With schools returning for a new academic year, find out how the lessons learned in the past 18 months will turn out students who are better prepared for the world of work. In this episode we ask: How can broadcasters benefit from the way young journalists consume media? What is a transmedia world? And what does this mean for the future of teaching?
Listen to Hear:
- Why newsrooms need digital natives
- The skills the next generation of journalists need to learn
- The challenges educators face to stay on top of emerging trends
Our Guest This Episode
Head of Media Services
Thomas More University
Tom Rumes is Program Manager and Head of Media Services at Thomas More University in Belgium. He is the author of two books—How to Story and Be the Story—on transmedia storytelling. Over the past several years, he’s lectured at MIT, Moscow State University, and Kindai University in Osaka. He’s always combined teaching with professional training and consultancy for different media companies and is the founding father of such groundbreaking projects as Jail TV and the first interactive documentary in Belgium, Brickland.
If we train the journalists how the market works today and they start working, they’re probably outdated already.
Tom Rumes, Head of Media Services, Thomas More University
Mentioned in This Episode
How can colleges and universities keep up and produce the talent this industry needs?
Listen to the podcast
Craig Wilson: Hi, my name is Craig Wilson—your host for the Making the Media podcast. Thank you so much for listening in. Back at the start of the year we looked at how the education sector was dealing with the impact of COVID, remote teaching, and the relationship with the industry when we spoke to Jillian Mitchell from Syracuse University in the United States. If you haven't heard it already then please check that episode out.
With the new academic year about to begin, what better time to revisit education once more? This time I'm talking with Tom Rumes, who is a program manager and Head of Media Services at Thomas More University College in Mechelen, in Belgium, that country's biggest media college with more than 1,600 media students.
We talked about how they try and innovate to stay ahead of trends, preparing students to go into the world of work as the industry cries out for digital natives, encouraging students to read newspapers and watch TV and what he refers to as transmedia storytelling. Let's hear from Tom now, and I began by asking him to characterize the changes he had seen in recent years about how they teach the next generation of media makers.
Tom Rumes: The most important thing is that the equipment they use, (cameras, editing suites and so on and so on) are simpler, are easier to use, and are getting cheaper, right? And that's one thing, so that's the good news. The bad news, but it's not really bad, is that nowadays journalists have to do the editing themselves—have to most of the time do the camera work themselves. So that's a big difference. Ten years ago or 15 years ago, a journalist had a cameraman with him, he had an editor who did the editing and now they have to do it all by themselves. So, the training is also getting more extensive because you all have to incorporate that into your education. But it also has some advantages now because journalists now have the control of their story more and more. In the old days, hopefully you had a good camera man, or you had another who was really creative. Nowadays you can only blame yourself.
So, there are some advantages and disadvantages. Another one is of course the speed. You only have to take care of yourself. I mean, you're alone in the car, you're very fast, you do the camera work yourself… so those are some big advantages of course.
CW: But has that also changed slightly the nature of people who are perhaps taking the courses because they need to have a bit more of a technical understanding?
TR: Yes, in a way it is. And most of the time, people are sometimes afraid of that technique. A technique is the necessary evil, as we say, but once they tried it and they see that the additive, for example, the editing process is not that hard, and even after a few weeks is really fun, sometimes they find it really fun, then they see the advantages and the fun part of the technical issue, of course.
CW: One really interesting thing that you said there, Tom, was about the journalists being more in control of what they're doing, but I guess there's one thing which is how to press the buttons. There is another thing which is the language of stories and the language of editing, so it's not part of what you try and teach people about how pictures work together, how stories need to flow as well?
TR: I think that's the most important thing. Yeah, that's what I mean by, “Technique, is the necessary evil.” It sounds very negative, but I don't mean it like that. But everything starts with a story—with a good story. Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world, Robert Nikki stated. And that is still applicable today.
