What's Working?

Showcasing Innovation

The JMC Innovation Project sought to discover innovation wherever it is happening, whether in a well-resourced private institution or an underfunded public university, in urban or rural areas, in large or small media markets. JMC deans and directors were asked to cite programs and projects that showcase the most innovative activities going on in their schools.

They identified a wide array of initiatives ranging from a drone lab at Nebraska, to virtual internships at Kent State, to a social media command center at Tennessee, to a bilingual writing program at San Diego State, to a partnership on immersive media VR work with the Washington Post at Texas, to a gaming and journalism mashup at American, to a news literacy program at Stony Brook, to an innovation and technology outpost at Northwestern, to an entrepreneurial incubator at Howard, to a new technology lab at Marquette, to place branding through social media at West Virginia, to a collaboration in health communication with the College of Medicine at Kentucky, to a First Amendment institute at Columbia, to a production partnership with 60 Minutes at Elon, to a partnership with the music industry at Middle Tennessee State, to an events management major at High Point, to an online graduate program in strategic communication and innovation at Texas Tech, to a digital ethics symposium at Loyola Chicago, to an endowed chair in journalism innovation at Temple, to a SharkTank-like innovation contest at Ithaca, to Ipad journalism at Virginia Commonwealth, to a new center for communication and civic engagement at Oregon, to a new certificate program in ethical leadership at Loyola New Orleans, to a digital entrepreneurship program at Syracuse, to an innovation summit at North Carolina, to a new social journalism program at CUNY, and more.

Rather than provide a comprehensive list of innovation initiatives, the aim here is to shed light on how JMC leaders view innovation and the types of innovation in which schools and colleges are engaged. The interviews revealed that investments in innovation have been made primarily in eight areas:  1) program and curriculum development; 2) new operating structures and approaches; 3) interdisciplinary collaborations; 4) collaborative spaces; 5) new centers and institutes; 6) faculty hiring; 7) extracurricular activities; and 8) engagement with external partners. In many cases, these categories overlap; many schools are investing in multiple areas in their efforts to innovate.

In program and curriculum development, schools have responded in myriad ways to increased demands for training in special areas of expertise and emerging media. Schools have developed programs with special emphases influenced by geography, demographics, community needs and other factors.

For example, David Boardman of Temple reported that his school made a strategic decision to develop “a cohesive academic brand for the school” around the role of communication in urban life. “We have made a very conscious decision to have a specific core identity. . . . As we think about directions for innovation, most of our faculty are rowing in the same direction and are looking for opportunities that relate directly to that.”

Maryland created a journalism program focused on national and global security issues that allowed the college “to take better advantage of our geography,” noted Lucy Dalglish. “The university does a lot of work for intelligence services. We are surrounded by people involved in global security.”

At East Carolina, cultural competencies are emphasized through international communication study abroad programs, according to Linda Kean. The goal, Kean said, is “to expose our students to a variety of cultures and to develop in them an appreciation for diversity and a competency in terms of being able to interact with diverse others.”

Michael X. Delli-Carpini, University of Pennsylvania
A lot of U.S. communication programs tend to think of communication in the context of the United States. Obviously, it is more apparent that we need to think of communication globally because communication networks have become global.

A significant challenge to schools across the country is integrating new technologies into the curriculum. Jerry Ceppos of Louisiana State reported, “We have recast every class to deal with tech changes in our industries.”

Nebraska’s Maria Marron cited her school’s efforts in applying new technologies to media enterprises. “We started the first drone lab in the country and this year produced a massive drone journalism conference for journalism professionals and others interested in FAA regulations,” she said.

Ken Paulson of Middle Tennessee State observed, “The purpose is to teach cutting edge media tools and to anticipate emerging media and to explore both practical and, on a philosophical basis, how these new tools will affect communication and journalism in America.”

