Medillians must speak out

Paul Thissen

Students have always gossiped and bitched about classes behind their teachers’ backs, and journalism students are certainly no exception.

But now, with Medill beginning a massive curriculum overhaul, Medill students need to bring those complaints and ideas out into the open before the school becomes even more irrelevant.

The head honchos of Medill, including Dean John Lavine, say Medill should always focus primarily on the basics of good writing and good reporting. They say they agree that students must learn first how to be articulate and enterprising. But then they always go back to talking about Web sites and video cameras.

But they shouldn’t. Medill hardly even teaches us to write and report as it is.

Sure, we produce hotshot journalists and win the Hearst awards year-in and year-out, but many students – myself included – will tell you their journalism classes were useless demonstrations of what they already learned on campus publications or internships.

Not that the school does any better with modern technology; both the News and New Media and Analytical Reporting classes are widely considered to be jokes.

Medill needs to address these problems. But first, we need to tell those in charge what we think.

Yes, people are using the specially-created Blackboard forum to talk about History and Issues and John Kupetz, every Cherub’s wet dream. But only a handful of students showed up for Lavine’s “town hall” meetings. We need to say what works for us, what doesn’t and what would help.

I’ll start:

The Editing and Writing lecture is useless. Ditch it.

Everyone should take Editing and Writing fall quarter of freshman year, so students have their first writing class before they start on a campus publication. If there aren’t enough instructors, hire seniors with reporting and editing experience as teachers or TAs.

Freshmen should not take History and Issues. It is useless to opine about journalistic practices before gaining any real reporting experience.

Newspaper Editing with Marda Dunsky may have been the best class on the newspaper track.

Analytical Reporting moves so slowly that no one pays attention or learns anything. All the Excel instruction could be done in a few two-hour sessions, leaving more time to write real stories.

Don’t always have journalists teach classes about new technology. Strictly technical people know best about new Internet, video and graphics technologies. Instead, send the journalist in at the end of the quarter to explain newsroom applications.

The school should make contracts with a few Chicago-area publications to publish the best student work, as selected by professors. Students might actually care about their Newswriting assignments if they thought they could get a clip out of it, and it would keep people from telling sources, “It’s only for class, it’ll never be printed.”

Medill students aren’t afraid of new media, convergence or even marketing. They just don’t want to lose the precious little real journalism instruction they are getting now.

Fortunately, unlike those bad test grades we all gripe about, something can still be done. Get on that Blackboard forum. Talk to your favorite (or least favorite) professors.

Hell, contact Lavine directly at [email protected] or 847-491-2045.

Believe it or not, he might want to hear what you have to say.

Former city editor Paul Thissen is a Medill junior currently on Teaching Media at the Austin American-Statesman. He can be reached at [email protected]