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Adapting courses for evolving media landscape

Dean Nelson

His students will help the media ‘figure it out’

Dean Nelson is the founder and director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego, a post he has held for 30 years. He is also the founder and director of the annual Writer's Symposium By The Sea, now in its 21st year. He has written off and on for the New York Times for 25 years, as well as for the Boston Globe, USA Today, San Diego Magazine, and several news sites.

Nelson explains how his PLNU journalism program has adapted to the ways people are finding their news these days, and offers his views about today’s journalism students.

NL: How has your journalism program changed in response to the evolving media landscape?

DN: We have added a Computer Assisted Reporting class, taught by one of the data experts who used to work at The San Diego Union-Tribune (now the U-T San Diego). That class alone has given our students a distinct advantage over others, because it's not a class that's offered by very many undergraduate programs. We also added a multimedia journalism class, which has students telling stories in a variety of ways. And our student news website (in addition to a newspaper, which, surprisingly, students still read) just took second place in the SPJ Regional competition. Only UCLA's site ranked higher than ours. Our internships are mostly on websites, and involve a lot of social media.

One thing that hasn't changed over the years is that we still think students need to be well read as well as being well-trained in storytelling. So our students still have to take several literature classes, and our writing classes still emphasize content and the craft of storytelling. The students need to know how to tweet and create listicles, but storytelling still matters. Content still matters.

And finally, we are moving away from having a separate “broadcast journalism” major. We're moving it all under one “multimedia journalism” major, where everyone will know how to manage all forms of media.

NL: Have journalism students changed as well? Describe the mindset of journalism students today.

DN: Some journalism students are still very much in the “watchdog” mindset, which of course the world needs. And some are attracted to narrative non-fiction writing. But most lean away from the more mainstream news media in both their news appetites and their employment desires. Most need some extra incentive to keep up on current events, but so did I when I was in college. I would say that most students get their news from what others have posted on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. They almost never just go to a site and scroll through what that site has to offer.

NL: In your view, how has the American news media done as far as adapting to the ways so many people are finding their news these days?

DN: They haven't done a good job at all, but they also don't need one more person telling them what a lousy job they're doing. They're trying to figure it out. The students we have currently will help them figure it out. So the news organizations should hire as many of our students as possible!

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