Why Study Journalism?

By: William McKeen

I get this a lot: “Why should I let my kid study journalism? Isn’t it a dying business?”

These days, parents generally escort their children through college preview or orientation events. The students ask about the schooling and the opportunities, then the parents ask that inevitable question. I have a response ready.

“If journalism is a dying business, then we are a dying species,” I tell them.

“If journalism is a dying business, then we are a dying species,” I tell them. This befuddles the parents – befuddling being part of the job for a professor – but then I elaborate.

Do not confuse journalism with the newspaper business. I am far from convinced that the newspaper business is dying. It is in transition, but I understand where the “dying business” comes from: look at the stories of old newspapers folding and the massive layoffs at even the healthiest of institutions. (Still, a newspaper is still a darned-good invention, a great way to present news. You also don’t have to worry about wifi signals or running out of power.)

Journalism is alive and well – transitioning, changing, taking new forms. To adapt a line from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, journalism is like a shark – it must constantly move forward and eat or it dies. So it adapts and changes. It always has and always will.

Journalism has been with us since the dawn of time (cue the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey). As soon as those hairy and unhygienic cave people domesticated fire, they needed something to do as they gathered around the flames nightly. S’mores had yet to be invented, so they told stories.

Think of those prehistoric cave paintings as news stories: “Killed a mastodon today; fingerpaint at 11.”

As children in our parents’ laps, we wanted stories. As adults, we still want stories. When it comes to stories, truth is stranger than fiction – which is why fiction is such a comfort.

So the forecast for journalism is great, I tell the parents. If there comes a time when human beings no longer want stories, then we are extinct.

There’s more to it than stories, of course. Our stories are true. They entertain as well as any tall tales or fiction, but they are true. They illuminate the mad catastrophe of human life on earth. But they also give people information they need to know to participate in our society. With a modest investment – a buck in a newspaper rack, a cheap online subscription – we have a vast universe of information at our command.

It was not always so. Information used to be the property of the wealthy. That changed with the advent of the penny press in the 19th Century, which enfranchised millions of people who’d been pushed aside. Now, for the cost of a penny, they could learn what they needed to know to participate in society. It was a cheap price for citizenship.

We have managed to mostly avoid a society of information haves and have nots since the coming of the digital revolution and more journalism – more storytelling – is available than ever before. Even the most geographically isolated corners of the world don’t have to be isolated from the rest of humanity. Journalism helps keep us connected.

The world managed to exist without journalism schools for centuries, so it’s worth asking why this field of study is vital today.

I started working for a daily newspaper in 1970 and when I looked around the newsroom, I could count the number of journalism graduates on one hand of an amputee. We were sociology, psychology or history majors (me).

But the world has changed since then. The stakes are higher and fewer news organizations take the time for on-the-job training. Plus, as lines get blurred across media, it’s important to clarify a few things for future journalists.

I’m not talking so much about the mystical part of the job – the actual storytelling. I’m convinced that writing cannot be taught, but only learned. A good teacher serves as a coach and brings the student along slowly, showing good examples, talking about best practices, but the actual storytelling and style is a personal journey and the students must go it alone.

What we can teach is the art of reporting, of how to interview reluctant sources, of finding public records and of explaining this complex world in a voice the audience will easily understand. It’s also vital that journalists have an understanding of law and ethics and history. Understanding the history of journalism gives journalists a sense of their legacy.

And there’s much to be said for community. As students navigate through their schooling and their internships, they dwell in a community of journalists, all learning the craft and sharing the sense of duty and responsibility that comes with this noble calling.

We all share an unshakeable faith in the function, if not the form, of journalism.

William McKeen is a journalism professor and the chairman of BU’S College of Communication Department of Journalism. McKeen is the author of seven books and the editor of four more. Before beginning his teaching career, he worked for several newspapers and magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, The American Spectator, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.), The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post and The Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times. His major teaching areas are literary journalism, history of journalism, reporting, feature writing and history of rock’n’roll.

