RIT will help establish a model for journalism education through a new, multidisciplinary program that combines technology, design and entrepreneurial skills. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will support this Digital Journalism Incubator with just over $145,000 for RIT to pilot the model and share it with other journalism schools.
RIT initiated the approach in spring 2013 by bringing together journalism and technology students in one class, taught jointly by a journalism and a computing professor. The students worked together to develop online publications; journalism students learned technology skills, while computing students were introduced to journalism as a potential career path.
With Knight Foundation funding, the university will continue the program for three more semesters and add new courses on emerging technologies to the curriculum, along with real-world journalism projects that allow students to connect with the community. An added entrepreneurial component will allow students to explore the financial sustainability of their publications and receive coaching in marketing and business. Ultimately, the model and lessons from the program will be shared with other schools at events and through media partnerships with innovative newsrooms.
“By advancing a multi-skilled model of journalism education, Rochester Institute of Technology is not only preparing its own students for the journalism jobs of tomorrow, it is also among the few schools pushing for an essential transformation in journalism education,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation. “Journalists of the future need a full range of business and technology skills to be successful and effective at meeting community information needs; this is a lesson that needs to resonate and spread.”
The Digital Journalism Incubator will launch in spring 2014, led by RIT’s Andrea Hickerson, assistant professor of journalism in the College of Liberal Arts, and Victor Perotti, associate professor of management information systems in the Saunders College of Business.
“I want to bring all the strengths of RIT—particularly in liberal arts, imaging arts, computing and business—to bear on the future sustainability of journalism,” Hickerson said. “I hope that by fostering a collaborative, multidisciplinary space, students can work together to build new creative, sustainable modes of storytelling that benefit both our students working in media fields, as well as the greater public which needs high quality information to make informed decisions.”
“Digital journalism is by nature multidisciplinary, blending the need for digital delivery with the interviewing, information sourcing and storytelling from journalism,” Perotti said. “Business (specifically digital entrepreneurship) knowledge creates the opportunity to sustain ideas and projects to become ongoing profitable ventures. Even very well established digital news websites continue to learn and experiment with the business side of their organizations.”
“Journalists who once had to focus only on finding and reporting good stories now must also be concerned with presentation and generate traffic for their work. It is unrealistic for journalists to be an expert at reporting, visuals, digital design and business, etc., so we believe it is important to expand the idea of storytelling beyond journalism to other fields such as computing and business,” Hickerson said. “We hope that students from these new fields will consider careers in the news industry, and we hope that journalism students will understand the strength of approaching storytelling as a collaborative endeavor.”
Perotti further highlighted that the incubator will “create a connected set of experiences”—including classes, visiting lectures and more—that support the exploration and development of digital news startups. A diverse team of students will become experts in identifying opportunities for innovation and gain experience working with modern newsroom tools.
This is the second Knight Foundation grant for this team. In 2011, they were awarded a grant to lead the Rise Above the Crowd project, an interactive crowd experiment in live event journalism and community engagement.
Support for RIT forms one part of Knight Foundation's effort to bring journalism into the digital age. Knight recently announced a $1 million challenge fund to encourage universities to experiment with new ways of providing news and information; the announcement was made in parallel with the release of Searchlights and Sunglasses, a new digital book written by Eric Newton, Knight Foundation senior adviser to the president, that calls for change in journalism education.
About the Knight Foundation
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.KnightFoundation.org.