The journalism program is #1 in name only

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • September 30, 2015

As reported by USA Today, Emerson has been ranked by College Factual as the number one journalism school in the country. This is great news that deserves recognition, but ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

Despite this accolade—which, importantly, came from College Factual and not from USA Today itself—our school’s journalism department has for some time been facing a few notable and deep-seated deficiencies. Course offerings are often inconsistent, and resources (both hardware and software) are scarce.

After former chair Ted Gup stepped down from his position in spring 2012, Paul Niwa was named as the interim head. Now, over three years later, Niwa is still the department’s interim chair, and it appears from the outside that little to no progress has been made in selecting a true successor. Many of the program’s faculty are part-time since they’re practicing journalists, so it would benefit the department to have a permanent chair to create and execute long-term strategies. If Emerson wants this department to be one of its flagships, it needs a more permanent leader—all of our local competitors (like Boston University, which also made College Factual’s list) have permanent department heads.

It’s incumbent for us to address our program’s shortcomings because the journalism industry is becoming a more competitive market. CareerCast.com recently ranked newspaper reporter as the “second worst job in America,” with some of the lowest starting salaries and fastest shrinking job markets of any career. Emerson’s top-rated academics aren’t enough to help garner its journalism students jobs—a revamped dedication to fostering true alumni and industry connections will.

More than glossy awards or flashy rankings, we do have a good thing going: A powerful lure of our school’s journalism major is its hand-on curriculum. In an entry-level course, freshmen get their hands on camera kits to begin training as a multi-platform multimedia reporter. Students have the opportunity to experiment and make fumbles while learning how to set up a tripod or pin a mic on an interview subject. 

The school ought to use this first place honor as an aspirational goal. Prospective students are likely to see this ranking on USA Today’s site as a key indicator that Emerson is the place for emerging reporters. It's true that Emerson College provides unique and rigorous opportunities for journalism students—it's situated in the city where the first newspaper was printed, after all. Boston is the city where journalism was conceived, where its practice was fought for and where it is valued as proof of our democratic values. The program might not be number one yet, but we believe—we know—that it could be.