5 Questions on the Digital Future: Newhouse’s First Online Masters Program

Program Director Anthony Rotolo on big changes in PR

Newhouse

The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse — or simply “Newhouse” — is generally known to be the nation’s leading destination for those entering the communications field.

For that reason, the school’s plans to offer its first online Masters Degree in Digital Media, titled “Communications@Syracuse,” reflect upon a much larger series of changes in the comms industry. (Check out the program online here.)

We all know that things are far different now for PR, marketing, advertising, and journalism than they were a mere five years ago; in fact, 90 percent of marketers now consider themselves “under-skilled” in the digital realm.

We spoke to Anthony Rotolo, Professor and Program Director of the new digital offering (follow him on Twitter), to discuss how these changes reflect larger, long-simmering trends in the comms world…and how PR pros can stay ahead of the next curve.

1. What is the significance of this new offering?

It’s the first online Masters program ever offered by Newhouse, which is known fairly well as a leading school in the comms discipline. More significantly, the curriculum was designed to address the digital media world we work in today.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that, in contrast to traditional Masters programs in PR, advertising, and journalism, this one is cross-disciplinary. Content itself blurs the lines between these disciplines, and there’s a huge need for this type of program because people are “falling into” this discipline because everything is merging. This program addresses the need for those skills without going directly down one of the traditional paths.

2. What is not being addressed in those traditional programs?

We’re looking to close the gap between skills needed and those acquired; we see a huge demand for such skills because people are working across all silos in the digital world, and related trends like comms people reporting to tech folks within organizations are sometimes troubling.

We’ve heard from current students and alumni that comms education needs to catch up. For example, folks who only understand the tech are often making organization-wide decisions they’re not quite prepared to make.

3. How does Communications@Syracuse differ from the old way of doing things?

Our core curriculum is very unusual in that it has required (NOT elective) programs in social media strategy, content management systems, etc. These are things that people are either learning on the job or that they missed while in school ten or twenty years ago.

These are people who want to take the next step toward management but need to make sure they have all the requisite skills lined up before doing so. We don’t see a specific approach dedicated to helping professionals strategically apply social media practices to their own organizations, and we’re not just looking at the art of persuasion: we teach social content management, engagement, metrics, and more to address the full scope of managing social on behalf of a given communications enterprise.

The new, digitally enabled professional may then apply this skill set to any of these fields: media, PR, or advertising.

4. What do you find to be the primary skill lacking among current comms pros?

I would say that folks who benefit most are ones who want to formalize their digital education. In many cases, they’re lacking the confidence in knowing they have a handle on the digital world — but its more about the systems/tech aspects of the new communications model. Many of our own alumni now say, “I just wish I had a chance to take this in school.”

The organizations that will succeed in the next decade are the ones that communicate effectively online; the ones that have conversations with their audience and measure the value of those interactions. Organizations that have not been quick to adapt are struggling and will continue to struggle, so the purpose of this program is to put such principles at the forefront.

5. How can communications students and professionals stay ahead of the next curve?

Courses in this program are constantly updated, and they’re built around ideas that are currently in flux. One, for example, deals with virtual reality, 3D printing, et cetera.

Part of our role at Newhouse is fulfilling our commitment to making sure our students are up on the latest trends. If you were buying a car instead of a masters, it would be “service after the sale” — but it’s more an opportunity for lifelong connection as we have a formalized structure for keeping our alumni group together and making sure that the learning process continues. For that reason, we make much of what we do accessible to alumni after they graduate.

The biggest surprise about the organization — which reflects trends in the industry at large — will be that courses in social media, emergent technologies, and multimedia storytelling are requirements, not electives…because in today’s world, they’re necessary.