Monday, March 26, 2012

Two Suggestions

UT Journalism Embraces Change

You must love words. You must love words and the power of well-chosen and carefully-crafted words, if you aspire to be a professional journalist. So, it was pleasing to see a heavy emphasis on story-telling and words in the new University of Texas Journalism curriculum to be launched this fall. (

It will be “a new digital-based, state-of-the-art curriculum for undergraduates,” but it doesn’t seem to neglect the basics. The curriculum assumes, I suppose, that students will have mastered grammar and usage before moving into major subjects. I’m sad to say that when I taught a beginning journalism course, I actually taught English for the first six weeks.

“We’re eliminating the old walls between print, magazine, photojournalism, multimedia and broadcast, and we’ll be emphasizing good writing and critical thinking from Day One,” the introductory paragraphs say. I say, it’s about time! One wall is still standing apparently.

I see no collaboration or coordination between Journalism and Radio-Television-Film, even though RTF majors and broadcast journalism majors are using many of the same tools. The “Guiding Principles” say, “We want to break down the barriers between disciplines and institutions and create partnerships of learning and knowledge.” Therefore, there may be hope. It is still true that RTF majors can take some Journalism courses, but there is no mutual respect for the disciplines. The chasm remains.

I think some sort of relationship between the majors would result in a richer experience for some students. After all, they are both under the umbrella of the College of Communications, and some of the sharpest facets of the cutting edges of communications are coming from innovative RTF studies.

That said, it is good that UT Journalism is adhering to basics in the industry’ whirlwind of change. “The primary mission of the School of Journalism remains the same: to educate students to think critically and skeptically; gather a wide range of information accurately, honestly and fairly; hold institutions, individuals and themselves accountable for their promises and their deeds; and produce stories in various media platforms that communicate clearly, concisely and powerfully to the general public. The goal of our new curriculum is to further this mission.

So, this fall students will take a course entitled, “Reporting: Words.” I love it. They will also take a course entitled, “Reporting: Images.” I do hope that there is relationship between these courses. In TV news, one writes to the video or images that tell the story. In fact, a well-produced story may well have very few words leaving it to the pictures to tell the story.

One final and important fault found in the new curriculum is this: A student must be at the Fourth level out of Five before taking “Ethics in Journalism” and “Media Law”. Media Law might wait, but Ethics should come early on. This is important—very important in this digital world.

There is a “rising tide of student plagiarism” attributed to blurred lines of the digital world. Denver Post writer Kevin Simpson told the story of a Colorado State University professor in a February 7, 2012 story.

“She saw it all: blatant cut-and-paste copying from the Internet; only a word changed here and there” in spite of the fact the CSU’s web site cautions against plagiarism at least five times.

The story cited a recent study by the Pew Research Center: 55 percent of university presidents surveyed thought that plagiarism has increased over the past ten years, almost all (86%) blamed it on technology.

I also teach at the university level, and I’ve seen it too, but this kind of thievery of intellectual property isn’t confined to college.

All of the time we read of prize-winning journalist working in the real world—The Washington Post and the New York Times—being caught red-handed having stolen someone else’s intellectual property.

Small wonder that the Pew Center and the Gallup Poll continues to give journalists poor marks for ethics. Gallup reported March 25th that Journalists continue to rank near the bottom of the public opinion poll. Nurses got the highest rating. Journalist did manage to beat out bankers, lobbyists, members of Congress and car salesman. If you need a lot of love in your life, don’t be a journalist.

The University of Texas should seriously consider moving its Ethics course to a basic tier. At the very least, it should be addressed early on in some syllabus.

On the whole, the new UT Journalism curriculum looks promising and challenging with a required “capstone” course and paper during the senior year.

© Jim McNabb, 2012


Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D. said...

Great post, Jim. Thanks for the update!

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