Multimedia Journalist Brings Expertise into the Classroom
The last decade has brought enormous and rapid change to the field of journalism. While writing and reporting will always be at the core of the program, the integration of new technologies into traditional coursework is vital to the well-prepared journalist. These days, with the decline of print news, it’s all about new media, aka convergence journalism.
Students now must learn to report and write for a variety of media: print, television, radio and online, sometimes all at once. It’s blogging while gathering the facts, or producing an audio-slideshow for a website that complements the print version of a story. It’s social networking using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It’s the future of journalism and public relations, and it requires skills in creative thinking, reporting, writing, photography, audio and video production that allow organizations to maximize staff skills in an age of shrinking revenues.
Enter Brian McDermott, hired into the Journalism program as a lecturer this past year to teach classes in photojournalism, multimedia journalism, video and web design. “This generation of students is the first to grow up fully immersed in digital culture,” he says. “They have a great instinct for new media communication, and that understanding is exactly what media industries need right now. I’m optimistic about the long-term prospects for our majors. Even graduating into this tough economy, they will have more tools than generations before to do the good work of journalism: find the truth, and tell people about it.”
McDermott’s presence on campus marks a homecoming. “My undergraduate degree is from UMass [in art history, earned in 2001]. Actually, I thought to come here because I wanted to be a zoologist and in high school I saw a picture of a UMass zoology student working with animals! Obviously, I changed course significantly in college.”
Landing a job as a photojournalist for a newspaper near his hometown of Pittsburgh, McDermott worked there until 2005. Feeling “antsy,” he decided to go to grad school in journalism at the University of Montana in Missoula. “While there, I began to publish not just photographs, but writing and multimedia as well,” he says. “I taught there and really loved the experience.”
In 2007 McDermott headed back east, moving to Manhattan and doing stories, photos and multimedia for the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Associated Press, and many other smaller outlets. He also started building websites and working with video. “That range of multimedia experience culminated in my job here at UMass,” he says.
“What I’ve always loved about journalism,” McDermott says, “is that there is no typical day or week. In the past two months I’ve taught classes on how to program a button in Flash, 20th century documentary photography, and the ethics of using quotes from Facebook in news stories. In my personal journalism work, I photographed a poet for a magazine cover, put together a multimedia piece about urban beekeeping, and did a guest blog for Free Press about journalism education. I’m thrilled to be here and hope to be for a long time.”
To date, McDermott has developed two new classes, with a third on the way for spring 2011. He’s also redesigned and administers the Journalism website. “I work closely with my students to produce strong works of journalism,” he says. “We take pictures together. We build websites together. We meet one-on-one to discuss rough drafts for multimedia packages–that’s a written story, along with an audio slideshow, that we put online as a class project. Teaching three classes each semester keeps me busy, but I have no complaints. I have the entire summer to work on personal projects. In fact, I got an SBS grant to pursue an in-depth reporting project this summer.
“The skills journalism majors learn are practical and vital across different professions,” McDermott notes. “Pithy writing, multimedia know-how, the ability to find the truth in the spin, meeting deadlines, crafting narratives, knowing how to get information from strangers are skills that apply to almost any job.” The guest blog post for Free Press details McDermott’s journalism teaching philosophy more fully.
“What’s great about the UMass Journalism program,” McDermott adds, “is that we make sure students don’t get lost in the crowd. Our small classes and experienced, friendly faculty help students produce great work.”
April 23, 2010