Award-winning Journalist Brings Multimedia Talents to the Classroom
Technological innovations are causing a massive transformation in the field of journalism. These days, telling stories involves blogs, audio, video—and elements of all three—in addition to the old standards. This multimedia approach, or convergence journalism, has created mobile journalists—MoJos—who carry laptops, audio recorders, digital cameras, video cameras, and more wherever they go. Many rarely go to the office, opting instead to file their photos, videos and stories from wherever their assignment has taken them.
Last fall, Stephen J. Fox, an award-winning editor and reporter for print and online publications—including ten years at washingtonpost.com—joined the journalism faculty to teach convergence and multimedia journalism. “So far, I’ve introduced these concepts into my sports writing class and this semester will do the same in Politics, Journalism and the Web. I’ve seen firsthand the growing need for those entering the profession to have well-honed multimedia skills,” Fox says. “To succeed as a journalist today, you need to get beyond knowing how to write and edit really well. Media outlets now are looking for entry-level journalists with photo, video, audio and Web skills too.”
Upgrading equipment in the program, Fox says, is key. “We’d love to develop a state-of-the-art multimedia lab, but to deal with our short-term needs, for now, we are taking a more practical route, buying new cameras and road-testing the Journalism Mobile Laptop Lab (JMLL). Thanks to the generosity of the SBS Dean’s office and OIT, we have installed 15 Mac laptops loaded with software in a wireless lab in Bartlett Hall. The JMLL is built on the concept of preparing students for the practical realities of journalism.” Click here to watch a video about the lab
By helping to introduce concepts of Web journalism into all basic news writing classes, offering blog-training for faculty, and bringing campus professionals to address how convergence media has changed their jobs, Fox is playing a leading role in moving the journalism program into this new direction. “Although the program is small,” he says, “we have a wide variety of expertise and skills sets. Everyone is devoted to teaching and the needs of the students. The bond between students and faculty is strong, and I’ve been struck by the high quality of the students. (Read Fox's "Why Blog? A Guide for Students.")
“More and better equipment, state-of-the-art labs and a speaker series every semester is fundamental to building the program, but it all requires funding—and I continue to seek ways to raise that money. It’s an exciting time for journalism—and it’s going to become more so.”
The field of journalism has long excited Fox, dating back to the early 1970s when the Watergate scandal was making headlines. When the movie, All the President’s Men, came out soon thereafter, Fox recalls, “I became a ‘Woodstein’ wannabe. I just wanted to get out there and report.” He worked for several newspapers in Connecticut and New York. But eventually Fox realized that to really make it—to achieve his goal of working for the Washington Post—he needed to get serious about getting his degree.
At the University of Arizona, Fox completed the journalism major cum laude, while chalking up some more experience as a sports writer for the Tucson Citizen. Moving to D.C. in 1995 he became a national college basketball writer for United Press International, covering the Big East as well as the NCAA tournament.
Sexy as that sounds, when the position of producer/copy editor opened up at the Post to help turn out its online version, Fox saw an opportunity to make his goal a reality. “I had only one html course under my belt, and the Web was this new and weird invention, but I felt a future in it.
“The 1996 election was my first big story at The Post and it came during my first month on the job. Unfortunately, it was a night when nothing worked—and when rumors of CEO Don Graham and Executive Editor Len Downie showing up swept the newsroom, I began to seriously wonder what I had gotten myself into!”
Fox’s openness to the possibilities that technology and the Web offered journalism served him well as he grew professionally, eventually becoming one of a trio of senior editors who managed the website’s 24-hour news operation. At one point, he served as the final decision maker for the homepage’s content, which got about 10 million hits per day. Among his news team’s numerous awards are the Online News Association’s “Most Creative Use of the Medium” as well as the EPpy award for Best Internet News Service.
“It was an exhilarating time,” Fox reminisces, “with many highs and some lows. Technological breakdowns were frustrating—sort of like changing a tire while speeding down the highway. Having a strong background in print and a foot in the ‘new’ world helped me bridge some gaps with many reporters and editors in the Post’s newsroom. For people who either didn’t get Web journalism or were intimidated—or even threatened—by changes, this was really important. We learned what worked and what didn’t, and I was lucky enough to be part of some incredible history.”
During the 9/11 terror attacks, Fox was the political/national editor at the Post’s website. He says that day—and the weeks and months afterwards—provided the strongest challenge in his career to the journalistic concepts of fairness and balance. “It was a time dominated by rumor, innuendo, and the search for a scapegoat,” Fox says.
“Holding fast to journalistic principles, and trying not to rush to conclusions was difficult,” he adds. “It was a sobering time to be a journalist, especially considering our location. On September 11 we could see the smoke coming from the Pentagon from our building’s balcony, and rumors quickly filled the newsroom that another plane was headed for the White House. Yet, all my colleagues stayed and did their jobs.
“Technology and the Internet are transforming how we think, act and live,” says Fox, who is intent on building bridges and spreading the concepts behind multimedia journalism and convergence in the journalism classroom. “I try to replicate real-life situations and recreate a newsroom atmosphere,” Fox says. “Deadlines are real and the costs for missing them are real too. I maintain high ethical and editing standards and hold students accountable for their actions. It’s challenging for them, but I hope that by making them MoJos they will be much more prepared for the professional world when they graduate.”
February 13, 2008