Column: Open letter to SMPA task force

I am writing this letter to express my opinion of GW’s journalism program. I hope that the task force, which is working to restructure the School of Media and Public Affairs, will take my suggestions into consideration. From reading the task force’s report and Hatchet articles, it seems as though many of the original suggestions from a preliminary task force – which came out this spring – are set in stone. I hope this is not true; the students need a voice and must be listened to.

If I had not been a reporter and editor for The Hatchet, I would have been completely unprepared to be a reporter once I graduated. The journalism program has some serious flaws that need to be corrected.

All introductory journalism courses, along with upper-level courses if possible, should have a “workshop” or “lab” component.

In intro courses, such as JOUR 111, students should be assigned weekly stories, which are read and reviewed by the professor. During regular class time, the professor should go over interviewing skills, the basics of reporting and whatever else the professor currently teaches. However, in the workshop or lab section, which should also be weekly, students would be able to sit down and have their work critiqued and edited in front of them.

The professor, an adjunct or a senior with significant writing experience would lead the workshop section. Each student would get 20 minutes per week with the section leader. The leader would go over exactly what was good/bad about the story and what needs to be changed. This way, students would understand what they did right and what needs work.

Currently, students get stories back with some comments and a grade. However, the professor generally does not go into great detail, re-write a lede or re-write parts of the story. Students read the comments and then go out and write again, not really knowing what to change about their writing. At The Hatchet, editors sit down with reporters and actually edit stories with them. This is a necessary part of learning how to be a journalist.

One benefit of certain courses (JOUR 112, for example) is that

students cover a beat and report on real issues. However, the pitfall of the beat system is that since the locations are often far away and not directly off a Metro stop, it is difficult for students to get there. In turn, they do not have much time to write their stories or physically cannot get out to the place they are covering enough to really try and understand the neighborhood.

It would be more beneficial for students to cover a beat on or

right near campus. Besides actually being easier for students – who take a full class load – students could get their articles published in a campus publication. It is more worthwhile for students to see their stories in print.

I know students who have even made up sources and information just because they don’t care about the story since it is “just” for a professor to read.

The journalism program should also create some type of journal at the end of the semester displaying the best stories. This can be another type of incentive for students to do their best work. Since some students oddly don’t write for outside organizations, this is a way to get clips. I don’t understand how a journalism major who wants to work for a newspaper can leave college without clips.

One of my professors this spring told my all-senior class that the majority of students in the class could not write a news story. That is pathetic. How can students spend four years in a print-focused journalism program and not understand the importance of and correct usage of quotations?

I’m not saying I am the most amazing writer in the world, but I do know how to interview sources and structure a story. And besides courses with a few select, excellent professors, my journalism skills were not learned in GW’s classrooms.

-The writer, an alumna who majored in journalism, was a Hatchet news editor from 2002-2004.

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