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SPJ opens communication lines between broadcast industry and educators

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Nineteen recommendations including raising the standards to be admitted to programs in broadcast journalism and certifying completion; improving the quality and value of internship programs; and closing the gap that separates broadcast journalism programs and the industry are among the findings of a task force of the Society of Professional Journalists.

After more than a year of research, SPJ's Jane Pauley Task Force on Mass Communication Education has presented its findings in a 100-page report aimed at better preparing tomorrow's broadcast journalists for successful careers. The task force, with the help of researchers Lee B. Becker and Gerald M. Kosicki of The Ohio State University, examined the state of broadcast education and developed recommendations for securing the future of the profession. The recommendations apply to educational institutions, the broadcast industry, students and the Society.

"When we started this process in 1995, our hope was to provide information that would give educators and students guidance on how best to prepare for the broadcast industry of tomorrow," said G. Kelly Hawes, president of SPJ. "The work of this group has exceeded our expectations. As a result, SPJ has taken the lead in helping bring the academic and professional worlds together for the betterment of journalism."

A key recommendation of the task force involves the development of a model curriculum. Indiana University and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., have agreed to work with the Society and broadcast corporations to develop prototype broadcast programs based on the report.

"At Ball State we take pride in strong, hands-on, classroom, extra-curricular and internship programs to give our graduates solid entry-level skills," said Steve Bell, chair, department of telecommunications, Ball State University. "But we also have been increasing the writing, language and liberal arts requirements for news graduates. We look forward to working with SPJ and the Pauley Task Force to find the right balance for broadcast news education and for meeting newsroom needs of the future."

Another important recommendation directs educators and industry leaders to interact more frequently.

"Neither broadcast executives or journalism educators seem to be spending enough time with each other learning of the changes in each other's world," said Paul Davis, co-author of the task force report along with Dhyana Ziegler, professor of broadcasting at the University of Tennessee. "It all boils down to talking with each other ... working with each other. Both have great power to influence the other, but not from the distances many seem to be keeping from the other these days."

The report includes trends and comparison research by Becker and Kosicki. The research showed salaries earned by journalism and mass communication bachelor's degree recipients who took jobs in radio and television were poor compared with those of graduates who took jobs with daily newspapers, public relations and advertising. Nine in 10 of the broadcast journalism graduates had completed an internship while at the university, and broadcast journalism students who found work reported lower levels of job satisfaction than other working journalism graduates. A survey of news directors done by Becker and Kosicki found key industry personnel to be critical of those seeking entry-level jobs in their news organizations.

The task force work was begun more than a year and a half ago when the group was appointed to study whether colleges are giving students considering broadcast journalism careers sufficient preparation to play a meaningful role in the industry upon graduation.

"The members of the task force who devoted their time and energy to this project have been extremely conscientious and responsible with their involvement," said Lee Giles, chair of the task force. "It's been a demanding mission that is only productive if the work of the task force is helpful in better preparing broadcast journalists. I, for one, am very optimistic that this is only the beginning for what may be accomplished in the future as we all work together."

The work of the task force was funded by Jane Pauley, anchor/reporter for Dateline NBC and honorary chair of the task force. Pauley, a long-time SPJ member, has been concerned about the quality of undergraduate mass communications programs and how to make a degree in mass communications mean more professionally.

"I think it was the best investment I ever made," said Pauley. "The SPJ task force surpassed my expectations in the range of its inquiry, and the breadth of its recommendations. Thousands of young people are attracted to careers in the media -- with these recommendations, they will be better prepared for them; better educated and more competitive in a highly competitive arena."

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