If 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.