Journalism Plus: There is a future for journalism at CU-Boulder after all

cu journalism studio.jpg
I'm three weeks an intern for Westword, and with each day, I'm made more aware of the strengths (and the pitfalls) of my journalism education at CU-Boulder. Nothing scares me more than joining my older brother in his misery caused by the mania surrounding this economic downturn. "Good luck finding a job. Your generation has it bad-d-d-d," they tell me -- a fair warning prior to my upcoming graduation from a program that's transitioning from journalism to "Journalism Plus."

Splat! On the paper, the jaded sentences couldn't closet the writer's frustration. Blocked. The words weren't there, but the facts certainly were. Her Evidence Notebook containing scribbles of direct quotes; her iPhone recording app mimicking the exact tone of her interviewee; the flashbacks bound in her memory, reminding her of the scene; and the source's contact information for factual clarification.

It was all there. But, somehow, her ability to properly translate what she saw -- from sense experience, filtered through the mind and the fingers, onto the keyboard and then, finally, to the brightly lit screen of the Word document -- was teetering on deprivation. Something was missing: A variable of her college education, perhaps?

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The Armory houses JMC at CU.
As you may have heard (and if you haven't, check out the future of journalism at CU), Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) as a school -- not as an academic major -- at CU was discontinued for reasons mentioned in the above link. To put it simply: Times are changing, globalization is here (duh) and CU administrators are finally taking notice of the JMC's outdated existence. The JMC's home, the Armory, sadly emits an aura similar to that archaic, downtrodden rug you'd find collecting dust in your attic, trampled by the feats of globalization (like many newspapers today).

According to a timeline tracking the program's landmark renovations, the JMC was founded in 1909 and has since been remodeled many times over to keep up with a dynamic news industry. Its most recent makeover: Journalism Plus.

CU administrators continually reassure prospective students that this new program is at the forefront of media today. Journalism Plus will produce a highly qualified wave of journalists ready to compete in a brute workforce, they say. In addition to the basic technical skills necessary of a journalist (provided by the old JMC), Journalism Plus students will obtain an additional area of study in an effort to generate a more creative and critical journalist who is knowledgeable about the topic he or she is reporting on -- traits the old curriculum severely lacked, a curriculum I was subject to.

One of my Westword mentors, Andy Van De Voorde, advised me to write about what I know. Too many times interns try to tackle issues they aren't familiar with, he says -- and like my intern predecessors, I've had the hopeless task of reporting on unfamiliar topics. On my first day in the office, my editor assigned me to attend a Democratic Party press conference. Right away, I was welcomed by the sheer magnitude of my naïveté. In my first blog post for Westword, readers expressed their outrage. One reader called my post propaganda, a valid point. "I live in Denver. I don't feel threatened by the thought of fewer illegal immigrants," one wrote. "Of course the word 'illegal' was left out of this headline, thus it's propaganda."

That anecdote pertains to a problem Journalism Plus is designed to avoid: journalists as presumed experts, yet completely oblivious to the topics they're reporting on.

The new program requires students entering the journalism school to obtain an additional course of study -- an expertise -- in a liberal arts discipline (like history, political science, international affairs, economics, environmental studies). Although adding an additional area of study, students can still complete the degree in a four-year period. The new program calls for only 120 credit hours (an "almost" dual degree), rather than the 145-150 credit hours required by an actual dual degree.

CU's director of journalism Christopher Braider explains the logic behind the formulae of Journalism Plus. "On the one hand, it ensures that all of our students are trained not only in what they need to know to practice as communicators," he says. "The other side is, we want you to be grounded in the world you'll be communicating about."

Yes, a little background knowledge involving, say, political science would've been extremely beneficial during my first go at covering political press conference.

Page down for more details about CU-Boulder's Journalism Plus program:

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Recovering newspaperman
Recovering newspaperman

"... get things spelled write," Reilly says...So who missed that glaring error? The Westword intern? The Westword copy editor? Or did Rick Reilly put that in an email?

If it was the intern, he should receive a double F from his journalism professor.

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