students workingNot long ago, journalism schools had a clearly defined task: To instill in their students the fundamentals of storytelling, grammar, journalistic ethics and accuracy. This is still the mission of today’s J-Schools. But now they have the additional responsibility of teaching emerging journalists and strategic communicators alike how to reach multiple audiences via an ever-growing array of new media, platforms and tools.

What’s a school to do?

“When we began re-envisioning our entire curriculum more than a decade ago, we realized that if we wanted our students to succeed in the rapidly evolving digital maze, we would have to completely blow up how we taught journalism and communication,” said Julianne Newton, interim Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC). “But we had to answer some questions first. How do you keep your curriculum updated when the media market’s cycle of change is so much faster than academia’s? Do you require all students to learn all the skills, or do you let them opt in with electives? And how do you keep students focused on becoming good journalists and media professionals rather than on the bells and whistles of new tools?”

The SOJC’s solution was to design a 12-credit, three-course sequence integrating previously separate courses in writing, information gathering and visual communication. Students across all areas — journalism, advertising, public relations and media studies — start their major coursework in an intensive multimedia storytelling experience called Gateway to Media. It’s a digital storytelling boot camp that grounds them in foundational concepts, practices and skills before they advance to specialized tracks.

This “gateway” approach addresses two goals: It teaches students enough to make educated decisions about what to specialize in later. And it gives them practice in telling a story in different ways, giving them versatility that’s invaluable once they hit the workplace.

Read “7 Things You Should Know About Digital Journalism Courses” on MediaShift to find out what program coordinators from the SOJC, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Texas at Austin recommend to any J-School that wants to start its own digital journalism gateway course.

Story by Andra Brichacek, photo by Johnny Hammond