Crafting competent communicators

This story was written by Ms Fiona Whitten, Research Writer at the University of Newcastle, and shows what I research here at the University. 

Dr Janet Fulton is a lecturer in Communication and Media. Her research focuses on the dynamic topography of information dissemination, and exchange, in the digital age.

From fauxrage to mommy-bloggers, Janet’s determination to keep abreast of on-line trends and movements make her a potent educator in an ever-changing field.

In fact, Janet specifically chooses topics of research that allow her to teach her students more effectively.

Current areas of focus include journalism, social media, international media, creativity and cultural production, journalism education, and the future of journalism in the digital age.

Janet’s passion for teaching is displayed by her representation of the Communication discipline on the Faculty of Science and IT Teaching and Learning Committee.

She has also co-ordinated first, second and third year courses in the Bachelor of Communication.

The fluidity of social media, and the dynamic nature of information dissemination in the digital age means Janet’s work, as a researcher and educator, is never done.

“I’m absolutely fascinated to see what is going to happen in the next five or ten years.”

“I can’t wait to see what comes next and I intend to stick around to research it, and teach in it,” Janet says.

Research informs teaching informs research

Janet began her academic career late after partnering in a successful small business and having children.

After excelling in Open Foundation, she pursued and obtained First Class Honours. A PhD followed, with a focus on journalism.

“I came to university to do something with my brain, and fell in love with both the research and education aspects of academia,” Janet smiles.

Janet’s rigorous research style is not only vital to her own career success, but inextricably linked to the viability of the future careers pursued by her students.

“My research interests, and what I find out about my research interests, feed directly into my teaching practice,” Janet says.

“I think it is very important to try to be on the cutting edge of research in the areas that I am teaching into, so that students have very up-to-date skills and knowledge.”

“We are teaching students who want to go out into a workplace, and they may not be able to get a job that they expect to get.”

“So I think it’s really important for me to understand, literally, where they can get jobs.”

New media opportunities

The question of whether traditional journalism is becoming redundant in the face of a growing digital monopoly is one Janet is no stranger to.

Despite the highly publicised shedding of positions by large mainstream media organisations, Janet emphasises that her research shows that opportunities for multi-skilled graduates are constantly appearing.

“There are lots of new players coming into the field, publications like Huffington Post and Guardian Australia and The New Daily,” Janet explains.

“At the moment, community newspapers are still faring relatively well; and there are people out there earning income from self-administered on-line news sites, or blogs.”

According to Janet, generating blogs with content related to children, politics, food, and sport can be particularly lucrative.

“I am currently working on a project researching new media entrepreneurship,” Janet reveals.

“These entrepreneurs make money out of advertising, sponsored posts, conferences, training, and writing books.”

“So, while they may not have a wage as such, they are earning money differently to how it’s happened before.”

The skills to pay the bills

Although journalism is her main area of interest, Janet’s expertise as a researcher and educator extends beyond journalism practice.

“I teach into international media studies which covers content such as public relations, media production, media studies and journalism.”

“I also teach a first year introductory course in digital communication that covers quite a lot of programs.”

Not only are media students being trained across many skill areas, but Communication subjects are becoming increasingly attractive to students across faculties.

A recent large-scale collaboration with nine other universities across Australia confirmed Janet’s anecdotal understandings of the motivations of students specifically studying journalism.

“When we asked the journalism students why they chose journalism, 30% said they didn’t want to actually become journalists, but they wanted to learn the skills that journalists have,” Janet notes.

“Researching, writing and communication skills, are essential across a wide range of jobs, and students are increasingly recognising that.”

“As well as Communication students we regularly have design, information technology, business, and teaching students completing our courses.”

“We’ve also had psychology students, and some maths and science students. Advanced communication skills are invaluable in any profession.”

Integrating learning

Current research related to changing media delivery informs the best practice content and scope of programs within the School.

“What we try to do with our students is to give them a rounded education,” Janet says.

“So they all have to do some media production courses, they have to know how to write and do voice work and video work.”

“That way, whatever comes up, our students will be prepared.”

Before culminating in professional placement – a formal work-integrated learning course completed during the final year of studies – real world learning experiences are embedded through each stage of all programs to ensure students are job-ready.

“In one of our first year courses, the students take part in ABC Open, and they are assessed on the quality of their competition entry,” Janet explains.

“In our public relations major stream, we have organisations present their campaigns, which the public relations students then assess.”

“Through these authentic experiences, our students gain real skills, but also contribute to community and non-profit organisations.”

Social media

Another area of particular interest for Janet is social media.

An avid Twitter user, Janet posts links to course-relevant material using a hashtag invented for the targeted class.

She recently collaborated on a pilot project with Associate Professor Marj Kibby looking at the Millennial generation, social media, and surveillance.

The project explored the manner in which Millennials, young people aged 18-34, use Facebook.

“We found that there appears to be a real disconnect between what people expect to be able to see online, and what they would like people to see about them online,” Janet says.

“Also, participants weren’t overly concerned with Facebook collecting and on-selling their information, but they didn’t like government or law enforcement agencies to have access to that same information.”

Janet is interested to learn if expansion of the project to include a larger cohort, more social media platforms and a wider intake area, will quantify anecdotal trends observed in her students.

“I have some research interests that could benefit from some really big research projects so I will pursue those,” Janet says.

“In the meantime, I will continue with teaching and researching in my areas of interest.”

“I love my job, I just love it.”

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