As a new academic year begins, it’s hard to miss advertisements for various courses. Loud and visible among these are the ones selling courses on mass communication and journalism; these courses are the most popular and glamorous, after management programmes. With the launch of the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies, I myself am part of this sector. The aim of today’s column is not to market the CMS Academy but to explain why there’s a need to look differently at communication education.
Courses in communication are today easily available through private, government, corporate and semi-government institutions, even individuals, that offer degree, diploma, certificate courses and distance education courses. However, most communication courses today seem to focus on the medium. The message and the importance of understanding and framing the message according to audience requirements seems to have been lost.
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By medium, I mean the technology and deliver mechanism. The message is simply what’s being conveyed—in different ways depending on the medium that will carry it.
The communication education sector landscape in our country is dominated by courses on journalism or mass communication that actually fall under a larger umbrella of communication studies. We’ve also seen the growth of courses focused on marketing-oriented media studies such as public relations, event management, advertising and media marketing. Today, the maximum number of courses (40%) are for marketing media followed by mass communication (30%) and journalism (20%). The curriculum of all these courses often overlaps, but the scope of all these courses and their difference is mostly in the focus and orientation. And there still remains a clear need for courses that teach integrated communication (10%). Integrated communication is considered by many to be the future of the media business. The aim of programmes in integrated communication should be to ensure that there’s a comprehensive approach to communication and not just medium-specific understanding.
Why exactly is this important? The differentiation between varied communication courses is as basic as the discussion on what is more important—the message or the medium. Most of the courses are focused on the medium and the dexterity required for using these mediums. Very few courses focus on the message over technology. However, the usage of technology can be made effective only if there is clarity on the message.
Convergence of different mediums is also about delivering richer content which provides added value and a real benefit to the audience. For example, with television content now available on your cellphone and also the Internet, how and what kind of programmes and information will be relevant to which medium needs to be studied and understood.
The future of communication is all about this convergence; research will help understand target groups and what media is the most appropriate to deliver the content
The future of communication is all about this convergence; research will help understand target groups or audience segment and what media is the most appropriate to deliver the content. Therefore, looking at future requirements, the ability to conduct research, both as support service and driver of communication channels, will also be an essential talent. While technical proficiency, content production skills and management are crucial abilities for this sector, even more critical is the broader understanding.
Thus, next-generation media professionals need to be equipped with more than medium-specific skills. They need to have knowledge to understand the communication processes in the broad socio-political and economic perspective. Also important will be the understanding of the operational aspects of media enterprises, and the management and coordination of various elements.
One of the reasons we launched a communication institute was to try and use our research experience to develop a systematic course curriculum that looks at communication in a holistic sense. There’s need for a new mindset and the way to achieve this is to provide tested, practical, relevant and future-oriented education which will focus on the message as well as the medium.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at email@example.com@