Tag Archives: Journalism

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.

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!

Check out the COMGrad Podcast

Here at COM Grad we have been looking for new and different ways to get information to potential students. In an effort to continue this, we recently started the BU COM Grad Podcast. Fellow COM student (and good friend) Andy and I are joining forces to spread the knowledge of COM to the ears of anyone who wants to learn more about our programs and application process (or hear our witty banter).

Luckily, we will not be delivering the information alone. We will be joined by members of the COM faculty to answer questions ranging from the application process to financial aid to specific looks into different programs. From the episodes we have done, I have already learned information that would have been very useful to know during my application process.

But most importantly, we want to help you. We want to answer the questions that real-life perspective students have about anything COM. So send us your questions, and we will find the answer and bring it up on the podcast. Don’t be shy, because odds are if you have a question, someone else is wondering the same thing.
So send us your questions. You can email us at comgrad@bu.edu (use “Podcast” in the subject header) or via twitter @bucomgrad (use #COMpodcast). And to catch up, here are the episodes we have completed thus far.

Be Well Read

As an applicant to the masters in journalism program at the BU College of Communication, one of the essays that you have to write, along with life narrative and professional experience, is called “Periodicals”.  This is the part of your application where you get to show the admissions committee how engaged you are in the current media landscape as a consumer. The thought is that folks who are interested in becoming journalists are likely inspired by professionals who they have encountered along the way. One of the defining characteristics of a great journalist is a constant thirst for news and information, and in the periodicals essay you have the chance to share with the school how you quench that thirst.

There is a major focus here at BU on electronic media and social media, so in writing your periodicals essay be sure to make it very clear that you not only frequent a variety of online news sources, but that you have at least a working knowledge of the social media scene.  If you don’t have much experience with social media, I would suggest getting a little acquainted with the ways of Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. While you may not use these tools every day while studying here at BU, you will undoubtedly need to use them from time to time.

Listed in the required reading for every jounalism course you take here at BU will be a number of daily newspapers. Being up to date with The Boston Globe, the New York Times and USA Today is expected in the courses you will be taking. Therefore in this essay the ability to demonstrate that you are already in the habit of staying up to date will bode well for your application. And much like I suggested in the social media section, if you are not in the habit of reading daily newpapers, you would help prepare yourself for life at BU by starting.

The fact is that journalism is just as much about reading and staying informed as it is about writing and reporting. In my Journalism Principals and Techniques course in the fall our professor had what he called “The 3 R’s”:  Reading, Reporting, and Writing. In order to be a better writer, it’s vital to be an avid reader. So while you are writing your periodicals essay, be sure to express just how much reading means to you.