Journalism interest increases

More reporter notebooks and tape recorders could be spotted on campus if applications for next year follow University and national trends.

The number of students who applied to be journalism majors in the School of Media and Public Affairs reached an all-time high last year, with 371 applicants, 87 more than the year before.

“There has been a steady rise in demand here over a number of years,” said Mark Feldstein, director of the journalism program.

Journalism has enjoyed increased popularity as a major at colleges nationwide. The Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollments released a report in August 2003 documenting “unprecedented” enrollment numbers in journalism and mass communication programs.

The report showed that 190,934 undergraduate students were in journalism and mass communication programs across the country in fall 2003, an increase of almost 5 percent from the year before. In the past decade, the number of journalism and mass communication students rose nearly 50 percent.

Charles Higginson, assistant to the executive director of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, said there have been “definite increases” in journalism enrollment.

“Journalism and mass communications do seem to be increasingly popular majors,” Higginson said.

He added that the last time there was this type of increase in journalism interest was after the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration.

“People wanted to become sort of torch-bearing investigative journalists,” Higginson said.

Feldstein attributed the rise in applications to technological changes in media and the impact of the September 11 attacks.

“Since September 11, journalism has mattered more,” Feldstein said.

Before September 11, the news emphasized “trivial scandals” such as those involving Monica Lewinsky and Gary Condit, Feldstein said.

He added that the growth of broadcast and online journalism has also created “more jobs in different areas.”

SMPA is taking measures, such as hiring more adjunct professors, to accommodate the increased interest in the program, Feldstein said. There are 18 full-time faculty and 32 adjunct professors in SMPA, according to the school’s Web site.

“We try to meet supply to reach demand,” Feldstein said.

He added that the SMPA will keep class sizes small and is trying to “take advantage of greater demand without lowering quality.”

Senior journalism major Rachel Gould has never had a problem getting into journalism classes, which she said have generally been small. The number of students in the New York University journalism program nearly doubled in the past four years, causing a struggle to accommodate students, The Washington Square News, NYU’s student newspaper, reported.

Gould is also president of the Society of Professional Journalists, which has nearly doubled its membership since its inception in 2002. The organization has 35 members and many more who regularly attend events, Gould said. Most members of the group are SMPA majors.

“I think the program has a lot of growing to do, it’s just a matter of growing in the right direction,” Gould, a former Hatchet editor, said.

SMPA is also in the process of restructuring its curriculum after a task force examined the school’s majors – journalism, political communication and electronic media – and recommended changes to the school last year. The changes include phasing out the electronic media program – a move that is already underway – and expanding the journalism major.

Feldstein said the SMPA sets itself apart from some other journalism programs because of its emphasis on liberal arts requirements.

“We are not a traditional journalism school … we try to have a more academic component,” Feldstein said.

Knight Ridder Washington Bureau Chief John Walcott said journalism students need an “understanding of the forces that derive change.” He placed particular emphasis on a background in religious studies.

Walcott, a former English major at Williams College, said many of his co-workers at the Bergen Record in New Jersey, his second job, had graduate journalism degrees from Columbia University.

“I didn’t feel their degrees gave them any great advantages,” said Walcott, a Georgetown professor. “I think there are some advantages that my liberal arts background gave me.”

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