At Stony Brook, Howard Schneider said a new “digital academy” offers a series of one-credit courses every semester that capture what is changing in the digital landscape. “Is that innovative,” he asked, “or is that just trying to keep up with things and to keep us imaginative?”

Berkeley recognized a need for media training for non-journalists in creating a new undergraduate minor focused on general media proficiencies. Edward Wasserman explained that the idea is to supply training “for people who don’t want to be journalists but do work that journalists do,” such as creating websites and social media content.

Steve Coll, Columbia University
Data journalism is so fundamental to what is happening in the field that if you aren’t doing that, other forms of innovation are incomplete.

In reflecting on technological changes, JMC leaders cited the importance of balancing new technologies with fundamental skills and traditional values in the communication curriculum. Diane McFarlin of Florida reported that her college is “in a constant cycle of curriculum revision and redevelopment. It’s pretty much an annual cycle. Undergrad one year and grad the next.”

She continued, “We have revamped the core curriculum to bring in greater emphasis on visuals, on data analytics, all of the areas where industry is evolving.” At the same time, she said, “We still very much value traditional fields and faculty – going forward I think that’s what will discern our students from others.”

According to Will Norton, the University of Mississippi continues to emphasize the importance of language skills. Norton said, “We are trying to teach new technology but as part of that very process we know that new tech doesn’t mean anything if they don’t know language.”

David Ryfe, University of Iowa
No one is asking in this new environment for workers who write worse. They are only asking for workers who write better. No one is asking for journalists who are less ethical. They are only looking for journalists who are more ethical and can reason through some new kinds of ethical dilemmas that are arising in the digital environment. Our school’s tradition is to remain close to those touchstones.

In an effort to meet the increasing demands of media and communication firms and newsrooms for employees with bilingual communication skills, a number of schools, including California State Fullerton, San Diego State, Nevada, CUNY and Florida International, have developed bilingual programs.

According to Scott Paynton, California State Fullerton’s new Latino Communication Initiative “has created a lot of national buzz. Media and communication firms look at us as a workforce pipeline.”

A number of JMC schools and colleges are moving toward new structures and approaches that suggest a trend toward interdisciplinary models. For example, Jay Bernhardt of Texas said, “When I think of innovation in our school, the term we use is interdisciplinary innovation. We think the most important innovation now is not that done within a silo but across silos. So, we really have strongly linked those two concepts.”

According to Mark Nelson of Alabama, “Sometimes structure is what drives the innovation.” Nelson pointed to a new master’s in information and digital media in his college that brought together professors in information and archival studies with journalism, advertising and public relations faculty.

At Georgia, Charles Davis said he led a reorganization intended to create a new interdisciplinary structure “that freed up people to innovate.”

Evan Cornog, Hofstra University
There are different types of innovation going on across our different areas and one of the most important things we need in our planning process is for everybody to be in the room together innovating and do less innovating track by track and more collaborative innovating.

In terms of new delivery formats, Dan McDonald of Ohio State noted that “hybrid instruction is starting to take hold” in his school. “We’re trying to marshall strengths of the internet with instruction.”

Wisconsin’s Hemant Shah similarly cited online courses as reflecting innovation. Online courses in media and diversity and media literacy are offered in the summer, he said, “so that students can do their internships wherever they might be. It’s innovative for us because of shrinking budgets and faculty size.”

Online teaching also can spark innovation in face-to-face classes, according to Jeff Rutenbeck of American, because of “a better sense of intentionality and outcomes.” He said, “Sometimes innovation is just getting your act together.”

JMC deans and directors reported a growing number of interdisciplinary collaborations across campuses as well. One example is Washington State’s joint major with the School of Business. Bruce Pinkleton described the new program as a response to the booming tech corridor between Portland and Seattle.  “I’m not sure any university leads in that field because industry moves very, very quickly,” he said. “But we are contributing to the conversation.”

Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, University of Illinois
We are recognizing that the viability of the College of Media is very much tied in to our ability to stay relevant and to partner with other units across the campus in addressing some of the most important challenges facing the nation and the world. If we don’t foster innovative thinking, we are not going to participate in the investment and the fruits of these interdisciplinary enterprises.

Michael X. Delli-Carpini reported that Pennsylvania has invested in centers that are designed to bring together quantitative and qualitative researchers. “They might cross schools, as an example, the Annenberg School and Medical or Engineering School,” he said. “They are meant to spark ideas by having people from different backgrounds approach problems in ways that we haven’t thought of.”

Rutgers’ Jonathan Potter described a new collaboration between the School of Social Work and the School of Communication and Information to support technology-infused social innovations and interventions. He also cited a new center that will launch in collaboration with the Annenberg School at Pennsylvania on digital equality and social change. “One of the things that I believe is crucial for academic units in the future—schools of media and communication are central to that—is joining together in partnerships of different kinds, teaming up.”

Many JMC schools have developed dedicated collaborative spaces to spark innovative thinking, to encourage and allow risk-taking ventures, and to facilitate and support experiential learning among faculty, staff, students, alumni and industry. The spaces are designed to accommodate start-ups, incubators, media labs, digital centers, newsrooms, strategic communication agencies and other ventures.

At Southern California, for example, Willow Bay said that the core of a new innovation lab is the state-of-the art CBS Media Center that houses all student media and “wipes away differences between platforms that are all now housed in one converged newsroom.” In stressing the collaborative nature of the space, Bay noted, “The Media Center integrates PR and not just journalism platforms. PR is very much part of that mix.”

Northwestern established an innovation and technology hub in San Francisco open to all students in journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) who participate in a variety of programs on-site. Noting that the facility supports a new specialization in media innovation and entrepreneurship, Bradley Hamm said, “This may be the biggest investment in San Francisco and Silicon Valley by a school in our field.”

Prabu David, Michigan State University
There is something very unique about how places function and contribute to collaboration in terms of creative energy.

James Shanahan said that Indiana’s two-year-old Media School developed a new facility that “would encourage innovation. All the tech is there for a digital media school of the future. A very cool kind of common area for students to collaborate in – like a living room for the campus. . . . The idea is that if we involve students together in new and different ways, they have more chances to talk about how they converge and move together and move away from old models.”

Echoing the importance of collaborative spaces in sparking innovation, Judy Oskam of Texas State cited the creation of a media innovation space called MILab, Media Innovation Lab.  In addition, a separate space was renovated which “co-located all student media together to organically connect.”

The development of new centers and institutes reflects significant investments in emerging media and entrepreneurial training. For example, the Reynolds Journalism Institute at Missouri tests and demonstrates new technologies and develops new approaches to producing, designing and delivering the news, information and advertising. According to David Kurpius, the Institute is a reflection of a culture of innovation that dates back to 1908, when the school was established. “We just don’t think to do something little,” he said.

Illinois State recently launched a social media analytics command center in which students and faculty research social media content, engage in new research projects and prepare students in all majors for professional practice. Steve Hunt described the center as a place where they “train students for positions that are going to grow.”

At Howard University, the Communications Entrepreneurship Research and Resource Center was described as an entrepreneurial incubator for students and emerging minority business owners interested in media and communications entrepreneurial training. Gracie Lawson-Borders said the activities in the Center help to “show our young people how to think outside of that box in this technology environment . . . to think beyond where they think they might land their hat.”

A number of JMC deans and directors cited the ability to hire new faculty as key to developing cultures of innovation.

North Carolina’s Susan King said, “Hiring good professors is critical. We couldn’t be doing what we are doing without them. The fact is that you are only as good as your professors. . . . The young scholars and the young practitioners we are bringing in—[innovation] is part of their DNA.”

Kathleen Richardson, Drake University
There needs to be increased flexibility on the kind of people you can hire. . . to hire faculty who perhaps don’t have advanced degrees but have industry experience.

