- University of Miami
- Coral Gables, FL
- Personal Website
Rich Beckman directs the multimedia graduate program at the University of Miami, trains international journalists, journalism students and professors with whom he then produces documentary multimedia projects that feature multilingual local reporting on significant global issues as defined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
I’ve been on the forefront of multimedia since its development as a tool for journalistic reporting and storytelling – from being Education Chair of the National Press Photographers Association’s Digital and Electronic Photojournalism Workshops, to founding and directing the Multimedia Bootcamp Workshops, to training students and journalists around the globe on best practices, to producing dozens of award-winning multimedia journalism project teams, to working as the academic partner of the Online News Association and to graduating many of today’s multimedia newsroom leaders.
I am Professor and Knight Chair at the Knight Center for International Media at the University of Miami School of Communication, after retiring from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a James L. Knight Professor of Journalism and Director of the Visual Communication program. I also hold the position of Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of the Andes in Santiago, Chile.
The Chair in Visual Journalism will lead the Knight Center for International Media in maintaining a cutting-edge relationship to the developing professions of visual journalism by fostering projects and experiments that will incubate new techniques of visual and interactive reporting and storytelling. During the chair’s five- to seven-year term, he will work closely with center staff on its projects, bringing international attention to the center’s work through participation in conferences and seminars and by publishing and disseminating the results of work done at the center.
Exective Producer: Europe: A Homeland for the Roma
Grantee: the European Union Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme
This project is aimed at increasing the visibility of problems that Europe’s Roma communities face with a view to contributing in that way to ending discrimination against the Roma and creating conditions for their social inclusion.
The project, which centers on utilizing multimedia in combating prejudice and equiping journalists with advanced storytelling skills, included designing and supervising a ten-day training in advanced multimedia skills for the project’s core group of 20 journalists from Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, half of them Roma, half from other communities followed by 10-12 days of content gathering and two weeks of editing. The content is being produced in Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Romani and English.
The content will be republished widely in traditional and online media outlets. A festival-length documentary will be distributed to organizers of documentary film festivals, such as the One World festivals. In the second year of the grant, we will organize public screenings of project content followed by panel debates in Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Brussels, Paris, Milan and London. We will also organise a series of screenings of project material in secondary schools and universities.
Also, in the second year of the grant, the participating journalists will produce additional stories with online support. To this end, I will build an online training lab, a multimedia interactive website that will enable participants to interact with lessons on multimedia storytelling; access training manuals; and interact with trainers. This activity will result in 20-25 additional stories on issues related to Roma civil rights (6-10 minutes videos, furnished with photo, textual and data visualization elements) to be published in Transitions Online magazine, the online publications of the partner organizations, the project site and other outlets.
Executive Producer: 20 Years On
Funder: Knight Center for International Media
(www.20yearon.org; login: 20yearson; pw: beckman)
Project: July-November 2013
This project focuses on life in the townships and informal settlements across South Africa as the country approaches the 20th anniversary of the end of Apartheid. Twelve University of Miami students and students from Rhodes University (Grahamstown), University of Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (Cape Town), Stellenbosch University, Durban University of Technology and Big Fish School of Digital Film Making (Johannesburg) are participating in the project and will be producing short-form video stories covering issues related to housing, healthcare, poverty, employment, and equality within their communities.
In November, a group of my students worked with a team from Rhodes University to create a site that was used to recruit our current university partners, financial backers and media partners. The project will consist of 25-30 short documentaries and a variety of interactive features and will be published April 2014 on the 20th anniversary of the election of Nelson Mandela.
Chair, University of Miami Curriculum Committee
As Chair of the University of Miami Curriculum Committee, I oversee the implementation of the Revised Areas of Knowledge of the General Education Requirements through the introduction of Cognates, clusters of courses related in a topical, thematic or interdisciplinary manner organized within and across departments, programs, schools or colleges. This proposal passed our Faculty Senate last year and represents the first university-wide reform of our undergraduate curriculum in more than two decades. This reform provides all students breadth and depth in outside areas in addition to their major and provides students the freedom to design their own General Education curriculum instead of the traditional checklist approach used by a majority of universities.
• We define the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education as a system of learning by doing where students, scholars and professionals fully engage with the community they are serving by using innovative tools, techniques and informed research. Do you agree with that definition? If so, how should journalism schools seek to add community engagement and experimentation to the kind of journalism they now produce ?
I support the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education, but I have numerous concerns regarding its viability.
Many schools, including mine, do not tenure professionals (and that includes future Knight Chairs). In our school, professionals are hired as Professors of Practice and are expected to teach a heavier load then tenure-track faculty. Teaching loads vary at the discretion of Department Chairs and the Dean, but this discrepancy and the lack of job security limits our ability to attract, hire and retain superior professionals. In our department, we have only one faculty member who has worked in a multimedia newsroom, so we don’t have the necessary expertise to realistically offer a “teaching hospital” model of journalism education.
We do not have a multimedia newsroom or innovation lab in the School, so we don’t have a “teaching hospital” culture that permeates our department or school. We also have very limited course offerings in coding and innovation, so that limits our ability to produce high impact multimedia packages. In our professional Master’s program, we continue to decrease the number and value of graduate assistantships and therefore are not competitive in attracting or graduating cutting-edge journalism graduate students.
We have been slow to integrate innovative tools and techniques into our curriculum and many faculty members are not capable of doing so. There are still too many journalism programs, departments and schools, including ours, that don’t see it as part of their mission to serve their communities. We briefly published a hyper-local online publication for one of the neighboring underprivileged communities, but the school was not committed to maintaining it and only a couple of faculty members were willing to embrace it. Faculty from other departments in the School are very active in the community, but I am one of only two journalism faculty members who currently teach community engagement courses, although the university has a very active and innovative Office of Civic and Community Engagement.
• Many student journalism projects are read by few people in the target community and have little impact. How should that change? Should students engage with the community to understand its information needs before doing their journalism?
It is very difficult to build an audience for student projects. Major projects are only produced once or twice a year and unless major media outlets publish them, they are going to have limited readership. There are certainly things that we can and should do to help improve viewership. One of the most important is to develop a brand. We should have a dedicated place where we regularly publish our major work and build extensive social media networks to help publicize it. We should also build partnerships with local and regional media to co-publish and publicize our most important work and plan community events around the release of such work.
Many of my major projects are international and although we make sure they are accessible within the community where we are working, the subjects are often not our target audience. Our target audience is usually local and national government officials who actually have the power to initiate change and they are a small enough group that we target them individually through their twitter accounts, their media relations employees and even sending them individual DVD copies of the project. We also create an email campaign and get local citizens to email them a form letter that we draft that draws attention to both the project and the issues.
Every project that students do, however, should not be judged by its impact on its target community. Students are in journalism school to learn how to be journalists, not always to be journalists. I use a variety of different types of assignments to educate students and most of them involve getting students off campus and doing journalism. These are important projects even if they are not viewed by a large number of people because they expose students to the challenges of doing journalism rather than with the goal of affecting change. Not every project I assign has a goal beyond educating my students. We still engage with the community, we still do our research and we still try to do good journalism, but we don’t worry as much about impact.
There are many different types of journalism and understanding and trying to fulfill the needs of a community is just one way of approaching journalism. Often communities don’t know what they don’t know and we enlighten them with our documentaries. When working internationally, it is critically important to become part of the community or to partner with local journalists who can provide the necessary access, cultural awareness and perspective, as well as needed language skills. We always publish our international work in local languages as well as English.