My “Dare to Dream” Journalism Curriculum

Here at the journalism department at the University of Memphis, we are about to brave yet another assault on mount curriculum change.

I’ve observed this process now at more than one university, and I can tell you it’s the epitome of Groundhog Day.

It’s not that there isn’t a general acknowledgment of the need to change. The problem is that change inevitably means giving some things you are currently doing up (unless you plan on making students take 150 journalism credits to graduate and you have a veritable army of faculty to teach them). And giving things up that you’ve grown comfortable doing or that you’ve come to see as non-discussable is more difficult than just adding shiny new things on.

I’ve already posted a list of skills and knowledge I think all journalism students need (and it got some great comments; check them out!).  So here’s a rough draft of my dream curriculum.

Couple of introductory notes: We are hoping to ultimately “converge” the curriculum (a term I no longer hear outside the academy.) We still have sequences in broadcast, newspaper/magazine, and Internet journalism (yes, we realize that making distinctions between the latter two are patently ridiculous), and we’d like to turn all of those into one “news” major, perhaps with different areas of emphasis.

My personal view (not shared by many other academics I know, I’ll confess) is that the key is to give students choice. Trying to fit them into obsolete boxes doesn’t make sense anymore. For example, is having the ability to do traditional print layout and design still useful for many? Sure. But does every single student have to take it? I’d say no (I have three degrees in journalism from three journalism schools and I never did).  I say limit the number of required courses and let students mix and match and take classes they are interested in. We have good advising here, too, so we can guide them along the way. If they gravitate toward certain courses, offer more of them. While students may not “know what’s good for them” yet, they also tend to be more motivated and open to learning when they perceive that they have a choice in the matter.

So here we go! Feedback and ideas always welcome, of course.

All Students Take:

  • Intro to Journalism and Mass Communication: Read Elements of Journalism and learn the core enduring values that apply regardless of medium; introduction to current issues affecting journalism, advertising, and PR
  • Ethics
  • Media Writing The basic intro to writing and reporting news that all journalism schools have
  • Reporting –  Reporting techniques in all media, including video and social media, are emphasized.
  • Computer Assisted Reporting – University of Memphis currently requires this of all majors, which I think sets us apart.
  • Basic Web Programming – Basics of how to create a Web site. Students should come out of this class with a portfolio Web site/professional blog.
  • Visual Journalism – emphasis on all forms, still, video, and graphics
  • Advanced news practices – More advanced writing and reporting and editing, using all media but especially honing writing skills
  • Entrepreneurship/freelancing /business class – ideally in partnership with business school.
  • Capstone – Our new multimedia course in which students take on a meaty, real-world project. Taught “real-world newsroom” style, not just another class.

Everything else is an elective. And there are plenty of electives covering a wide array of skills in journalism.

Emphases would be voluntary, which would mean students could either a)get an emphasis OR b)mix and match and end up with just a degree in “news”

For example:

Broadcast Emphasis would include various TV courses e.g. TV Producing, TV writing, etc.

Web emphasis would include advanced courses in programming, etc.

News (NOT “newspaper/magazine,”  gah!) would include courses like reporting public issues, layout, etc.


6 Comments

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6 responses to “My “Dare to Dream” Journalism Curriculum

  1. Renee Smith

    It’s important to require a course in Media and Diversity that delves into portrayals of race, gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality, etc. in the media. Looking critically at these issues exposes bias and sets the stage for greater impartiality in reporting.

  2. changingnewsroom

    Good point, Renee – that is important.

  3. Something that I’ve seen a need for in my work at AEJMC but is still often over-looked, is basic help finding a job. Maybe this is rolled into your ‘web program’ or ‘capstone’ project mentioned above, but may I also suggest some emphasis on building your resume, networking and interview skills. This wouldn’t need to be a semester-long course but perhaps a week-long seminar, or a few round table/brown bag lunches.

    I would also recommend a week-long seminar (or four consecutive Saturdays) on social media and another on graphic design, and I’d call these “boot camp.”

    • changingnewsroom

      Good ideas, Mich, thanks for responding.

      I am actually planning some kind of social media brownbag/seminar right now🙂 But while we maintain lots of listings and such, great idea for more concrete job preparation workshops.

  4. Ellen Mrja

    Hi, Carrie. Thanks for the great discussion starter. I notice you don’t list “Law” as a course required of all. Do you see law as being part of the ethics course?

    We cover job hunting in our PRSSA and SPJ chapter meetings, mostly, although I have spent a limited amount of time in a couple of senior classes on portfolios & interviewing. A dedicated workshop would be a great idea.

  5. changingnewsroom

    Hi Ellen,

    Hmm, I hadn’t thought about making law part of the ethics course, but I like that. Currently it’s a required class for all students at the U of M, but – while I think it’s very important/worthwhile as a class, I was trying to come up with a way to pare down the list required of everyone to bare minimum or it gets so long fast. I got my PhD at Mizzou and one way we handled it there was to teach a little bit of law in the intro/survey course, and then law as a stand-alone course was also offered as a choice in the curriculum that many students took, but at least everybody got a little bit of it. But maybe combining with ethics might be the way to go. What’s legal and what’s right.

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