Photo by Ana Luisa Pinto
It doesn’t particularly matter which university you attend. For the overwhelming majority of schools, a major in journalism will either require or strongly recommend the following four courses in order to graduate.
These courses will cover basic media and news information, the first amendment rights and ethical issues that journalists face in the field, alternative story formats such as photography, and actual reporting on the school newspaper.
When put together, these classes provide the basis for the future of your career. They provide the meat and potatoes to your education and your writing. If you find that the school you attend doesn’t include these generic courses (or a form of them) you should probably consider reading up on the subjects yourself.
Your reporting and writing skills depend on it.
1. An Introduction to Journalism
In this course, you’ll read the famous books. You know, “Seabiscuit” and “All the President’s Men”. You’ll talk about the future of journalism and the possibility that print media may not exist by the time you graduate. You’ll talk about well-known ethical issues and the people who went against the rules of journalism, including Stephen Glass. You’ll probably watch several groundbreaking movies.
You’ll also be expected to write, even if it isn’t very much. Here, you’ll learn your basic reporting skills and you’ll get an overview of what the industry wants and needs from you. You’ll practice with media, and talk about groundbreaking stories like those involving Richard Nixon.
Basically, this class exists to help you familiarize yourself with the major. If, after taking it, you want to move forward, you’ll begin learning about the footwork of reporting itself. This is where the academic writing starts to come into play.
2. Journalism Ethics
This course is all about the court cases and legal issues that surround the journalism career path. You’ll get the answers to important questions, such as when to go undercover, when to use anonymous sources, and how to avoid slander or libel. This will feel very much like a legal class, but you’ll get into interesting discussions that help enhance your understanding of the field. Journalism is complicated, and sometimes messy. This class helps make it a bit clearer.
When it comes to writing, you’ll probably need to develop a few reports. You’ll also need to be able to identify mistakes in someone else’s writing process, by reading their story and pointing out the ethical flaws. After passing this class, you’ll be ready to start doing some writing yourself.
3. Visualization in Journalism
This class is about writing, of course. But it’s also about media. Here, you’ll learn photography and videography skills. You’ll also learn how to utilize social media and blog posts. Basically, you’re going to learn how to tell a story without having to write an actual story. Writing as a journalist is, essentially, one of the most difficult forms of writing that you can attempt to tackle. You need to be succinct, specific, prepared. This class allows you to take a break and explore your other options.
Multi-media journalism needs to be every bit as succinct and specific, but it can also be pleasing to the eye. It gives readers the opportunity to take a break from the long blocks of text, and instead learn from charts and tables.
4. The News Room
Now, it all comes to life. You’ve been introduced to the subject, you’ve been given the information you need to move forward, and now you’re actually in the room and ready to write. Here, you’ll gain essential knowledge about the field in which you want to work. You’ll be able to use a hands-on approach to interview subjects and share your pieces. You’ll also be able to take advantage of your visualization knowledge to create charts and graphs.
In addition to experience in the field, working in a news room will give you the opportunity to work with a full staff. Most of your coworkers will be students, life yourself, trying to fulfill their requirements. But others will be paid interns, who have been on the paper for more than one year and are working to improve it before they graduate.
You can choose to get more involved in the news room than your degree requires, or you can decide to get an internship that allows you to get your foot in the door at another publication. Either way, now is the time to get real, in-depth experience in order to improve your writing before receiving your degree.
These courses take you on a journey, and they take your writing on a journey, as well.