- 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 currently starting my fifth year as 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.
In my work for the Knight Center, I have fund-raised for and produced numerous award-winning documentary multimedia projects, developed an international network of professional and university partnerships, directed the International Multimedia Workshops for Ethical Reporting in Asia and Africa, partnered on digital media projects with numerous professionals-in-residence and directed multimedia teams or workshops in Chile, Russia, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Dominican Republic, Namibia, South Africa and the United States.
In my role as a communication consultant with International Special Olympics, my students produce local and international stories on intellectual disability and socialization. In 2010-12, we worked in Namibia, Korea, Haiti, Ecuador and Greece as well as the United States. In Greece, I directed a team of 24 journalists and students in conjunction with our partner Hong Kong Baptist University and coaches from The New York Times and CNN to provide documentary coverage of both the Special Olympic World Games and the ongoing debt crisis in Greece.
Recently, Kirsten Seckler, Vice President for Branding and Communication, wrote: “Your dedication to Special Olympics is phenomenal. But what’s more important is your motivation to inspire your students to change the world through their work. While the media business may not be as powerful as it once had been, the influence of media is the most powerful tool in the world. Infusing your students with a sense of responsibility and compassion for others is one of the best things you can do as a professor.
In my role as a consultant to National Public Radio, I was a member of the team hired after NPR received a $1.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to build the communication organization of the future. As a result, NPR initiated the most comprehensive training in its history. This required training 600 staff members well versed in sound to transition to multimedia storytelling.
In my work as Director of the Graduate Program in Multimedia Journalism (2009-2012), I designed and implemented a program that was one of the best in the nation. Every student in our first two graduating classes was offered either an internship or job and have worked at TIME (2), The New York Times, CNN (2), MSNBC (NBC News Digital), National Geographic, AP (Bangkok and New York), Telemundo, Education Week (2), Ocean Conservancy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (3), the Center for American Progress, FOX (Hong Kong) and teaching positions at Hong Kong Baptist University and University of Illinois.
In the eight years that student categories have been judged in the Online News Association competition, 16 projects by my students have been named finalists and five have won. Their work has been honored with more than a dozen other national and international awards including the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award and Bronze Medallion, one of the few student entries to ever be honored.
My recent projects provide an example of how I engage university students in digital and social media global challenges. After establishing partnerships with 25 academic institutions in Asia and Africa, I launched the My Story, My Goal project (mdg.glocalstories.org) in which my students partner with students around the world to help citizens who otherwise have no voice share their stories in relation to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. This work was praised in an address by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the G20 Summit in Korea.
Following the success of My Story, My Goal, I produced Colorful but Colorblind (roma.glocalstories.org), a project aimed at remedying anti-Roma stereotyping through the creative use of multimedia in reporting minority issues in new member states of the European Union in Central and Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia) and internationally. This project was a partnership between my students and Roma and mainstream journalists from each of these countries and was praised by European Union's vice president, Viviane Reding. Videos from the project have been screened at film festivals and republished through the EU.
In October 2012, the European Commission Justice Department funded our partnership for two additional years to produce a half hour TV documentary, a full-length festival format film documentary, and 10 additional 6-10 minutes video stories. Each piece of content will be produced in Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian and English. This content will initially be published on the main project website. In addition, the website will feature visualized data as well as textual, photo and video information on Roma history, demographics and contemporary issues the Roma face.
Public screenings of project content followed by panel debates will be held in Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Brussels, Paris, Milan and London. We will then build an online training lab, a multimedia interactive website that will enable participants to watch online lessons on multimedia storytelling, access training manuals and interact with trainers. This activity will result in an additional 25 stories.
Our latest student project, Visualizing Florida (www.visualizingflorida.org), is a data-driven multimedia project that parses statistical data from a variety of sources to put a human face on the suffering of our fellow residents. The state of Florida ranks amongst the five worst in the nation in human trafficking, homeless violence, uninsured population, death row population, unemployment, foreclosures, HIV/AIDS deaths, illegal immigration and violent crimes and the site introduces readers to people who fall into many of these and other categories in order to produce a multimedia collage of the issues facing our state. Stories from the site were made available without charge to media throughout the state for re-publication.
