New Media Shifts Boundaries for Journalism, Marketing at Medill

And How a Dean Is Bringing Both Disciplines Closer Together

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When I was a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, I thought it was a bit odd that the school had two totally independent tracks -- journalism and advertising -- without any interaction whatsoever. During all the intervening years, nothing changed (except advertising morphed into integrated marketing communications).
John Lavine, the new dean of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
John Lavine, the new dean of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

And maybe in a non-digital media world that was OK. Both advertising and journalism had pretty firm ideas about their place in the sun. People read magazines and newspapers and they watched 30-second commercials on TV. The media delivered the audience the advertisers wanted to reach, and all was right with both worlds.

New media
But a proliferation of new-media choices has changed all that. The media available to hunt down wary and skeptical consumers has mushroomed to the point where many advertisers are confused about what to do. There is much uncertainty in today's marketplace because old economic models aren't working but new ones haven't yet been developed that produce the same results.

The new dean of Medill, John Lavine, believes that both the journalism and advertising sides need to learn from each other in this new landscape. "The challenge will be to engage increasingly elusive audiences who, in real time, rapidly form and deteriorate. Yet without a motivated, connected audience neither a free press nor marketing will survive," he told members of Medill's board of advisors (I am one).

He said both journalism and advertising need to do the same jobs: create a "relevant, differentiated" story or message, and motivate an audience to spend more time listening to and reading about the message.

Reader and audience engagement
Mr. Lavine learned about reader and audience engagement from studies he's done at Northwestern's Media Management Center. He saw that "unless an audience puts in the time" with your medium and your message, "you don't have anything."

And to get people to spend more time with their medium, journalists need to know how to market what they've written, especially when it involves cross platforms. Mr. Lavine said the industry has been "a little blindsided by the myths and cliches" about the business, such as marketing only applies to the business side. "Every journalist worth their salt wants their stories to be more widely read," he said. "Marketing isn't bad -- it's talking to your audience." Mr. Lavine believes that Medill's integrated marketing faculty is superbly qualified to teach journalists how to market their articles and TV reports.

And the journalism faculty, he contends, is equally qualified to teach marketing students how to weave an engaging consumer story.

Two faculties working together
"With our two faculties now working together we can teach students what experiences motivate and inhibit audiences' media usage" -- both editorial and advertising. "We can show them what promotes people to act on new and traditional forms of storytelling and messages."

What's very exciting is that John wants to convert the monthly Gertrude and G.D. Crain Jr. Lecture Series at Medill to three or four major conferences exploring how and what journalism and advertising/marketing can learn from each other. Whereas the lecture series, which started six years ago and has featured such luminaries as Tom Brokaw, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Norman Pearlstine and George McGovern among others, has been aimed at the Northwestern community, the conferences will be nationally available via podcasts, streaming video and all the other new media that finally brought the two sides of Medill together.
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