Change is the only constant and nowhere is that more true than in mass communications, where a 6:30 a.m. newspaper on every doorstep and a 6:30 p.m. newscast in every home have given way to a dizzying array of cable networks, podcasts, online news sites, social media platforms, video outlets and streaming sites.
To prepare students for careers in this shifting landscape, District 214 has launched a redesigned Multimedia Communications Pathway. The objective? To introduce students to the skills and judgment required to work across any or all of these media. To prepare for a range of professions, including - but not limited to - audio and video equipment technician, broadcast news analyst, camera operator, film and video editor, producer or director, public relations specialist, writer, reporter or sound engineering technician.
“Journalism is not going away; it’s evolving. But so many districts have gotten rid of media or journalism programs,” said Buffalo Grove English and Multimedia teacher Stefanie McCleish, who was drawn to D214 in part because of the District’s commitment to updating its teaching of multimedia communications.
Where District 214 students once progressed through a sequence of journalism or broadcast courses, they now begin with foundational writing skills paired with an introduction to multimedia communication and then advance to working with all contemporary communication platforms.
Jason Block, who has taught journalism and English at Prospect High School for 16 years, says the change in course names and sequence conveys to students that the pathway involves much more than writing. “I think one misconception before was that if you're not a gifted writer, then you can’t succeed in or enjoy this course,” he said “The new focus is that there are many ways to tell a story. We work with students to say, ‘I want to tell this story. Now let's examine the elements and decide: Is it best told in a written story? Is it best told in a photo story? Is it best told in a podcast?’”
Students can learn to tell stories in all of these ways—and more—in the Multimedia Communications Pathway. Building on that concept, schools are combining previously siloed communication platforms. For instance, the new Buffalo Grove Network is an umbrella for students working collaboratively on The Charger newspaper, the Stampede yearbook, BGTV and a new podcast, “The Unspoken Herd.” Similarly, Prospect is rebranding its newspaper, The Prospector, as Knight Media, which also encompasses the newspaper’s online presence as well as Knight TV and a podcast, “Knight Voices.”
Students are utilizing these opportunities to deliver a wide range of stories—from livestreaming band concerts and swim meets to live tweeting a staged news conference, or from serious print accounts of election result implications to fun TV reports covering friendly debates about when it’s OK to start displaying holiday decorations.
This approach pays career-readiness dividends. “Now, when you get into the media world, you’re not just a writer,” McCleish said. “You might have to take photos. You mIght have to edit your own film clips. You might be going on social media. You really need all these skills to stand out and be marketable.”
Said Elk Grove High School teacher Kevin Modelski, “This is a field that is about getting experience and clips and projects, so it’s beneficial for students to pursue stories that interest them in ways that interest them. If they do pursue this in college, then they already have a body of work that shows they’re capable of telling stories at that higher level.”
Introducing students to so many means of communicating helps them decide which aspects of multimedia communications most interest them. Prospect High School sophomore Alyssa Degan entered the pathway with a long-standing interest in video. “Mr. Block is really good at introducing us to all the things so that we really know what we’re doing and how to do it,” she said. “I’m thinking of maybe moving out of news and more to creative video. What we’ve done so far definitely helps me know how to do other things.”
Buffalo Grove senior Zoey Heinrich, co-editor of Buffalo Grove’s student newspaper, agrees that working through the pathway has helped her sort out what she wants to pursue. While she no longer envisions a journalism career, she values the experience. “Being part of a newspaper and now multimedia program has given me a very solid writing and editing background that will be important no matter where I end up,” she said.
On that point, the Multimedia Communications teachers agree. “To be able to sit across from someone and have a conversation; to look someone in the eye and listen to what they’re saying; to have those interview skills … whether they become a lawyer, or doctor, or work in PR or whatever, these are skills that are universal,” Block said.
Equally important, particularly when information is disseminated through so many sources, are imparting journalistic values that apply across all platforms and learning how to be informed consumers of news and information.
So, in addition to helping students assess and analyze the quality and reliability of news and information they are consuming, Modelski said, multimedia teachers also instill core values. “We still hammer home all the principles of American journalism,” he said. “We still start off with teaching news values, principles, ethics, court cases, all the basics that you need. We go over court cases; we want them to know what they can do as student journalists and what they can’t do.”