PR

Taking My Research Overseas

By: Jaclyn Weisberg

After 3,500 miles in the air, 2.5 hours in the bus, and boundless weeks of preparation, the day had finally arrived; my dream was becoming a reality. I was walking into my first public relations conference…. in England!

I’m not embarrassed to say that my morning consisted of sweaty palms and a stomach full of butterflies. But, as I entered the University of Bournemouth and was welcomed into the 5th International History of Public Relations Conference, my fears were quickly alleviated. I felt right where I belonged, surrounded by people from all over the globe who shared the same desire as me to expand and share their knowledge of public relations.

On the first day of the conference, Dr. Dustin Supa and I presented our proceeding, entitled “What’s in a name? The history and evolution of the naming of sports venues as a public relations tool.” Surveying the role of branding with regard to the name of a particular stadium, the paper studies the Coliseum, Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium.

As research assistant for Dr. Supa, a BU professor for both graduate and undergrad students, I’ve had the opportunity to assist with various research initiatives, focusing primarily on the history of public relations.

I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to interact with my Boston University professors outside of the classroom setting and to watch as they literally played on a global intellectual stage, in front of noted scholars from all four corners of the world.

It was an honor to see firsthand the respect that other public relations academics have for BU’s program. I can say with extreme fervor that I’m proud to be a BU graduate student.

I feel fortunate (and a little star struck) to have spent time interacting with prestigious and highly esteemed academics, researchers, and practitioners from more than 15 countries.

As keynote speaker Dr. Gunter Bentale, distinguished professor at Leipzig University, said, “the true definition of public relations is to work for, with, and in the public.”

After this past week, I couldn’t agree more.

This conference has truly enriched my outlook on the world of public relations. The knowledge, feedback and stories I have received are invaluable.

In the final plenary of the conference, Tim Travis Healy concludes, “character is the most crucial part in professional public relations. The checklist to success is simple. Be personable, mature, articulate, courageous and humorous and you will equip yourself with the tools to succeed in this field.”

As a future practitioner, I will utilize all that I learned this week. I look forward to attending more conferences in the future and I hope to maintain the connections I’ve made for years to come. I couldn’t have asked for a better #myCOM experience!

*Jaclyn is a graduate student in the Public Relations program. For more information on the program, click here.

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Spotlight Abroad: Angela Milinazzo

By: Angela Milinazzo

Having been before, I was already enamored with London, its culture, and its people – both those who are proudly self-proclaimed Brits and those who, like me, have fortuitously found themselves welcomed into the diverse and dynamic city. When presented with the opportunity to return to London, I didn’t even give it a second thought.

Throw in the fact that I would be completing my master’s degree here and it was a done deal. A few weeks into the program and I have no doubt that this was the best decision for finishing my master’s education with Boston University.

“A few weeks into the program and I have no doubt that this was the best decision for finishing my master’s education with Boston University.”

Located just minutes away from Kensington Gardens, I live in the London borough of South Kensington with my fellow COMrades in BU’s Crofton building. I share a bedroom and on-suite bathroom with my roommate, Katie, and share a kitchen with six other COM students. We frequently congregate in the kitchen, where we, most obviously, share meals, but also share plans as we all are excited to explore both London and the other European cities close by.

Of course, we’re not just in London for the ample travel opportunities or the frequent adventures exploring London’s streets. A quick 15-minute walk takes us to Harrington Gardens, where I, along with the other 21 students attending the London program, go to class.

For the first half of the summer, I’m taking two classes, Global Marketing Communication and International Mass Media and Political Systems, which take place four hours per day Monday through Thursday.

After a weeklong summer break at the end of those courses, I start my internship with Purple PR, a fashion/beauty/lifestyle public relations agency, and work on a final project to help close out the master’s program. The second half of the summer will test not just our independence, but also our ability to adapt and integrate into London’s work culture. As we grow more confident and knowledgeable about both London and working/thinking from a global perspective, we will also be able to apply what we’ve learned through our final professional project. This gives us the opportunity to work with Tobe Berkovitz and Otto Lerbinger, two BU professors working with us here in London, to come up with a project that will effectively synthesize our work from previous semesters with our experience in London.