So, from a good story, you can make a bad story if you're editing or your camera work is not that great, but from a bad story you can never make a good story with good camera work or with good editing. So the story is the centerpiece, and sometimes if it's a very, for example, a big documentary for Netflix, sometimes you have to work with professionals who really are specialized in one thing. For example, a director of photography or a color grade or something like that. So it's not an “or or” story, it’s an “and and” story. So sometimes I work with real easy equipment—with my smartphone. Also, the editing part of my smartphone. And sometimes I work with very big and expensive cameras and rather elaborate editing suites if I want a certain result. So, it's becoming more complex.
CW: The other thing I was going to add around that as well is that you know journalists perhaps in the past were focused. You're purely on print or purely on radio or purely on broadcast. We're seeing much more development now running what’s called these story centric workflows. Is that something that you also kind of see as well? That the journalists need to be able to adapt to these different areas?
TR: Yeah, we had a change that was called a multimedia. Then we changed to cross-media and then we changed to transmedia. And transmedia is how you tell different stories on different platforms, and they have a relationship between them. But I don't believe in the journalists who does everything on one day and make a great television piece, radio piece and a print piece and also an online piece. I don't believe in that. So, I think you still have to have an area where you are a little bit more adapted to, for example television. But nowadays a television journalist must translate his piece for a line or must translate his speech for social or translate his piece into a text environment. So, we train our journalists within a certain specialty, for example print, but that print journalists must also move in a cross media or a transmedia editorial environment.
CW: And how important is it for the university to try to be progressive in that kind of way? Rather than waiting for the industry to be telling them this is what we need future journalists to do. How does the university try to look at trends and then address them?
TR: I think that's the most important thing for schools and for us, it’s the topic we care most about. I don't think it's in all university or in all university colleges, but what I mean is we have to train the journalist of the future. If we train the journalists how the the market works today and they start working, they’re probably outdated already. So, we have to watch the trends or even incorporate the trends before they already are used within the media sector.
And it's hard here we don't succeed in that all the time. But we try to do that, so we are already experimenting with AR, VR, 360 video with motion capturing, with big data, with artificial intelligence and stuff like that. Not elaborate but we want to do that through research and through our curriculum of course.
CW: 'Cause I think the other thing that I get a sense from speaking to broadcasters now is that they are very interested in innovative ways of storytelling. I always felt when I worked in news that the news was very formulaic for how you could tell a story, and even if you didn't really know the details of a story, you could figure out why this bit of voice over then and a clip of interview. This bit of voice over then a clip of interview. But I think now, because there are the different platforms that I think broadcasters are very interested in, that kind of thing. So how do you try and sort of stimulate that within the within the audience? Because I guess from their perspective, how they're consuming news is different than perhaps Tom with the rest of all the world you and I consumed when we were their age.
TR: Yes, it's what we call non-linear consumption of media. So, they get their media from different platforms and bits and bytes and in small pieces, so as a medium maker as a producer and media producer you have to understand the rules and the storytelling behind that. And we got we get that from our own experience but also from our peer group, from our students themselves. They give us a lot of input so how they consume news? We try to really listen to them, give them lots of freedom and also freedom to experiment and the lessons we we learn from those experiments we also try to get into the curriculum.
So, the nonlinear storytelling, the multiplatform delivery, the multiplatform production is becoming more and more the standard. And that's also interesting for the for the people who are hiring our students because they're not looking for a traditional journalist all the time, they are looking for digital natives. But don't exaggerate—not every 18-year-old is a digital native. They use their smartphone of course to do lots of things, but if you ask them: do you edit on your smartphone for example? And did you already do a video editing on your smartphone? The numbers who did that is not that high and also the way they think about that. As they do it very intuitive, but they don't necessarily think thoroughly about the principles behind that, so that's our task to analyze their consumption and put it into content or into a course.
CW: Do you also try and encourage them to watch more traditional media, to watch TV news or listen to the radio, or even you know, read a newspaper? Because that may be something that they're not necessarily familiar with?