When I retired from UNC-CH in 2008, the School endowed the Rich Beckman Award in Documentary Storytelling, the Southern Short Course awarded me a Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Press Photographers Association awarded me the J. Winton Lemen Award for outstanding service and technical innovation in the field of journalism and, this year, the Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award for continuing outstanding service to the field of visual journalism.
For the past four years, I’ve been asked to help the University of Miami with curriculum reform, innovating our 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 earlier this year and represents the first university-wide reform of our undergraduate curriculum in more than two decades. I now chair the University and School Curriculum Committees and coordinate interdisciplinary initiatives across our three campuses.
I also serve on the Advisory Committee of the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, a Center endowed to create innovative interdisciplinary initiatives that bridge the gap between science and policy. At the graduate level we serve students who seek theoretical and analytical skills to address complex human-environment problems and at the undergraduate level we offer a series of problem-based learning courses emphasizing the integration of science and policy approaches to real-world environmental issues.
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.
I. Executive Producer:
Finalist, ONA 2012 Awards
Visualizing Florida puts a human face on statistical data. The stories are based on trends and numbers that decision makers use to analyze Florida's changing demographics, but through visualizing and personalizing this numerical information, we introduce you to the residents behind the numbers and help you interpret what the data actually means.
II. Director of Training and Executive Producer of Media Products
“Europe: A Homeland for the Roma”
Grantee: European Union’s Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme
Status: Awarded: $586,483 EUR ($754,902 U.S. as of 10/9/12)
“Europe: A Homeland for the Roma” is a project that aims to increase 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 stereotyping, will achieve this objective through: producing high quality media content on Roma communities in various formats; disseminating that content through traditional and online outlets throughout Europe; and equipping a large group of Roma and journalists from other communities with advanced multimedia storytelling and minority reporting skills enabling them to produce high quality media content on sensitive issues, therefore increasing their employability and ensuring in that way continued balanced coverage of Roma-related issues.
Partners: Centrul pentru Jurnalism Independent, Romania , MEMO98, Media Monitoring, Slovakia , Transitions, Czech Republic , Center for Independent Journalism, Hungary , Media Development Center, Bulgaria and University of Miami, USA
This 24-month project will be in the following five principal parts:
1. A seven-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. The training will unfold in two parallel classes of ten, with four trainers.
2. A ten-day content gathering, with the trained journalists working in teams of two made of one Roma and one non-Roma journalist, each team joined by one of Rich Beckman’s multimedia students. The teams will cover stories reflecting contemporary Roma life in their own countries as well as other EU countries (Italy and France) where Roma issues have come to the fore of public attention.
3. A ten-day production activity, with the teams coming back to the project’s central newsroom with raw footage to be produced into content for publication in the following formats: 1. A half an hour TV documentary 2. A full-length festival format documentary 3. Ten 6-10 minutes video stories. Each piece of content will be produced in Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian and English. This content will initially be published on the main project website. In addition, the website will feature visualised data as well as textual, photo and video information on Roma history, demographics and main contemporary issues the Roma face.
4. Dissemination and public events. The produced content will be republished widely in traditional and online media outlets, including those that the participants work for. The festival-length documentary will be offered to organisers of documentary film festivals, such as the One World festivals. In the second year of implementation, we will organise 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.
5. Follow-up online training lab. In the second year, the participating journalists will use project equipment to produce additional stories on their own with distance support from the trainers. To this end, we will build an online training lab, a multimedia interactive website that will enable participants to watch videoed lessons on multimedia storytelling; access training manuals; and interact with trainers. This activity will result in 25 completed stories (6-10 minutes videos, furnished with photo, textual and data visualisation elements) to be published in Transitions Online magazine, the online publications of the partner organisations and in other outlets.
III. Executive Producer, Heroines of the DRC (cancelled)
I spent more than a year planning this project in partnership with Hear Congo, a Congolese-led organization based in Miami that administers humanitarian programs in DRC. We contracted with three experienced international multimedia journalists to work with our graduate students; Nancy Donaldson, Director of the Original Video Team, CNN, Jim Seida, Senior Producer, NBC Digital and Janet Jarman, Contract Multimedia Producer (NY Times, GEO, OSI, TIME and others).