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Though the summer seems endless, I know that I, as well as my classmates, are very much aware that our time in London is fleeting and precious. Many of us already have trips booked for future weekends in places like Paris, Edinburgh, and Galway. Others are working through their lists of must-see spots around London, such as the National Galleries, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and Westminster Abbey. We’re all trying to make the most not only out of our invaluable experiences inside the classroom, but outside of it as well – an exciting and apt way to end our academic careers at Boston University.

*Angela is a graduate student in the Public Relations program participating in BU’s London Study Abroad Program. For more information on the program, click here

BU Ranked Among Top 10 Journalism Schools

Earlier this week, USA Today published results from a study that analyzed the best journalism schools in the country. We are so proud to have landed the number two spot on this coveted list. The study, conducted with College Factual, analyzed universities based on factors like the quality of the school, starting & mid-career salaries of graduates, and other factors.

Here at COM, we think there are even more reasons why we have such a successful journalism program. But don’t just take our word for it. Listen to the reasons straight from some of our journalism students:

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I came to BU with an undergraduate degree in English Education. My experience with a camera went about as far as taking video and pictures on my iPhone and then ‘editing’ them on Instagram. In less than two semesters, BU taught me how to shoot, edit, and produce quality video packages that were of professional newsroom quality. Their instruction and guidance is unparalleled to any other institution.
- Iris Moore

“How encouraging and selfless the professors can be– especially Professor Mehren. Gives me hope.”
-Katie

“I like that the professors are interested in getting us real-world experience.” – Justine Hofherr

To be honest, I expected to learn a lot and apply a lot of what I learned to the real world which I know I will…but I wasn’t expecting the camaraderie between my classmates.”- Andre Katchaturian

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“From day one we are out reporting like real journalists in one of the world’s best cities with endless incredible stories!”- Megan Turchi

What do you love about your COM program? Let us know and you might be featured on the blog!

Waiting is the Hardest Part

The primary application deadline has passed. And to those of you who submitted your application, congratulations! That in itself is an achievement. So take a second to give yourself a pat on the back.

But don’t let that pat last too long. There is still work to be done in the coming months.

The first part doesn’t require anything from you. As you read this, your applications are with the faculty committees being reviewed. The committees will look over all of the applicants and come to a decision on who will be admitted – we are excited to have so many terrific applicants, but unfortunately, we have to narrow it done to a chosen few.

Once those decisions are made, you will receive an email from us with you admission decision. Of course, if you submitted your application before our December 15 priority notification deadline, you will be among the first to get your email. This email will contain not only your decision, but will also notify you of any scholarship opportunities you will have from us. Remember, if you aren’t notified of any scholarship opportunities, there are many other options to help you with the financial side of grad school. These include Stafford Loans, graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships, just to name a few (more info can be found here).

Getting your decision is only a step in the process. If you’re accepted, you’ll have to decide if COM is the right fit for you (and we certainly think it is). We know now that making the decision of if/where to attend grad school means that you will have many new questions, and we want to do our best to answer them. Remember, you can always reach us via email (comgrad@bu.edu) or phone (617-353-3481). And don’t forget about our COM podcast, which will continue through the coming months to answer any and all questions you may have. But above all, we want to try to make this process as easy as possible in person.

That’s why we will be doing a spring tour, stopping in various cities to meet with accepted students who want to learn more about COM. The stops on our tour this spring will include:

Los Angeles-Tuesday, March 25
San Francisco-Thursday, March 27
Seattle- Sunday, March 30
Denver-Sunday, March 30
Chicago-Monday, March 31
Washington, DC-Monday, April 7
Charlotte-Monday, April 7
New York-Tuesday, April 8
Austin-Tuesday, April 8

All of these visits will culminate with our accepted students visiting day on the afternoon of Friday, April 11. This will allow prospective students to meet with current students, faculty, and graduate services representatives, as well as get to check out Boston and COM.

So congrats once again. Completing the application is a big step in your process, but it is just one. So take some time to recover and get ready for the rest of the journey. We will see you along the way.