By Meg Heckman
Auburn University is in the middle of the competitive Columbus, Georgia DMA (127), which helped inspire a new partnership between its journalism school and Montgomery-based broadcaster Raycom Media.
Raycom invested about $350,000 in equipment and expertise to create a studio near the Auburn campus. Since last fall, a trio of reporters from Raycom's WSFA and WTVM have worked there, breaking news while students watch. The studio also serves as a classroom, an arrangement that's helping to turn this historically print-focused J-school into an up-and-coming multiplatform powerhouse.
The students: Auburn's School of Communication and Journalism has about 900 undergraduates; roughly 120 are majoring or planning to major in journalism. Although the school is rooted in print, students can now choose course loads that emphasize digital technology, entrepreneurial journalism and broadcast. About 70 percent of students in the school are female.
The faculty: The school has 21 tenure or tenure-track faculty, seven full-time lecturers and 10 part-time adjunct faculty who teach as needed.
Student media: The student-run newspaper, The Auburn Plainsman, has been publishing since the late 1800s. There's also a student radio station, WEGL, and a local cable TV news program produced by students. All three outlets have active websites.
How has the partnership with Raycom changed the way Auburn teaches journalism? It's been nearly a year since Raycom started broadcasting from its bureau at Auburn. The partnership has provided students with access to modern equipment and the chance to watch the pros at work.
"Our students get to see the reporters … get a phone call, have to run out the door and then go live," says Jennifer Adams, director of the School of Communication and Journalism. "It's really great to see people working on deadline. That's really hard to replicate in the classroom setting."
How are Auburn faculty members staying current? Raycom journalists are available to answer questions and provide tutorials. The school's broadcast professor also joins in on a weekly conference call with Raycom, and Adams attends Raycom's annual news directors' conference. Outside the partnership, faculty members make an effort to attend digitally-focused conferences and trainings.
What have become the most essential tools and technologies for training students? Auburn continues to emphasize the basics of thorough, accurate reporting, but Adams says Raycom journalists have helped the school vet what equipment and software to use in the classroom. Raycom has equipped the studio with 15 high definition cameras, software packages and a LiveU backpack.
Why should a digitally-minded newsroom hire Auburn grads? In addition to watching how TV newscasts come together, students will eventually provide content for Raycom-affiliated websites. Adams says this experience will make them good candidates for future jobs with Raycom, but the skills they're learning are attractive to many other news organizations. "Any student trained in a live newsroom situation is going to be really well prepared for any job at a newspaper, television station or website," she says.