Proposed Journalism Concentration Deserves Support

 “We decided to take an approach to the story that a national outlet might not, and reach out to the university,” Andrew Howard, a managing editor for The State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper, said in an October interview with The New York Times. “I’m not sure we ever expected to get the scoop that we did.”

Howard was referring to his publication’s story about Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, and his resignation from the Trump administration due to involvement in inappropriate pressure politics with Ukraine. The Press was the first publication of any kind to break the news.

“Just a college paper” — it’s a phrase used to diminish the importance of college newspapers on campuses across the country, but as Howard’s work and countless other examples illustrate, the role of student newspapers and student journalists are vital. Especially in a changing media landscape where many local publications are cutting down pages and circulation, or shuttering their doors entirely, many college newspapers are now papers of record in their cities and towns and must be comparable to professional journalistic organizations. This dynamic was the focus of another recent Times article, which focused on the role that such student papers play in their broader communities.

In this context, it is extremely heartening to know that the Educational Plans and Policies Committee plans to present a proposal to add an integrative concentration in journalism to the list of academic concentrations available to students. If the College Faculty vote to approve the proposal during its Nov. 6 meeting, the concentration will give Obies the opportunity to access the vast journalistic knowledge and experience Oberlin’s faculty and network have in a more organized and fruitful manner. 

With the support of faculty and courses from across the academic spectrum, the proposed concentration would give students the opportunity to develop journalistic skills and get unprecedented avenues of training and feedback. 

It is important to note that this concentration aims to be not just academic, but also highly co-curricular. The concentration plans to build upon existing foundations of journalism on this campus, and does not discount the value of ‘learning on the job’ — a method that has created a significant number of renowned journalists from Oberlin in the past. Part of the concentration requires students to engage in at least one semester of on-campus work of which the Practicum in Journalism — a one credit course requiring students to write consistently for any student publication — is a time-tested option. 

Additionally, the concentration aims to encourage students to get real-world journalism experience as well. The concentration’s plan involves a requirement that students pursue a minimum of eight weeks of related work. This requirement is flexible, as it can be fulfilled on campus by working for a student publication, as well as off campus through internships in any media sector that interests the student. The concentration hopes to work collaboratively with the Career Development Center to help students network, gain valuable advice from alumni in the field, and secure experience in print, radio, television, online news, or other communications-related work of interest. 

Furthermore, the concentration encourages students to create portfolios documenting bylines and clippings that showcase their skills and experience. Skills and experience that can be accounted for are imperative to illustrate an aptitude for a career in journalism, particularly for students fresh out of college. We believe this concentration can help students interested in journalism to gather the resources, confidence, and experience to achieve their journalistic goals. 

However, of the 17 courses on the tentative list of courses that will be regularly offered and will count towards the journalism concentration, only three fall under the Rhetoric program. Though this fact may be a testimony to the integration of the concentration with several other departments, it still points to the possibility that the Rhetoric program may not have been given enough resources to oversee and maintain the concentration — a concern heightened by the fact that the program only has two tenured faculty and no junior faculty on tenure track. If a new journalism concentration is to succeed, the Rhetoric and Composition program will need more.

It is true that journalism — particularly print journalism — is often considered to be a dying field. However, Obies know better than anyone that journalism is indispensable. While technologies and the medium used to dispense good journalism may change, the world will always need great journalists to provide credible information, hold governments and corporations accountable for their actions, and give a platform and voice to those without. The Review could not be more thrilled for this much-needed opportunity, and we hope that College Faculty considering the journalism concentration will vote in its favor come their meeting next Wednesday.