to share for anyone reading?
Change is frightening, but it won’t kill you. In fact, I’m pretty sure some have said it makes you stronger. What’s your purpose as a journalist? Focus on that. Everything else is just changing tools that allow you to do your job. The method is not the meaning.
About The Author
Kenna Griffin (@profkrg) is the blogger behind www.profkrg.com, which aims to create an ongoing educational dialogue between professional journalists and media students and educators. In her spare time she teaches journalism, multimedia, public relations, media law, and media ethics courses as a full-time university professor. Oh, and she is a doctoral candidate in mass communication on the side.