National Press Club

New J School Requires Flexibility, Transparency, AZ State U Dean Says

November 18, 2008 | By Gil Klein

PHOENIX – Constructing a new journalism building in this time of turmoil in the news business required planning versatility into the space so that it can change as journalism changes, Christopher Callahan, dean of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said Monday.

The school is celebrating a weeklong “Cronkite Week” to honor the opening of its 100,000-square-foot building in downtown Phoenix. It invited the National Press Club to present its centennial documentary, “The National Press Club: A Century of Headlines,” as the opening event.

“While building the school, we were very cognizant of the fact that the business was changing rapidly,” Callahan told Gil Klein, director of the Club’s Centennial Education Forum, who presented the documentary and answered questions about the Club.

“You will see very few walls in this building,” Callahan said. “ Even in our big TV studios, it is basically all one big room. We did that because we wanted to keep it highly flexible. The one constant is that the news business will change, and we want to be able to easily adapt the building to the changes.”

Walk through the building, and one can see its transparency, he said. Wherever you are, you can see what the students are doing. And the students in the newsroom can see out, both into the hallways and into the city.

Everything about the curriculum also has had to change, he said, to meet the rapid changes in the business. Students, especially those in the print sequence, must learn to present their stories on any platform.

But at the same time, he said, they must be steeped in the traditions and ethics of journalism and in the timeless basic skills of gathering information, checking it for accuracy, and producing it in a clear, concise way.

“We need to redouble our efforts on those traditional journalism values while we are going down this other path of exploring multimedia technology,” Callahan said.

The basic writing class is more traditional than it has ever been, he said, because the skills that online journalism requires are the same skills that a wire service reporter has always had: Producing instant breaking news by gathering information quickly and accurately and disseminating it in a very simple form. Only after students have mastered those skills do they go on to learn about multimedia forms of reporting, Callahan said.

Despite the bad news about the journalism business, students are still flocking to the major, he said.

“Young people are more engaged in civic life than at any time in my lifetime,” Callahan said. “And there is so much media, and they are so media savvy growing up with this technology. While this new technology might frighten me, it excites them.”

And jobs are not impossible to get, he said. Pointing toward the Arizona Republic building near the campus, he noted that while that newspaper is shedding a lot of experienced, expensive reporters, it is hiring younger, cheaper reporters who have the new multimedia skills.