Read All About It
How the Schieffer School of Journalism is keeping pace with technology and planning its own future as one the nation’s top j-schools.
by The TCU Magazine staff
Updated: Friday, August 28, 2009
M-M-Max Headroom, that ’80s TV cyberpunk, once espoused blipverts as
the solution to viewers switching stations during commercials. These
high-speed, high-intensity television spots only lasted about five
seconds, but, unfortunately, caused viewers’ nervous systems to
overload and their heads to explode.
Twenty years later, M-M-Max’s crazy idea has taken root (minus the
exploding heads, we think) in the form of tiny fragmented advertising
messages popping up on the web and the first-ever one-second Super Bowl
The news industry needs to pay attention. Readers and viewers are
moving online, where (foolishly), information they used to pay for is
free. Printing the news is getting way too expensive, not to mention
So newspapers, the kind we wrap fish in, are slowly going extinct.
Which makes everyone wonder ‘what’s next?’ while admitting they have no
Even Bob Schieffer ’59, chief Washington correspondent for CBS News and anchor of “Face the Nation,” wonders. And worries.
“You cannot have a democracy unless you have an independent press,”
Schieffer says. “We must have a press that gathers information that
citizens can use to compare to the government’s version of events.
That’s what separates totalitarian societies from democracies.”
That passion for the Fourth Estate has driven this consummate reporter
for more than 50 years. So, as the inspiration and eponym of the
Schieffer School of Journalism, he’s determined to help create a
nationally recognized school to prepare ethical, skilled reporters, and
is excited about progress made.
They have great leaders in place. On June 1, John O. Lumpkin took the
reins of the school as director. New faculty, such as Aaron Chimbel
‘02, the new assistant professor of professional practice who will head
the TCU News Now broadcast program, are joining the already impressive
slate of professionals and academics in the faculty.
They are getting the tools they need, too. Construction began in May on
a new media convergence lab attached to Moudy South where all the
latest technologies will merge into a comprehensive news-gathering and
delivery vehicle. There, students will get trained in every facet of
the industry, from basic writing skills to preparing a broadcast to
using microblogging tool Twitter to disseminate the news.
Soon faculty will begin recruiting the smartest and most talented students and re-examine the curriculum.
Of course those things are the trappings of an education, not the
heart. Schieffer’s legacy as the most respected reporter in the nation
“There’s more of a need than ever for trained, professional reporters,”
he says emphatically; “Reporters that follow the traditional standards
that have been established for journalists. The basic one is that you
don’t publish or broadcast something unless you know it’s true.”
He wants the right kind of reporters and editors contributing to the
national dialog, and understands that as news delivery moves online we
must teach students and the public to be more discerning about that
information. “That, I think, is going to be the main role of journalism
J-programs, therefore, must teach students to seamlessly deliver accurate news in the new media landscape.
“Today you can’t just prepare students to be newspaper reporters or
broadcast reporters or work on the Web,” Schieffer says. “We don’t know
what medium they are going to be working in — and that’s the whole idea
of what we’re trying to do now.”
The addition of a convergence lab, the collaboration with the Center
for International and Strategic Studies, and the
addition of professionals with multimedia experience all have just one
purpose — to train the next generation of journalists.
“The core of journalism, for all the technical advances we’ve made, is
still about the courage, the integrity and professionalism of the
reporter who goes to the scene, gets as close as possible to the story
and then broadcasts it or sends it back some way that people can
understand,” he says.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a reporter. All the other things are just titles. What we are is reporters.”
Get leaders with vision
Since 1927, TCU’s journalism department has churned out exceptional
graduates and enjoyed great leadership. Now, following a promotion to
the Schieffer School of Journalism in 2005, the department is tackling
the challenges of the electronic age. To do so, TCU administrators
looked for a leader with a vision tied to the 21st century.
They found it in John O. Lumpkin, a vice president with Associated
Press, who brings a strong background in management and practice.
“The charge from the school’s namesake is to develop an elite program
in journalism and strategic communication nationally,” Lumpkin says. “I
want what he wants and happily that’s also what the chancellor,
provost, dean and faculty want.”