TR: Well, that's becoming a big problem and it's becoming a bigger problem each year. What we see is that our students—and I'm exaggerating a little bit—but they don't read traditional newspapers, they don't watch the news, they listen to radio (but somewhere in the background) and so on. And that's not a big issue if you are studying to be a doctor, for example. But if you're studying to be a media professional, that's a big problem. It's like a cook who doesn't taste his own food. So, what we do is try to encourage them and and also get some grading behind it, so they have to read the newspaper and then we test them. That's the only way to make sure that they do it. Once they do it again, they find it interesting. They find it fun and so on, but we have to stimulate to the process to start that.
CW: And what kind of relationship do you have with industry? You know, with the TV companies that that exists within Belgium, the other media organizations. How do you work with them? I don't know if you get students to get placements with them or to work closely with them. What kind of relationship do you have with them?
TR: In different ways of course. And every University College does that all over the world. I think it's internships. Well, that's the most important thing, I think. But a lot of our teachers, our professors are people from the industry who still work—most of the time full-time within the industry as a cameraman, as a as a producer, as a director, and so on. And it's not that easy all the time because schedules are. Mixing up and stuff like that, but the benefits you get from it are rewarding. That's one thing.
And also, when we are buying equipment or if we are building studios or if we are building editing suites we always search for feedback for people from the industry, because we find it very important that we use the tools which are also used within the industry.
I mean, you can learn them to work with, for example, a small camera. But if the industry doesn't work all the time with small cameras, the students who we trained have a big problem. So, we look at the industry as an anchor point to see what they are doing. And we try to duplicate it here into our premises.
CW: You're talking about something a little bit different, Tom. Obviously for everyone we've gone through a pretty extraordinary last, you know, 15-16 months because of COVID, so I'm interested in how you initially adapted to the challenge around, you know, remote production. And then, maybe once we've talked about that, we'll talk a little bit about how, perhaps the lessons of that can then be taken into the future. So, when COVID happened, what were the implications for you and your students?
TR: Well, the first year, COVID started in in Belgium around March, something like that. The first year was a disaster because the students were in the middle of a process. For example, the video students and the video journalists were in the middle of the editing process, which… they all edited on our campus. We have servers and editing suites and stuff like that. And then, from the end of March, they had to edit at home, which was a mix-up they had with their hard disk, everything crashed, footage got lost, and so on and so on.
The second year was much better because we already had a lot of experience in remote production, and especially within video editing. They started remote and it went through the smooth. We already did that in the past, but not that elaborate, but because of COVID, we went all the way and we saw some big advantages and now probably we will start in September normal, with classes on the campus. But we will still use the remote production because it has lots of advantages. So, it will be a mix probably.
CW: And do you also think that in some respects it's prepared the journalist better because they've had to have that degree of flexibility? And also, it's the challenges that you have faced that were exactly the same challenges that the broadcasters themselves were actually facing through that period. So, in some respects, I think there’s lots of downsides to COVID—let's not let's not kid ourselves—but there are actually some benefits that come from that, the adaptation that they had to make through that period.
TR: Yeah, definitely what we see is that the students we trained over the last year the the COVID students, you could call them, are much more flexible. Much more flexible in thinking about solutions, finding solutions. And they’re also not that stressed when they face some problems. And hopefully they will use that advantage if they start working in the media sector. So, it had some advantages and, probably will also stick around the next years because we will probably demand that kind of flexibility to in our future students.
CW: Has it also made from an educational perspective that perhaps there's a bit more focus from the students’ perspective as they have to do more self-learning because they're not going to be on campus necessarily all the time. You mentioned there may be some things that continue on. So, what kind of aspects do you mean around that?
TR: The self-learning aspect of COVID, probably, it was more important because of COVID, but that trend—we saw that already the last five or six years. I mean, when we thought for example, video editing… nowadays students say, “Well, you find those kinds of courses online, so we can learn how to work with a certain software program. We can learn that by ourselves, and we do that already.” And the big advantage to that is that you have more time to tackle the storytelling part for video editing for example.
So, again, the necessary evil of the techniques. How you put something in bold in Word or how you underline something. You have to know that, but it's rather easy and you can learn it by yourself. But how you write a good text, how you layout and so on. Those are the most important things, and we have more time for that in our classes because of the self-learning aspect.