JMC leaders said that fresh ideas and expertise in emerging areas are important in keeping pace with industry changes. Dorothy Bland of North Texas said, “When we do faculty searches, we are looking for people who will bring innovation to the table and look at the present and future in a different way.”

Michael Bugeja of Iowa State noted, “We hired several people in data journalism and data science. We are collaborating with computer science in several courses. The point is that we are investing heavily in analytics.”

Some schools have hired innovation experts. Arizona State, for example, has an innovation chief who Chris Callahan said is charged with “infusing the notion of innovation throughout the entire school.”

Other schools have turned to innovators-in-residence from industry to spark innovation processes. West Virginia University matches an innovator from a major media organization (such as Wall Street Journal, New York Times) with a representative from a small local media organization to co-teach courses and work on projects that advance industry in some way. According to Maryanne Reed, “Our primary contribution to industry is through our IR program. We are pulling people from industry to solve industry problems.”

Will Norton, University of Mississippi
We hope that everybody we hire is thinking about the future and thinking about how they can do things better. You don’t want to put a box around innovation by creating just one person.

Extracurricular activities also play a role in creating and promoting cultures of innovation in JMC programs. For example, Mark Nelson of Alabama reported that his college started a non-credit industry immersion program that takes students during class breaks to professional settings where they visit alumni on-site and rub shoulders with industry professionals. According to Nelson, “the program is a remarkable collaboration between faculty and industry leaders.”

Arizona State’s innovation chief hosts “Innovation Night at Cronkite,” which is described by Chris Callahan as “like an old-fashioned science fair on steroids. Drones fly around. People wear 3-D glasses. It gives students the opportunity to get their hands on different types of tech.”

Ohio University hosts the annual Scripps Howard Innovation Challenge, which provides students opportunities to engage with industry organizations in hands-on work to address industry challenges.  Robert Stewart said, “It gives us a chance to engage with a lot of media companies at their pain points.  They don’t necessarily have time to do a lot of that innovation.”

Finally, JMC leaders recognized partnerships with industry and foundations as vital in advancing innovative thinking and practices in both education and industry. As an example, Will Norton cited a partnership with The Freedom Forum, which created a center in honor of Charles Oglesby on Mississippi’s campus. “We have Oglesby Fellows who teach at our school, who give input into the school that is different than what most of us in the school would think. So, we have this creative petri dish that is putting good bacteria into our plate.”

Willow Bay noted that Southern California offers an industry fellowship program for minority journalists with the aim of helping to diversify newsrooms. According to Bay, “this innovative partnership with industry created a fellowship program to make sure that we were creating a diverse pipeline of technologically and journalistically skilled talent to send out to our industries.”

Temple’s David Boardman cited his school’s work in organizing the Knight-Temple Table Stakes Project, which works with four major news organizations around the country from Philadelphia, Miami, Minneapolis and Dallas to help facilitate and accelerate their digital transformations. “It’s a high-profile project,” he said.

Sonya Duhe, Loyola University New Orleans

The more we partner with professionals, the better we’ll be.

The majority of JMC academic-industry partnerships are designed to provide students experiential, hands-on training under the direction of professionals. According to Thor Wasbotten of Kent State, “We are trying to add relevance to our school through industry internships.” As one example, the school offers a virtual internship with a Chicago advertising firm that allows students to complete their internships while on campus.

Ball State partners with ESPN on Sports Link, an award-winning program which provides students the opportunity to produce sports-related content for the university’s multiple platforms, including radio, television and web. According to Roger Lavery, “A lot of other universities are coming here to see how we are doing this. The students are learning all of the intricate sides of sports production and marketing. We are proud of that program.”

In the area of strategic communication, Brian Schriner of Florida International said the school’s partnership with the Miami Ad School is a unique program through which students study on dual campuses and complete global internships, which prepare them for creative positions in industry. Schriner emphasized the importance of partnering with the community, bringing in industry and “having a curriculum doing what the profession tells you.”