Major Thoughts: Making the most of journalism’s outdated curriculum

Emerson is consistently ranked by College Factual as one of the best journalism schools in the country. During my senior year of high school, I visited the college and my tour guide showed my group the newsroom in the Walker Building. After the tour, I was impressed by the facilities, projects, and opportunities so much that I was convinced Emerson was the college for me.

Five semesters later, I’ve realized the major isn’t designed for journalists with my interests. My passion lies in writing and deep reporting, and I especially want to expand on my narrative and investigative abilities. Thus far, none of my classes have provided me with the opportunity to improve these skills. There are courses within the journalism department that focus on the type of in-depth and enterprise reporting I wish to pursue in the future, but the availability of those courses varies each semester. It’s difficult to take classes specific to my interests when scheduling and other requirements within the major inhibit me from enrolling in them.

I understand it isn’t practical to focus my career on narrative or investigative journalism. It is important to learn different technical skills in order to become a more holistic reporter, and I appreciate Emerson’s attempt to give us the tools to do this. However, as much as the department says it tries, the curriculum lags behind the industry’s standards.

The “Foundations of Journalism” course did not help improve my writing, even though strong writing skills are the basis of good journalism. I had hoped my professor would edit my articles and detail upon what could be improved. Instead, she never even shared feedback on my work.

“Beat Reporting” was the one mandatory class I found helpful. My professor invited guest speakers from a wide range of beats, gave valuable feedback on my stories, and taught me the value of local reporting. As much as I enjoyed the course, I know my experience isn’t a universal one. While I had only six assignments over the course of the class, I had friends complain about having to travel to their neighborhood and report every week. Other friends even switched majors because they disliked their “Beat Reporting” class.

Additionally, the program’s foundational courses are supposed to teach first-year students the basics of print, audio, and video journalism. These classes teach students to make audio-visual packages on outdated software like Garageband and Final Cut Pro instead of Adobe programs like Audition and Premiere, which was an issue brought up during the Faculty/Student Town Hall last month.

Each required course––“Discovering Journalism,” “Foundations of Journalism,” “The Digitalist,” (referred to “The Digital Journalist” in the old curriculum) and formerly “Beat Reporting”––is taught differently depending on the professor. When I ask other students about their experiences in their freshman and sophomore journalism classes, I get answers different from my own. For instance, some students did more original reporting in their “Foundations of Journalism” classes while others did more book exercises for the classes. These classes are supposed to ensure that all students have the same foundational skills to build off of, whether they had previous journalism experience or not. The courses are designed to level the playing field, but they can’t when each class is taught differently.

As I plan my final semesters at Emerson, course descriptions are often misleading, and information about which classes fulfill which requirements is often confusing. Since the curriculum has changed a lot in the past year, I have often misunderstood what is required of upperclass and underclass journalism students.

The major’s curriculum was changed for students entering the college after fall 2017. Since I started in fall 2016, I have been fulfilling pod requirements, and there are only a handful of classes that satisfy the requirements. Oftentimes, the classes are not particularly interesting or relevant to my intended career path.

To supplement the classes I’ve taken for my major, I have taken advantage of the exceptional extracurriculars offered at Emerson. I credit most of my growth, creatively and professionally, to the organizations and projects in which I have played a part. I would advise anyone—especially journalism majors who don’t fit the newspaper or broadcast niches—to find organizations or start projects that interest them. Being proactive in extracurricular activities is an incredibly valuable way to gain experience and learn more about the skills that aren’t covered in the classroom.

As I look at the new curriculum, it seems more practical and leaves more room for students to take classes that interest them. I believe this is a great thing for incoming students, and I am hopeful for more improvements in the coming years.

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