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Words of Wisdom: Chad A. Stevens on learning important multimedia skills

We’re kicking off a new series on the blog, talking with educators and journalism students about the value of Journalism school and the multimedia skills students need to start their careers.

There has been a lot of discussion lately on whether it’s worth it to go to Journalism school, and whether students are learning the multimedia skills they need to be successful in a pretty rough market. As the school year gets back underway, we’re getting more and more questions from students wondering what skills they need to acquire to land jobs.

Obviously, there are no simple answers to these questions, but we hope to offer up some words of wisdom for students and others interested in the profession, especially during this time of transition.


We’re going to kick it off with Chad A. Stevens- a former MediaStorm Producer, who is now an Assistant Professor at UNC Chapel Hill.

Where are you teaching? How does multimedia journalism fit into the curriculum at your school?

Visual Communication, UNC-Chapel Hill

In the School of Journalism at UNC there has actually just been a pretty major curriculum shift. Like in all journalism programs that require all students to take an Intro to News Writing/Reporting, now at UNC all journalism majors have to take an introduction to multimedia/audio/video course. The is the first official semester that this course has been offered and it is being taught by faculty in Visual Communication (me) and Broadcasting.

Beyond the student’s entry point into the Journalism program, multimedia is a part of every class and there seems to be a lot of cross-pollination and collaboration among sequences. The whole idea of specific sequences isn’t pushed here, but of course students find their focuses and dive in depth into those interests. But every student is touched by two main themes: you have to know how to write and you have to know multimedia (now defining that may be up for debate).

What classes do you teach? What other multimedia classes are there for students to take in your program?

Intro to Audio/Video Information Gathering, Intro to Photojournalism, Multimedia Storytelling, Advanced Photojournalism, etc.

Even the photojournalism classes are incorporating multimedia, at least audio gathering. And UNC’s projects/workshops all include intensive multimedia – from storytelling to web development and interactive information graphics packaging.

For example http://unc.news21.com/

What made you decide to teach? Are you still able to work on your personal projects while you’re teaching?

I love teaching and feel lucky to be in the classroom again, and there is a tremendous amount of freedom and encouragement to continue creative and professional projects. Actually, it’s essential. There are no faculty jobs where you sit back and coast through academia. Survival is largely based on that professional and creative work.

What is the most important thing you want your students to learn?

Adaptation, evolution, openness, commitment. Why? Because there is no easy path and it will take every one of these qualities and more to make it.

What essential multimedia skills should students be graduating with?

I think every student is going to find their own way. There is no formula anymore (internship = job). That is gone. So now what? Traditional journalism jobs are rare if not extinct (at the moment). “New media” jobs are out there but it is unclear where and what skills are needed and how to find them. Maybe it’s a cross-sector approach. … I’m realizing that I’m not actually answering the question. Ok.

Speak the language of multimedia.
Understand and be excited about the potential of multimedia.
Content gathering and storytelling:
Audio, Video, Stills
Interactive Design and distribution:
At least the basics of HTML, CSS and Flash (again, speak the language/
know the potential)

But what transcends all is the ability to tell stories – find stories, recognize them and then tell them.

To put it another way… They need to be a little Bob Sacha, a dash of Eric Maierson, a pinch of Tim Klimowicz and a healthy dose of Jessica Stuart.

Do you think all journalism students need new media skills?

Yes. At the absolute minimum, they must be able to speak the language and understand the potential (and honestly if they understand that, then they probably are gathering as many multimedia skills as possible while they’re in the sweet, nurturing womb of the university.)

Bottom line: Journalism school- worth it or not?

Without a doubt.

Are there any online resources you recommend to your students? (inspiring videos/sites, learning tools, online training, etc)

Oh geez. Everything. Is that an acceptable answer? There is no single source. Most of my harvesting of the good stuff comes from my network on the delicious online community. But to try and be helpful… online training: Lynda.com (I use this in class), inspiration: endless sources. Start at the major competitions and dive into the winners. Watch the Webby winners, etc.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

I’m looking more and more away from Journalism and into the film world for inspiration. Errol Morris, Lars Von Trier, Ron Fricke, and of course Bob Sacha.

Past MediaStorm projects produced by Chad:

Please share your suggestions with us if you have ideas on others that you’d like to see interviewed. You can leave a comment, or send us an email.

Chad A. Stevens is an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Most recently, he was an award-winning documentary producer/editor at MediaStorm, a multimedia production company based in New York City. Stevens has also been a faculty member in the visual communication programs at, the International Center of Photography, Ohio University and Western Kentucky University. Currently he is working on a feature length documentary film on the conflict over energy extraction in Appalachia.

Stevens has received two Emmy nominations, one Webby Award and many photography and multimedia awards in the Pictures of the Year International and NPPA Best of Photojournalism competitions. While teaching at Western Kentucky University, Stevens won the University Faculty Award for Public Service in 2006.

With a professional foundation in photojournalism and multimedia storytelling, Stevens’ career spans the spectrum of newsroom environments, multimedia production and international experience. While living in Africa, he produced multimedia projects for Save the Children, AIDchild and Literacy and Basic Education.

He is a 1999 graduate of Western Kentucky University and a 2009 graduate of Ohio University, and has interned at National Geographic Magazine, The Hartford Courant, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Jackson Hole Guide. During his time as a student at Western Kentucky University, he traveled to Palestine and other Middle East countries. He was named 1997 College Photographer of the Year.

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