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The Campus Beat #5

Reflections on Student Media

Should I study journalism? Should I attend journalism school? Those are questions many college students are asking these days, and the answers, according to various reports, are increasingly being answered with a resounding “YES”.

According to this article in The New York Times, “Demand for seats in the nation's journalism schools and programs remains robust, and those schools and programs are expanding. This month (May 2006) they will churn out more graduates than ever into a job market that is perhaps more welcoming to entry-level multimedia-taskers than it is to veterans who began their careers hunting and pecking on Olivetti typewriters.” The article continues, “In 2004, the latest year for which there are comprehensive statistics, freshman enrollments in more than 450 journalism and mass communications programs across the country increased 5.2 percent over the previous year, marking the 11th consecutive year of growth.”

And why are students so interested in journalism? According to interviews of 14 journalism students conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, topping the list was students’ love of writing. Another important reason was the lifelong learning journalism provides. Becoming a journalist offers individuals chances to meet fascinating people and critically examine major changes and developments in society; students view this alternative as more appealing than the typical drone of desk or cubicle jobs. Few students mentioned an interest in reforming the world, social activism, or serving as a watchdog to corporate and political machines.

In those interviews, several students revealed their greatest learning experience occurred while interning at professional news organizations or working for their college’s student newspaper. These learning experiences were far more valuable than classroom settings. A few students noted a particularly engaging class or inspiring, effective professor who inspired them to become journalists. Interviewing techniques were the most challenging subject for students, one several still felt uncomfortable with; they felt similarly about their lack of adequate coursework in multimedia technologies such as video production and photography. Online and print journalism trumped radio and television, and few students were interested in other related mass communication fields such as public relations or advertising.

These developments are leading to some interesting collaborations, innovations, and developments in journalism education. The first ever World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) recently convened to discuss, among other topics, “the state of the field – journalism education; industry and academy relationships; journalistic freedom and responsibility; who is a journalist?; comparative models of journalism education; and Asian journalism education – challenges and opportunities.” Back in 2005, The New York Times reported about a now prominent multi-institution project including some of the nation’s leading journalism schools whose “goal is to revitalize journalism education by jointly undertaking national investigative reporting projects, integrating their journalism programs more deeply with other disciplines at their universities and providing a national platform to try to influence the discourse on media-related issues.” These are just a few initiatives paving the way for journalism’s future.

And that future, most academics, journalists, and students agree, is changing rapidly like journalism curriculums themselves. Jonathan Last, in The Wall Street Journal, has suggested some interesting changes to journalism curriculums, mainly an emphasis away from the craft and process of “doing” journalism and more toward journalists’ academic study of traditional fact and knowledge-based courses such as economics, history, and political science. His is an interesting idea, one to add to the melting pot that is modern journalism.

Chris Justice is the Director of Expository Writing at The University of Baltimore.

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