Summer Fellowship Gives Professional Insight for RSU Communications Faculty Member

Rogers State University Assistant Professor of Communications Cathy Coomer said her month-long fellowship with Fox 23 News in Tulsa this summer provided her with insights into today’s working newsroom that will strengthen her classroom instruction.

Cathy Coomer with Clay Loney Shae Rozzi - Fox 23 - Summer 2016As part of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters’ Lisa John Fellowship program, Coomer was able to participate in a month-long program designed to allow faculty members to update their skills and develop closer relationships with state radio and television broadcasters. During June, Coomer put in more than 40-hour weeks while embedding herself within the Fox 23 News team, spending one week each in four departments: news production, digital media production, news reporting, and promotions.

Coomer said the pace of today’s newsroom is notably faster paced than when she worked at a television newsroom prior to teaching. Traditionally, television stations have utilized two-person teams consisting of a reporter and a photographer for news stories. Today, stations rely heavily on multimedia journalists who report, write and shoot their own stories in a “one-man band style,” she said.

As a result, a multimedia journalist today needs to perform a wider variety of skills. Seeing this in action reinforced to Coomer the importance of RSU’s communications curriculum that teaches students how to research, think critically and write clearly while utilizing technologies that allow students to shoot and edit a news story, all while on tight deadlines.

While the time pressure in broadcast journalism have always been intense, she said today’s newsroom is much more focused on speed due to the increasing presence of social media.

“All news organizations are racing to be the first with stories, especially for breaking news,” she said. “As a result, the pressure on news organizations are much greater than they were just 10 to 15 years ago.”

Today’s media companies are leveraging their news content to drive traffic from social media and their websites to the station’s news broadcasts. All aspects of the news organization have to work together to drive viewers to the station’s various media channels.

Coomer noted that another aspect of the accelerated newsroom culture was the emphasis on viewership numbers and performance metrics. Just a few years ago, television stations would get their viewership info four or five times a year and try to make an educated best guesses as to how to improve viewership numbers when results came back so infrequently.

Today, stations like Fox 23 make considerable investment in getting overnight numbers that provide them with daily feedback on how each 15-minute segment of their newscast is performing. They also combine this with results from their website traffic and social media analytics to make real-time changes to their news coverage to better meet viewer demands.

Coomer also noted that writing styles were different for the station’s social media and web channels when compared with its traditional broadcast reporting. Each format has nuances that complement the advantages of the particular media type, and Coomer said she will be emphasizing those lessons she learned in the field to her students this fall. 

“This fellowship was a great opportunity for me to get back into the newsroom and get faculty development that allows me to become better aware of the current market,” she said. “It allows me to better prepare my students to immediately jump into a competitive job market and hit the ground running,” Coomer said.

Coomer said she was extremely thankful that broadcast companies in Oklahoma are supportive of Oklahoma’s universities and allow faculty to both fund and participate in the Lisa John Fellowship. A two-time recipient of the fellowship, Coomer said it’s invaluable to helping faculty members stay current with issues within the industry.

“We’re very fortunate in Oklahoma that our broadcasting companies are so supportive of education and the Oklahoma Broadcast Education Association organization,” Coomer said. “We work together to provide opportunities for students and faculty both through scholarships and professional development opportunities like this.”

Coomer also received the fellowship in 2010 and worked with Cox Media. Communications Assistant Professor Lee Williams received the fellowship last year and worked with KOTV Channel 6 in Tulsa.