That faculty includes professionals who provide practical training, and
professors whose scholarly work ranges from blogging to community news
to international communication. And of course, there’s the
mind-expanding liberal arts education students receive at TCU.
“To think critically is to invest the brain in the future of a chosen
field, and not just how to get through next day,” Lumpkin says.
“Journalism is built with a foundation of ethical behavior. The great
thing about a university community is that there is a culture of
research with the pursuit of knowledge and a strong ethical grid built
into the academy.”
They already have ideas about scholarly work they’d like to pursue,
such as searching for a new industry business model [through a
collaboration with the Neeley School of Business they hope to create and getting hard numbers on how students access news today.
“There’s no shortage of questions in the industry,” Schieffer says. “We want to help find those answers.”
Provide the tools
News once moved mouth to mouth. Then by print. Then through radio and
TV. Now in a wealth of electronic modes. Students planning to work in
that environment must learn to navigate them all, Schieffer says.
“I guess the old-fashioned word is cross training,” he says. “The idea
is that when our students graduate, they will be familiar with how
broadcast works, how newspapers work, how new media works. But it will
all be grounded in the standards that made journalism the profession it
By next fall, students will be learning and practicing the craft in a
$5.6 million, 2,300-square-foot media convergence lab that brings it
all together — the TCU Daily Skiff, TCU News Now and more. But no one
will be just a Skiff reporter or a broadcast student or an online
editor, they’ll be all of those things.
“They need exposure to them all because in the converged media
landscape they may one day have to perform a task that uses one
platform for distribution and then the next day another,” Lumpkin says.
Students may dub the new workspace the fishbowl: The lab features glass
walls that will open up the process to anyone passing by. Its location
in the corridor between Moudy North and South will ensure a steady flow
of Horned Frogs who will watch what is being produced inside on
flat-screen TVs mounted outside. Construction began in late May and the
convergence newsroom will be ready by fall; the production studio
should be done by the end of the year.
Converging the convergence lab into the curriculum will come next. “For
the faculty to use the facility to teach, it needs to be an operation,”
Lumpkin says. “I think we know conceptually, but literally, what are we
going to do with it? The answer is going to determine how we will drive
Developing a partnership with the Neeley School is on Lumpkin’s to-do
list. “Whatever the next model is for journalism, I hope that it comes
from the Schieffer School working with the Neeley School,” he says.
Recruit the best and brightest
Athletics does it. Admissions does it. Now the Schieffer School will do
it. They will seek out high school newspaper editors, national merit
scholars with blogs, honors students interested in news and information
and more. It will take some fund-raising and development but they are
committed to doing just that.
“It’s no different than the music school getting the best voices or
engineering going after the winners of science fairs or the baseball
team pursuing the best left-handed pitchers,” Lumpkin says. “It’s
likely that it will be a student who is in high school or junior high
right now that develops the next model for the information industry. We
want that student.”
Schieffer says they will search for just-right students for the
just-right-sized program. “We don’t envision ever having the largest
j-school in the country, but we really are serious about trying to be
Those select students will get intimate experience in every aspect of
news delivery, as well as extensive industry connections that stretch
from the Metroplex to our nation’s Capital.
“There are actually more opportunities for young journalists now than
there’s ever been,” Schieffer says. “Students just coming out of school
that have some actual news skills, they are less expensive.
“We’re going to give them the skills so they can be flexible.”
On the Web:
Video of the new journalism convergence lab
A conversation with the new Schieffer School Director John Lumpkin
New Texas Center for Community Journalism helps small-town papers
Schieffer School partnership with Washington, D.C. think tank CSIS
Some things will never change, thank goodness by Gary Cartwright '57
All aboard the content train by Steve Buttry '76
A new news model by John Moore '91 (MS '93)
Journalistic chili by Kenneth F. Bunting '70
Alums in the news industry
Robyn Kriel '05
Krys Boyd '92
Aaron Chimbel '02
Roy J. Eaton '59
John J. Lumpkin '95
Crystal Forester '04
Brandon Ortiz '04