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The Changing TV News Landscape Needs Academic Journalism

September 17th, 2019   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

The changing TV news landscape can be tough to navigate. As more and more non-TV local journalism goes the way of the mammoth, and local TV news tries to adapt to a much more online world, the role of academic journalism has never been more important.

How is academic journalism preparing broadcasters for the future of their industry?

Journalism Schools

These are big suppliers of talent for every TV market, from Fairbanks, Alaska to New York City. Most journalism schools have done well to move far beyond teaching their students what “b-roll” means, and more than just how to do a man-on-the-street interview.

Broadcast journalism programs like those at the New York Film Academy are placing an emphasis on a truly multimedia approach. At Arizona State, broadcast students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication spend time in that school’s version of a teaching hospital, a newsroom that provides material for Arizona PBS.

Most important, though, is training broadcast journalists to be able to adapt to whatever is coming next.

“While there are many impressive initiatives underway, the clearest takeaway from our review is that there is no one recipe for online video news,” Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Richard Sambrook wrote in a NiemanLab report.

You can see this in the attitude of journalists like Elise Hu. According to WPSU, Hu was originally stationed in South Korea as an international correspondent for NPR, but began vlogging, and used her broadcast journalism background to help NPR expand its visual storytelling with series like “Future You With Elise Hu.”

Academic Institutions

Not everyone can afford to go to journalism school. Institutions like the Poynter Institute, Knight Foundation, and Nieman Foundation act both as support and watchdogs for local media. They provide programs for local journalists and devote resources to studying the various media ecosystems in America.

These institutions are often, but not exclusively, tied to journalism schools. The University of North Carolina’s journalism school has its Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, which has released an annual report on the American news desert since 2016, aptly titled The Expanding News Desert. Columbia University has the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

They also provide valuable, if at times scathing, critiques of the changing TV news landscape. Take this article from the Columbia Journalism Review by Simon Van Zuylen-Wood, excoriating a Jacksonville station in particular, and the local TV news industry in general, for its seeming disinterest in changing:

“Local television has for decades left much of the ingest-your-vegetables policy and enterprising reporting to print. Now fewer newspapers have the resources to do that sort of work. Meanwhile, younger consumers aren’t turning to print or television for news, suggesting a newspaper-like collapse may loom for local TV. But it isn’t in the short-term financial interest of television stations, or their owners, to address either of those problems. And so, by and large, nothing changes.”

This might be a tough read, but every industry needs its gadflies to spur meaningful change.

The changing TV news landscape requires a multipronged approach from academia. These institutions are providing just that.

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