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Medill Charts New Course in Response to Media Revolution

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June 12, 2006 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- With dramatic changes rocking the media industries and an increasingly fragmented audience for information of all kinds, Northwestern University's Medill School is reshaping how it educates future journalists and marketing communications professionals.

"The revolution in media requires a revolution in how we educate our graduates for the 21st century,” said John Lavine, Medill dean and chief architect of a new strategic plan for the school called Medill 2020. The plan -- available on the Medill Web site -- emphasizes the overlap of both the editorial and marketing communication sides of media, an emphasis that Lavine expects to distinguish Medill from other top journalism schools.

“Today Medill is home to two top-ranked but separate programs and faculties in journalism and in integrated marketing communications (IMC),” said Lavine. “Medill will be one school in which students continue to graduate with a deep understanding of journalism or IMC. In addition, however, our journalism students will leave knowing how to engage an audience for the stories they develop and our IMC students will leave with a greater appreciation of storytelling and of the media that they must work with.”

As a first step, Medill faculty members are attending demanding classes at which media industry and leading academics present their thoughts about the future of media from now through 2020. They also are learning new ways to tell better, deeper stories across all of the print and digital platforms in words, audio and video. A recent lecturer, for example, was Lincoln Millstein, senior vice president and director of digital media at Hearst Newspapers, who previously oversaw digital and online operations at The New York Times Company.

Medill professors will return to their classrooms in the fall with a deeper, first-hand understanding of online, offline and wireless media, as well as an understanding of the appropriate intersections of journalism and integrated marketing communications. “Some parts of journalism and marketing must remain separate, but we must not fear using new tools to create an informed public nor using the right media platform to effectively reach and engage an audience,” Lavine said.

While journalists of the past generally focused on reporting for a single medium, today magazines and newspapers use audio and video on their Internet and cell phone offerings. “It's not enough to train reporters to write for the evening broadcast news show or for the features section of a daily newspaper,” Lavine said. “Our job is to create journalists who can win and hold the attention of media consumers faced with limited time and abundant media choices.”

Beginning this fall, Medill graduate students will be equipped with handheld video cameras, video iPods and powerful laptop computers with both data-analysis software and media production capabilities. “Journalism students will learn from IMC faculty how to better understand audience and how to craft engaging products in the appropriate media format for their audience,” said Lavine. “IMC students also will learn the narrative and storytelling skills for which Medill journalism professors are famous.”

The development of Medill's new curriculum will begin early this summer, with the first formal draft of the curricular changes anticipated in the fall. In adapting its curriculum to reflect and anticipate changes in media, Medill also will be deepening its expectations for demanding reporting and superior writing skills as well as its strengths in data-driven, customer-centric marketing communication and research.

Lavine came to Medill from Northwestern's Media Management Center, a center that educates senior media executives and conducts research on some of the media's most pressing challenges, especially how to deepen or enlarge audiences in the digital age.

Medill's strategic plan also emphasizes the importance of giving students “real world” experience. In addition to offering internship experiences in marketing and journalism, Medill will create temporary storefront newsrooms in diverse Chicago neighborhoods while continuing to maintain its Evanston, Chicago and Washington newsrooms that serve professional media outlets.

“The press cannot create an informed public if nobody's reading, seeing or hearing their stories. IMC research can help providers of news and other information reach their intended audience,” Lavine said. “Today's multitasking consumers pay attention to relevant, trustworthy journalism and marketing. Our research makes it clear that younger audience members understand the distinction between journalism's role to inform and marketing's role to persuade.”

Contrary to those who say that print is dead, Lavine said print media is the “ultimate user-friendly medium with a capacity to provide depth and involvement that is difficult to beat.” Furthermore, he envisions print journalism as an anchor in a portfolio of media for a growing, not a shrinking, audience for those companies that reach out to diverse audience segments where, when and in a way the audience wants to receive needed news and marketing insights.

Lavine called the demand for relevant, engaging messages and storytelling “key” to the future of media, and added “Medill is especially well-positioned to produce students who understand this emerging frontier.”

To learn more about Medill 2020, visit http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/medill/inside/news/dean_john_lavine_unveils_vision_for_medill_2020.html.