Our objective in the DRC was to highlight women who are making a difference in the areas of Peace and Security, Justice, Children’s Health, Nutrition, Education, HIV/AIDS, Clean Water, Cultural Affairs, Empowerment of Women and Children and Maternal Health. We view these women as heroines and potential role models and believe that a great deal can be accomplished by telling and distributing their stories throughout both the region and the world.
We raised $85,000 in the DRC for the project from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, The World Bank, Mr. Moise Katumbi Chapwe, His Excellency the Governor of the Province of Katanga, O.N.G Elcos, Hear Congo and other NGOs, but the project was cancelled two weeks prior to our departure by the Provost based on a State Department Travel Advisory.
Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair
Teaching the profession: What do you do to bring the newsroom into your classroom? How do your students learn about current journalism practices?
My classroom is a newsroom. Everything that we do is based on what does, could or should be going on in a newsroom today. We have students assigned to newsroom roles, we have staff meetings, we train and coach, we work on individual and team assignments, we have research, reporting, editing, social media, design and programming teams and we tackle assignments on deadline that are relevant to our community. And, we publish everything that we do on a variety of platforms. Recent examples include:
On international projects, we partner with journalists from media organizations who work as coaches with our students. Recent project coaches include:
- Ben de la Cruz (washingtonpost.com and NPR),
- Jim Seida (MSNBC.com and NBC Digital),
- Travis Fox (washingtonpost.com, FRONTLINE),
- Nancy Donaldson (washingtonpost.com, New York Times and CNN),
- Tom Kennedy (National Geographic, washingtonpost.com and PBS)
- Candace Barbot (Miami Herald and Pulp2Pixel Media)
I also partner with my colleagues to build appropriate teams. For example, on our latest project, visualizingflorida.org, students in Prof. Kim Grinfeder’s classes completed the design and programming components of the project and students in Prof. Alberto Cairo’s classes produced the informational graphics.
Media Innovation: Do you think journalism programs should keep up with the quickening pace of change in the industry? How can they? What is your approach?
The best journalism programs help lead the quickening pace of change in the industry, others attempt to keep up with varying degrees of success and the rest do not fulfill their obligation to their students and either give up or are content to continue what they have been doing, often with the justification that they are not technical schools or training centers and that their job is not to prepare students for careers as working journalists.
Appropriate journalism education is challenging for most academic institutions on many levels. Journalism is fluid and evolving, now more than ever and it is a field dominated by practitioners rather than scholars. Journalism programs, departments and schools are often heavily tenured (we currently don’t have any assistant professors in our department) bodies that most often do not hire practitioners without a terminal degree into their tenure track positions, so even when they have openings, it is a challenge to hire the leading practitioners except to non-guaranteed lecturer, instructor or adjunct positions. The best schools have adopted dual tenure tracks or offer long-term professor of practice positions to combat this institutional bias.
Since mandatory retirement is a thing of the past and most universities do not offer attractive buyout packages, disciplines that are undergoing revolutionary change are usually left staffed with faculty who are ill equipped to teach what are now relevant skills, methods or theories. Administrators are left with few options to combat this crisis. They can’t make new hires, especially with falling enrollments and even when they can, they often can’t compete for top industry talent. They can’t fire, layoff or force retirement upon even the most dysfunctional faculty members and they have to find courses for them to teach where they do the least harm. The re-training of faculty has largely proven to be a myth. Workshops and conferences have value, but it is limited unless the faculty member is highly motivated and has the time, patience, intellect and motivation to learn complex new skills and methodologies.
There are numerous ways that leading journalism programs have found creative ways to excel. One is the establishment of in house multimedia news operations that serve as a realistic way to put faculty back into state-of-the-art newsrooms working with a professional editor. Another is to establish a local media partnership on a hyper-local publication(s) that again allows faculty to work with leading practitioners. Another is the establishment of professional-in-residence programs that bring leading practitioners into academe on a continuous cycle. Another is to bring practitioners into your graduate programs through attractive fellowships. (This is something we have done that proved highly effective.)
As we look ahead to a journalism education landscape that emphasizes multimedia storytelling, immersive design and programming, social media, mobile, innovation and entrepreneurship, building community, distance learning, app development and data driven reportage and visualization, it is clear that we face many challenges.