Founded in 2021, NBCU Academy is a journalism, media technology and content creation training and development program. It is designed to prepare college students for a career in the news and media technology industry and to help professional journalists gain new skills.
The online academy, part of Comcast’s NBCUniversal Media, offers free instruction and digital content as well as hands-on training at affiliated college campuses and in NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo newsrooms. It also provides fellowships and job opportunities, direct funding and course development to partner universities.
The academy also seeks more equitable access to diverse and marginalized communities that have been historically underrepresented in the news industry.
Broadcast Beat’s Frank Beacham spoke with Sandy Sharp, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives for The NBC News Group about NBCU Academy.
Frank Beacham: Sandy, many of us are not familiar with NBCU Academy. How does it work?
Sandy Sharp: Our aim is to give access and opportunity to rising journalists, content creators and media tech professionals who wouldn’t otherwise have it. We realize NBC Universal can’t hire everyone, but we can certainly contribute to their journey in this space.
Our attendees are primarily students, young rising professionals, mid-level managers and even some senior managers who are looking for tools to share with their staff. We are adding some components that are geared toward executives. But primarily we target the rising journalist and mid-level managers seeking to enhance their skills.
Frank Beacham: Do most of the participants learning the skills want jobs in the broadcasting business?
Sandy Sharp: Yes. We produced 65 online tutorials last year, and hosted eight live streams and generated more than 40 original Equity Lab stories. You can find them on our website (www.nbcuacademy.com). The site is designed for professional development, it’s free and easily accessible. The people consuming the content are really looking to learn new skills and many are looking for jobs.
When you look at our Next Level Summit held last year, which is now our signature event, we had close to 3,000 people attend. In an event like that, we always pair it with our talent acquisitions department so we can share what internal roles we have, explain the hiring process and meet some of the managers. I would say it’s a healthy mix of professional development and career strategy.
Frank Beacham: You are affiliated with academic partners. What is that relationship?
Sandy Sharp: We have 45 academic partners across the United States. I’m very excited that we have a healthy mix of four-year to tribal schools. We have historically black colleges and universities as well as Hispanic institutions. We’ve given out millions in funding for campuses.
Within our academic institutions, we are focused not only on journalism programs, but engineering and business programs as well. We believe all of these sectors can impact the growth of the broadcast industry.
Frank Beacham: You also have the Original Voices program. What is that?
Sandy Sharp: In partnership with the NBC News Studios, we are awarding a fellowship to documentarians who identify as — or showcase stories highlighting social issues affecting women, LGBTQ+, communities of color and people with disabilities.
This is an invitation-only opportunity that supports up to seven filmmaking teams with new feature-length nonfiction films in all stages of production. The selected fellows receive a $60,000 grant and a one-year artist development fellowship designed to help each filmmaker with the completion of their films.
Fellows also have access to archival research and production resources as well as NBC News Studios executives and journalists. So far, we have awarded $315,000.
Frank Beacham: The academy has produced many videos on various broadcast-related subjects. How do you choose the topics and where does that content come from?
Sandy Sharp: We have an amazing editorial team that is stacked with professionals from across our business. They’ve run MSNBC, some have launched shows, some worked from the bottom up. Many have been with the network for 20 plus years. We also have access to the students and their professors. We hear from them about what they’re looking for and we have the pulse of what’s going on.
Sometimes what we do is reactive. If we are covering a war, the death of Queen Elizabeth or a tornado, we may do that subject. Sometimes it’s based on strategy. We may help students become better TikTok users or teach them to identify what is news and not news on social media. That’s how the process happens.
Frank Beacham: How are your Next Level Summits organized? What subjects do they deal with?
Sandy Sharp: They are basically virtual conferences. We saw a need to provide some type of programming for students and young professionals who are not able to make it to conventions. We use the summit as a way for them to have a shared experience.
We have presidents of our various networks attend, also executive producers and representation from across the conglomerate. The purpose is to give professional development and career strategy opportunities to our students. Whether it’s an academic partner school or a writing professional who wants a little bit more to add to their toolbox, we accommodate them all. These are free and last about four hours. Participants can join in a specific breakout room or session that resonates with where they are on their career journey.
Frank Beacham: What does the Equity Lab do?
Sandy Sharp: That’s a term we use to tell stories about covering underrepresented areas and marginalized populations. Equity Lab allows a storyteller to give an insider’s perspective of what it’s like to cover these issues.
Frank Beacham: In addition to working at NBCU, you are an executive coach. What makes a good candidate for a job today in broadcasting?
Sandy Sharp: Because our industry is so fragmented in terms of how we deliver content, and how consumers receive content, we have to be very hybrid and open.
We might look for ‘X’ candidate with ‘X’ skills. You want someone who’s driven, committed and can think very quickly. They need to be very agile in terms of what they do. The media industry is volatile and very elusive. We need people who have a bias for being flexible at a really high level.
I love the ‘go getters.’ I love the ones who are self-starting. If I have to remind you to email me to set up a meeting, you’re likely not going to enjoy your experience working in this industry. It’s just not built for those who don’t take action.
Frank Beacham: Thank you, Sandy Sharp.
Reporting and Attribution with Chuck Todd: youtu.be/ytpqqEsfyNo