CW: So, the academic year is about to start. You know, I think a lot of people start September-October time. So, it's about to get going again Tom. So, what's your main focus? As you look towards you know this year and going forward on how you continue to develop and bring that kind of innovative approach that you've talked about so far.
TR: Well, what we are trying to do is to be innovative and try to incorporate some trends into our system. But, I mean, you only have the time of one year and you only have one week, you only have 5 days, and you can't keep students until 11:00 o'clock at evening. So, you have to make some choices. And that's the big issue. Which strength will you follow? Which strength won't you follow because you still have to learn the basics. And don't forget the basics.
So that's always looking for some new trends and try to detect which strength will stay. And we made some mistakes in the past. I mean, for example, 3D TV. A few years ago, at IBC, everything was 3D TV and now it's it's it's dead.
So, you have to see what we're looking at now for example—a lot of camera tracking and motion capturing. That's one trend we are going to fully incorporate into our curriculum, that's one thing. So, we equipped our studio with camera trackers and so on. So, I think virtual production—again, something that has become more important because of COVID, but virtual production Virtual Studio is, the next big thing for us.
CW: And so, when you look at the landscape that exists at the moment, how prepared did you think you are for your students when they leave the college and university to then go immediately into the industry? 'Cause I always felt that there was always a big step up that had to be made at that point of the theoretical world and extent of what you do at college or university and then the practical reality.
How prepared do you think the students that come through your institution are now to actually make that step into the industry and immediately begin to make a contribution?
TR: Well, they are very prepared, and they are not prepared. And what I mean by that is we try to prepare them because it's very practical with us and they have to… they have to film; they have to edit not one piece but but 10 or 20 reports; they work in the studio; they make some studio programs also. So, we try to make it very practical, but are they fully trained to start working? I don't believe in that, and we will never succeed into that. There's still a part for the media companies to train those journalists within the company itself, and and I think that will stay, but we have to train the journalists or the media students, of course, and thoroughly, so hopefully they can start working and still have some training there.
CW: I'm sure like you’ve told me I've been in the industry for more than 30 years and I still feel I'm learning. It's the kind of nature that the industry is. You know, we continue to learn as we go through it, and I think that's an important thing. I think it's important also that people have a view that learning doesn't just stop when you leave school or university—it's important that it continues on into institutions, into the companies that you work in because, you know, hopefully you don't work for a long time.
TR: Yeah, the life learning aspect is becoming more important at our University College. What we see, and what we are doing now is we are creating courses not for our students for our 18, 19, and 20 years old, but also for the journalists in the industry. So, they come back to our University College and get some training on new trends. That's becoming more important. But also, they learn from the graduated students—our students. Because they are more digital native; they followed the new trends, and so it's a combination of both things. W lot of companies don't want or don’t always want a traditional media maker or a traditional media producer, but they want digital natives because they don't have that aspect within their company. Or not enough.
CW: Yeah, it's really, really interesting. And Tom, it’s really really great to talk to you. There is one question I ask everyone in the podcast so I will ask you, Tom: What is it, when you look at the self-education landscape at the moment, if anything, that keeps you awake at night?
TR: Um… ooh, good question. For me, it's the new trends. I really like following new trends. For example, an app like Clubhouse—I'm always the first one to try new apps or two to try new equipment and I'm really fond of that. And I'm trying to find that love for trends and technique and equipment and and technology—I'm trying to spread my love to those students and hopefully they will take those experiences with them when they start working.
CW: Excellent stuff from Tom there and lots to digest. Let me know what you think. Get in touch on social. I am @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram or email us. Our address is Makingthemedia@Avid.com.
As I mentioned at the start of the podcast, please check out the episode with Jillian Mitchell from Syracuse University for more great insights into the world of education. All the details of that are in the show notes along with information about the Avid Media campus, an avid learning partner program.
Next time on the podcast, we're talking streaming and all things SRT, so make sure to subscribe to get notified when the episode is out. And if you've enjoyed this episode then please share with your friends and colleagues. Thanks to our producer Matt Diggs and thanks to you for listening. Join me next time for more about the background to making the media.