Schools of journalism, media and communication (JMC) are scrambling to maintain relevance in a digital world changing at lightning speed, while housed and operating in slow-moving institutions resistant to change, as we wrote in our recently-released JMC Innovation Project report.
The JMC Innovation Project found encouraging evidence that progress is underway in developing cultures of innovation. At the same time, a lot of work remains if schools are to meet the innovation challenges of the 21st century.
The project assessed the scope and status of innovation in public and private U.S. institutions to gauge the development of innovation cultures. Additionally, we sought to showcase and share innovation efforts and identify gaps and areas of opportunity for future development at JMC schools.
Over a six-month period in 2016-2017, we conducted telephone interviews with 70 deans and directors of JMC schools and colleges that are members of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (ASJMC) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) and those with programs accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), gathering additional information during an ASJMC conference.
Investments in Innovation
Whether in a well-resourced private institution or an underfunded public university, in urban or rural areas, in large or small media markets, we found positive signs that cultures of innovation exist or are in progress in many schools and colleges. JMC leaders cited a wide array of innovation initiatives, ranging from drone labs to virtual internships to media innovation spaces to data analytics courses to immersive media VR work to social media research centers to game design projects to bilingual media programs to entrepreneurial incubators.
The interviews showed investments have been made primarily in:
- curriculum development;
- new interdisciplinary structures;
- cross-campus collaborations;
- collaborative spaces;
- new centers and institutes;
- faculty recruitment and hiring;
- extracurricular activities;
- and external partnerships.
Many schools are investing in multiple areas, but at the same time, they don’t always add up to cultures of innovation. As a result, innovation efforts often are limited in scale and impact.
“The most important element is trying to infuse innovation within and throughout the culture of the school,” Dean Christopher Callahan of Arizona State University said.
When asked to rate the innovation they see in JMC schools and colleges across the country on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (outstanding), deans and directors responded with ratings from 1.5 to 5, with a mean rating of 3.19.
The report notes a list of challenges identified by JMC leaders as obstacles to innovating, including:
- the fast pace of technological change and industry transformations;
- lack of funding and other resources;
- inability to identify and/or hire faculty and staff with special expertise in emerging areas;
- foundation support limited to a select group of programs;
- inadequate university level support;
- faculty resistance to change;
- bureaucratic roadblocks;
- shifting enrollments;
- and outdated tenure and promotion policies.
The interviews also revealed a lack of strategic focus that has stymied the creation of cultures of innovation in some programs.
“There has been a value of late on newness and innovation simply for its novelty and not necessarily for any definable goal. It needs to move toward a definable goal,” Dean David Boardman of Temple University said.
Some JMC deans and directors said a reactive mindset is slowing progress in programs primarily focused on the latest technologies, which can detract from long-range innovative thinking.
“To a large extent in the last 20 years in journalism schools and schools of mass communication, the innovation we have been doing is more reactive than proactive,” Dean Evan Cornog of Hofstra University said.
JMC leaders also reported a lack of formal measures to track the impact of innovations.
“Sometimes we forge ahead into these areas without thinking about how we are going to show the impact of it,” Dean Mark Nelson of the University of Alabama said.
The interviews revealed innovation efforts primarily focused on journalism and media, despite student demand for and increased enrollments in strategic communication, including public relations and advertising.
The Project also found a significant gap in research that could play a critical role in creating new knowledge that helps to advance innovation.
“We are [having an impact] . . . but institutionally not doing as good a job as we could be . . . in terms of being a thought leader for industry,” Dean Marie Hardin of Pennsylvania State University said.
JMC deans and directors cited four key areas for enhancing innovation efforts in education and industry.
First, they noted the importance of embracing an innovation mindset.
“If I had to define a model for innovation, it is that anything is possible. You want people to think that way. If they think that way, it is the most important thing in creating a culture,” Dean Howard Schneider of Stony Brook University said.
Second, they expressed interest in collaborating with other JMC schools and colleges on common challenges and opportunities. Ideas included creating regional coalitions to collaborate on research and professional projects; creating open source classes in specialty areas, such as data analytics; creating regional programs with geographical interest; and partnering on grant proposals for multi-school foundation funding.
Third, JMC leaders identified opportunities for expanding the reach of journalism, media and communication through collaborations with other disciplines both on and off campus.
“The real innovation comes at the intersections,” which are “critical to unconstrained thinking that leads to new ideas and new ways of doing things,” Dean Willow Bay of the University of Southern California said.
Finally, JMC deans and directors called for expanded industry partnerships to capture the creativity of academia and industry in creating cultures of innovation that advance new ideas and practices in journalism, media and communication education.
Allan Richards is an associate professor of journalism and media in the School of Communication+Journalism at Florida International University in Miami. He formerly served as associate dean of the school and chair of the journalism and broadcasting department and was co-founder and executive editor of the South Florida News Service. Richards received the Scripps Howard Foundation/AEJMC Teacher of the Year Award in 2017 for his innovative work in teaching and program development.
Kathy Fitzpatrick is a professor and former senior associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. She formerly served as associate dean of graduate programs and research in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University, where she directed the development of the school’s first fully online graduate program. Fitzpatrick serves on the editorial boards of top journals in communication and diplomacy and as co-editor of the Palgrave MacMillan book series in global public diplomacy.