Alberta’s largest cities boast a solid roster of journalism schools. Their roots date back to when Walter Cronkite dominated the broadcast world and Rolling Stone was just a newcomer on the newsstands. Since the 1960s, Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and Calgary’s SAIT Polytechnic (SAIT) have offered two-year journalism diplomas that deliver fast-track, hands-on education. “We’re trying to get students work-ready,” said Willem Sijpheer, journalism chair at SAIT. “We do simulate a lot of the industry practices. The students seem to be more successful doing it this way. They like…living it, rather than just doing it out of a book.” SAIT has a program that lets students specialize in print and online journalism or photojournalism.
NAIT has two broadcast programs that allow students to specialize in radio or television.
The program used to be one year of radio and one year of TV. That changed probably in the early 90s,” said Patrick Galenza, radio and television chair at NAIT. “From there we’ve added sales and promotion…we’ve worked with radio stations to find out what key things they need for students to get jobs.
Mount Royal University in Calgary offers a program that has been revamped several times since it began as a two-year diploma in the 60s. In 1995, it became an applied degree and in 2008, it became the current bachelor of communication – journalism with four years of study. “It’s not your father’s journalism program,” said Terry Field, journalism chair at Mount Royal. “It’s not print-centric.” Over the past decade, the program has incorporated audio, video and web elements, he said. Students are now more confident to tackle multimedia tasks in the workplace.
Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton joined Mount Royal’s ranks this fall with the launch of a new bachelor of communication studies – journalism program. MacEwan’s degree was also created from a two-year diploma. It combines traditional and new media education. MacEwan calls it “tradigital”, said Sherrell Steele, manager of the school of communications.
The program combines practice and theory to give you a highly marketable skill set…that will not only get you to work quickly, but that will enable you to keep up with the changing landscape of global communications.
The program has six full-time faculty members, equal to Mount Royal’s. NAIT and SAIT’s have eight faculty members. MacEwan’s program admitted 130 students this year, while NAIT let 60 in over two intakes. SAIT admitted 96 and Mount Royal, 63. Together, the schools cover all the journalism fundamentals: ethics, research, writing, photography, print, broadcast and online journalism. Media convergence and social media have made courses like design, marketing and career management more attractive to journalism schools and students. The trend is reflected in these curriculums.
There comes a time when you kind of have to throw everything (in the curriculum) in the blender, Sijpheer said. At SAIT we kept what was good and took out what was no longer relevant. We are staying current…and we do this with help from industry. They are our ultimate customers. We ask them, ‘What do you like to see in our grads?
Steele echoed that sentiment.
The news and media market in Edmonton has been shifting and evolving. Traditional jobs seem to be morphing,” she said. MacEwan’s program has responded to the changes with courses like advanced online journalism and multimedia authoring.
Students at Mount Royal actively use social media. However, it doesn’t monopolize their education. According to Terry Field, their approach to social media is more cautious and grounded by craft.
I think schools make a big mistake jumping into online media before really even understanding it, according to Terry Field. Sort of early adopters of courses in online media were predicting that conventional media would disappear and a lot of nonsense along those lines. We’re careful here not to leap into these trends. We have love and respect for the craft, but we’re not expecting the students to live in our image because the world they’re going into is their world to go into.
NAIT’s students have also become social media-savvy.
We’ve got a class that students take on the Internet. How to write blogs, tweet (and) use it to tie into radio and TV,” Galenza said.
Schools simply have to embrace technology to help their students make informed decisions, Sijpheer said.
If you type one word (in an Internet search engine) you’re going to get 10,000 hits. Which one are you going to believe? Regardless, the essence of journalism – face-to-face interaction with sources who tell stories – doesn’t live behind a screen. It’s crucial for students to get involved in their communities.
MacEwan’s students publish a digital newspaper called the West Edmonton Local (www.westedmontonlocal.ca). At Mount Royal, the students publish a community newspaper, the Calgary Journal (www.calgaryjournal.ca). “We have a lot of engagement with community groups,” Field said. “For specific courses we’ll request people come in and meet with students.” NAIT’s students produce NAIT NewsWatch, which airs Sunday nights on CTV2 across Alberta. The school also broadcasts campus and online radio. We’ve also got a career investigation that the students go through when they get in,” Galenza said. “They talk to industry and get a feel for it. It’s important to talk to two or three individuals in the business.”
At SAIT, the students publish The Polytechnic newspaper. Students are encouraged to do not-for-profit work, too, Sijpheer said.
We will not do it for profit, that’s taking work away from the industry. We do a lot of work for the hospitals and cancer societies,” he said. “A lot of people want free labour and we will not allow free labour. If you want, you can hire the students. They need to eat.
Industry-simulated experience helps prepare students for their work terms, which are required in all of the programs. SAIT’s students must complete two-week field placements each semester. The school aims to find the right fit for students and employers.
At MacEwan, the four-week work term can be stretched out and completed part-time. Steele said the school hopes interns will be welcomed by the community. Mount Royal has a 12-week field placement, but students are encouraged to do more than one. The school expects employers to provide interns with meaningful work, Field said. Students report they “learned significant lessons, not just in the work itself, but also how to act in the workplace and how to connect with people.” Field reports that “Employers are almost always pleased with how interns conduct themselves and the skills they have.”
NAIT offers the longest field placement: 16 weeks. It gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the industry, Galenza said.
Radio-television is an industry of egos and people that have that mindset are more than willing to help you and take you under their wing. The relationships that are built are usually long lasting. It’s who you know and what you get to know (and) in a lot of cases you get hired right out of (a work term).
Another positive indicator of the programs’ value lies in the numbers. There is no data on MacEwan’s program, as students haven’t graduated yet. Statistics from NAIT show within one year of graduation, 98.2 per cent of radio students and 94.3 per cent of television students find jobs, according to the school’s website. SAIT has a 93 per cent employment rate within a year and 86 per cent of jobs are in a journalism-related field. Twenty-one per cent of students choose to further their education, Sijpheer said. Don Best from Mount Royal’s office of institutional analysis and planning said the school’s figures aren’t reliable because the program is fairly new. A sample survey of graduates from 2009 found 94 per cent were employed within a year and 86 per cent worked in a related field.
If you’re looking for an intern for your business that offers journalism students an opportunity to hone their skills or want to get your news out to a younger, educated and active audience in Alberta, check out the opportunities offered by the journalism schools in Alberta.