Non-traditional journalism students need more diverse courses from SMPA

Before I knew what I wanted to do, I thought of journalism as only hard news stories about politics and crime. But I decided that I wanted to major in it because I enjoyed writing and telling stories. A few months into my freshman year as a journalism and mass communication major, I discovered my interest in writing more creative feature stories. As course registration rolls around, I am disappointed to find that the School of Media and Public Affairs has failed to offer multiple courses to explore this newfound interest.

Over the past two years, SMPA has offered a limited number of courses outside of hard news and political journalism. Although the school does give options like Photojournalism, Feature Writing and Narrative Journalism, they are few and far between. Of the 90 SMPA courses listed on the schedule of classes for this spring, only four classes cover culture writing and none of the classes focus on business, sports or technology. Current courses are centered on breaking news, including politics and foreign affairs, rather than feature or human interest stories. As a sophomore, I’ve struggled to find more than a couple of classes that have fit my desired concentration. SMPA should offer its students more courses in different subject areas by adding classes and employing more professors with varying backgrounds. It’s critical that students are exposed to all kinds of journalism to explore their options and gain experience in the constantly evolving field.

Over the past two years, SMPA has offered a limited number of courses outside of hard news and political journalism.

I committed to GW because I thought I would be able to look at different journalistic areas through the renowned program and extracurriculars to explore lifestyle, culture and sports. Although I didn’t investigate specific SMPA courses before committing, I assumed I’d be exposed to various forms of journalism. But with less than a month left of my sophomore year, I am disappointed that I haven’t been able to take diverse elective courses, and I’m not alone in having this problem. There are approximately 322 undergraduate students in SMPA and we don’t all want to be political reporters, which seems to be the school’s main focus.

The news writing and multimedia classes I have taken were focused on hard news stories and failed to offer opportunities outside that realm. I wish I had learned more about storytelling rather than just laying out the facts. Although the news writing courses did involve some feature writing, I mostly learned the fundamentals of writing hard news stories rather than learning to craft an anecdotal lede or ask questions to write an in-depth feature. As a junior next year, I’ll be forced to continue to take electives for my major that don’t necessarily align with my specific interests – including Public Opinion, Broadcast News Writing and Campaign Reporting – which focus mainly on political topics.

To initiate this change and give SMPA students a wider range of class options, the school should offer more diverse classes like sports journalism and entertainment journalism reporting on TV, film and music, and seek out a diverse group of professors to teach these courses. Students would receive a better understanding of the wide range of journalism fields and it would help them find their passion.

Boston University’s College of Communication promises its students they will graduate as “well-rounded journalists” – and the courses offered seem to deliver on that promise. BU offers 16 elective courses in topics other than hard news for fall 2018, in areas like photojournalism, sports journalism and civil rights reporting. In contrast, SMPA only counts 11 non-hard news elective courses and offers one general journalism major: journalism and mass communication. While there is some diversity in classes like Covering Race, Sex and Politics as well as Info, Tech and Politics, the courses offered are limited.

Other universities also offer journalism classes outside of breaking news. Northwestern University offers a course on health and science reporting and New York University offers a class in food writing. SUNY Plattsburgh offers a major in magazine journalism and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a degree in business journalism. University of Missouri offers six majors with 36 concentrations within their journalism program, including entrepreneurial journalism and science, health and environmental journalism. With this precedence, SMPA is falling behind. The media school needs to keep up with other institutions and offer a diverse selection of courses to have a well-rounded curriculum with courses in topics like business, technology, fashion and sports.

I wish I had learned more about storytelling rather than just laying out the facts.

Because a good number of SMPA courses depend on adjunct faculty, SMPA needs to employ professors with different backgrounds outside of political reporting who can teach a wide array of courses based on their experience. Currently, the school has 44 part-time faculty members and 23 have a political or breaking news background. The 21 other part-time faculty members have a background in digital media or public relations. Although these faculty members are a great asset to SMPA students, the school can benefit from faculty members with different backgrounds like lifestyle and culture because it will create more resources for its students.

To attract more prospective students with varying interests and provide wider opportunities for its current students, SMPA needs to expand its classes in areas outside of hard news. One way to do this is to employ professors with different expertise in journalism to ensure that the school offers students the best education. Although I am a little unsure of the path that I will take as I continue college, a more diverse course list with qualified professors can further strengthen SMPA and help students like myself and future students.

Christina DeBartolomeo, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer. 

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