Educators say TV stations need news producers: ‘We cannot graduate them quickly enough’

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 988 views 

Larry Foley, chair of the journalism department at the University of Arkansas

Enrollment continues to rise in broadcast journalism programs at several Arkansas universities, despite some lingering doubts that traditional media conduits can survive alongside digital. Instructors say the solution has been to teach multimedia strategies.

The journalism program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has grown 32% to 37 students since last spring, said Olaf Hoerschelman, director of the School of Mass Communication. The school changed its curriculum in 2015 to where there are no longer separate tracks for print and broadcast within the journalism emphasis of a mass communication degree at UA Little Rock.

“Based on feedback from alumni and employers as well as our own observations of the changes in the field of journalism, we decided that it would be necessary to introduce our students to all aspects of journalistic writing across different media platforms,” Hoerschelman said. “This decision was also backed up by our 2015 program review, which likewise encouraged us to introduce more multimedia content into our curriculum.”

Multiplatform storytelling is now a key component of journalism study at UA Little Rock, Hoerschelman said. In the fall the school hired a faculty member who specializes in the subject. Susan Simkowski, associate professor in media communication at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, said while the industry has adapted to different platforms for the dissemination of news products, it also has new sources.

“It’s not just the Associated Press or the wire anymore,” Simkowski said. “You could be watching ‘Good Morning America,’ and they’ll tap into a YouTube feed. It could be your neighbor’s YouTube feed.”

She said the idea that journalism is on a decline – a mantra in circulation five to 10 years ago – is outdated. Now, Simkowski believes the general consensus is: “It’s not dead. It’s just evolved.”

That means new graduates must know how to produce for social media and other platforms, she said. Employers now expect a journalist to be a “one-man band.”

Arkansas State University in Jonesboro combined its journalism tracks into one multimedia journalism program in 2014, said Osa’ Amienyi, chair of the ASU media department. At the same time, it moved advertising and public relations to fall under communication rather than the journalism umbrella. About 200 undergraduate students enrolled in media programs in the fall, according to the ASU website. Amienyi said ASU’s journalism program has had steady overall growth since the change and marked growth within the sports media emphasis.

At the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, the number of students studying journalism has grown incrementally in recent years, said John Gale, chair of the mass communications department.

John Gale, chair of the mass communications department at the University of Central Arkansas

“This is a popular major,” Gale said. “Journalism has been laboring under the myth that the need for newsgathering is dying. That is untrue. Even in this environment, UCA journalism enrollment is strong.”

In 2016-17, there are a little more than 100 journalism students at UCA. The enrollment data was not broken down into specific concentrations, like broadcast and print. Gale said the department has had “great success with our students getting broadcast jobs in the (central Arkansas) region,” and he praised what he says is a well-rounded curriculum.

“I think a key factor is that they know how to report, write, produce and direct,” he said.

Larry Foley, chair of the journalism department at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said the UA also focuses on training students on multiple “marketable skills” demanded by today’s industry, and that means teaching broadcast students to shoot and edit their own pieces.

The University of Arkansas Global Campus in 2015 added an online journalism program, which now has about 40 students, and while undergraduate journalism enrollment on campus has not kept pace with the overall growth of the school at 27%, it is higher than it was five years ago by 9%. There were 594 students enrolled this fall. Half of them fall into the advertising/public relations category, and the second-largest group is broadcast, Foley said.

Within the last few years the school introduced a news producer class and is working to make it part of the broadcast journalism capstone of required classes for the major.

“We cannot graduate them quickly enough to fill the need that’s out there for TV news producers,” Foley said. “It’s a phenomenon that I have not seen in all my years in television news,” which began in 1977.

TV stations have been adding news casts at noon, 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. and “pouring more emphasis into morning news,” Foley added.

“News stations around the country – in markets like Tulsa and Oklahoma City that are bigger than starter markets – have been desperately seeking news producers” during the last few years, he said.

In many cases, the stations are looking for multimedia journalists who can produce their own segments and report, but that hasn’t edged out the opportunities for traditional reporters, Foley said.

“As far as TV news, I don’t know that the job situation has ever been better.”

Advertising revenue and viewership are both either increasing or steady in the realm of local, network and cable TV news programs during the last few years. Average viewership for local evening news held steady between 2010 and 2015, reaching 11.7 million in 2015, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Center.

Revenue for local TV was up a bit during that time and showed more of an emphasis on digital revenue since about 2012. Total revenue was $19.4 billion for local TV in 2010 and about $20.3 billion in 2015, with $900 million of that tied to digital advertising. Pew Research projects revenue will continue to grow, as will the share of digital. The center predicts revenue at $23 billion for 2020, and $1.6 billion will be from digital media.

Viewership for network morning and evening news between 2010 and 2015 remained fairly steady, reaching 23.9 million in 2015, according to the Pew Research. Revenue was up slightly for both morning and evening network news programs.

Average primetime viewership for cable news held steady between around 3 million and 4 million over the five-year period. Revenue, however, has grown. Between 2010 and 2015, cable news revenue for Fox News, CNN and MSNBC increased 28%, reaching $4 billion. When compared to 2006, revenue was up by 55% in 2015.