What’s in a Name?

WKU-SJBIf you are a high school senior and are considering a career in broadcasting or journalism, what term would you Google to find the best colleges or universities for this field of study? Probably you would type in “broadcasting” or “journalism.”

School of Media

What would you expect a “School of Media” to offer? Well, since “media” is the plural of “medium,” you might say it means “something for everyone in the area of communications.”

The problem is, in my honest opinion, when you try to be all things to all people, you are special to no one.


If I wanted to be a journalist today, I would need to know how to write, shoot pictures & video, collect audio and produce all of it for every media platform. But the job would remain one of being a journalist.


Likewise, to be a broadcaster today, I would need to also be able to write for the internet, as well as shoot video & still pictures, along with doing on-camera and audio recordings. But the job would remain one of being a broadcaster.


Here’s where things get sticky. There is no job that I know of that is called a “media-ist.”

A high school graduate trying to decide on what type of career they might like to pursue will speak in terms that are standard job descriptions. Broadcasting & Journalism are well-established careers. “Media-ist” is not.


The first modern Olympics was held in Greece on April 6, 1896. Olympiads that came in first won the Gold Medal. The Silver Medal was for second place and the Bronze Medal was for third place.

Over the decades, the equipment and physical abilities to win a medal changed dramatically, but the Olympics have never changed the names of the medals that were awarded. Why? Because they’ve been well-established benchmarks of athletic achievement.

The Big Name Change at WKU

So, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about all of this in today’s blog. Well, this week I learned that Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting, where I was a broadcast professor for 7-years is changing its name to “School of Media.”

WKU alumni around the country are not pleased.

The College Heights Herald reports that alumni are concerned about the lack of emphasis on journalism the new name would create.

“To me, it’s burying the part of the program that has brought the most national reputation to the university. It’s a program that presidents over the years have cited for its success. To me, it buries the part of the program that has been so important to Western.”

-Robert Adams, former director of student publications, former editor-in-chief in 1964 and a retired WKU professor of journalism

The building that the school’s newspaper occupies is named after Bob Adams. Bob went to school at Western and then worked at the university until his retirement. Bob was there when the program went from two classes offered in the English department to the School of Journalism & Broadcasting. He has had a front row seat to its evolution for over 50-years.

I think Bob Adams makes a very valid point when he says the new name is not what people are looking for when searching for a college.


When Apple was working to develop its own online streaming audio service “Beats 1” they brainstormed for months on what to call it, and finally decided to call it “Radio.”

Pandora, like so many other audio offerings, also called its service “Pandora Radio.”

Radio is a term that has been used since the advent of broadcasting music and voice through the ether. It’s a term that is almost 100-years old in commercial audio broadcasting, beginning with the sign-on of KDKA in Pittsburgh in 1920.

Why would developers of modern forms of audio communication use the term “radio” to describe what they do? Because everyone knows what it means, even though it now has many more applications from its origins.

Board of Regents

WKU’s Board of Regents will vote on making the name change official at their next meeting on August 2nd.

When you build a name, a reputation, a brand if you will, changing it can be very risky. (Think New Coke and what a disaster that was for the Coca Cola company back in 1985.)

A brand name helps people to identify why you exist, how you plan to proceed and what people will gain from doing business with you, or in this case, attending your school. A brand helps you to differentiate yourself from others.

Communication is critical in marketing and having an established brand name is an integral element in communication to anyone in the market for your product or services.

Changing the name to “School of Media” to me is like throwing the baby out with the bath water and if it becomes a reality, the 2019-2020 academic year will become the beginning of building a new brand.

One thing that I learned in my 50-years of being in the advertising business is, it takes more energy to establish a brand new brand than promote an established one. After reading how economically challenged the university is these days, I’m skeptical the money is there to properly fund the change of name.





Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

13 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. Bob Harlan

    Traditional journalism is a dying term as national media have moved to opinion-based presentations. There is no longer a presentation of both sides of a story. There is no longer a journalist presenting from a “neutral” standpoint. It is very sad to see the “media” industry moving away from strict traditional journalistic standards.


  2. Jay Melnick

    Another thought-provoking article.
    How about Netcasting?
    I feel The term Radio is very limited in scope as today s market and really does not describe the function.

    Media can be related to the art world as well. What type of media do you create in? Oils, watercolor, pastel, clay……


    • Hi Jay, thanks for stopping by the blog today.

      If you think about it, those forms of expression date back to the cave paintings. They always representations of what the creator of them saw.

      The craft of broadcasting and journalism is a more recent phenomena.

      The first journalism school in America opened in Missouri in the late 1800s. Commercial broadcasting began in the early 1900s and the early broadcast journalists came with a newspaper journalism background.

      To me, broadcasting and j-schools provide the necessary foundation for anything that comes.


  3. John Davis

    Back when I was in J-school, I attended the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunications. I always thought that was an odd name since Telecommunications has nothing to do with television.

    Today it’s the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I think it’s a better name. They have a strong digital program, too. I should see if I can sign up for a class or two to sharpen my digital skills.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marketing is another of those ambiguous terms. Can’t tell you how many people I’ve met with a marketing degree who can’t find a ‘marketing’ job like they expected. Or, any job at all. Had a long talk about this with a friend of mine who’s very high up in in one of the big 3 Car companies. Marketing to them is sales. As in ‘get the dealers to buy more cars’ to sell. Literally, face to face with the dealers. The glamorous stuff like Website design, Radio, TV, online ads, Media interactions, etc are something else completely. Pretty much advertising. I always wonder how many kids go for a Marketing degree, yet have no idea they will have to be a salesperson, nor want to actually get on the street and sell. But that’s probably where the brunt of ‘marketing’ actually is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pat, you said a mouthful.

      The truth is, students in Marketing Degree programs really don’t understand the nature of the job. Sadly, many only learn the facts after they graduate, have huge student loan debt and begin doing face-to-face sales.

      I learned in teaching Broadcast Sales, that it’s possible to identify those students who are attracted to the challenge of face-to-face sales and when they are presented the true nature of the job, are excited about entering the field. I have some very successful students who switched from TV journalism into broadcast sales with no regrets.

      Unfortunately, many schools don’t offer these types of courses and even worse, those that did, are eliminating them for something they feel is a little more “sexier” in recruiting students.


  5. Dave Nelson

    Everyone and their brother and/or sister now seems to have a podcast and yet virtually everyone of them says as they begin, “we’re on the air.” Nope, I’m listening to you on my phone or computer. My college degree in the 70’s in California was Radio-Television Broadcasting now they call it Film and Electronic Arts. Time marches on..


  6. Aaron Read

    You never, ever see a rebrand unless the company is doing badly financially. Often it’s well-hidden at the time of the rebrand, but nobody is crazy enough to change the brand when things are going well (that would, indeed, be stupid). It’s tempting to think, in hindsight, that the rebrand is the reason why things went to hell financially. But usually the problems were already endemic by the time the rebrand happens.

    Sometimes the rebrand is an attempt…not always desperate…to right the ship before things get too bad, too publicly. But in academia that’s almost never the case. In academia the rebrand is almost always a “re-org” to avoid dealing with the fundamental failures inherent to the program.

    Speaking of which, the best way I ever heard marketing described as was by Scott Adams: marketing is about trying to sell a wooden hamburger. Put enough garnish on it, and sooner or later, someone will eat it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s