Medill gets $1.35 million grant

Alexandra Finkel

Medill will use a three-year, $1.35 million grant to create several new courses about national security issues for students and working journalists, school officials said.

The program, financed by the McCormick Tribune Foundation, will begin in the 2009-2010 school year, said Medill Associate Dean Mary Nesbitt.

“You can’t look at the world as it is today, and what it will be tomorrow, without realizing that issues of national and homeland security are ongoing and will be with us forever,” said Medill Dean John Lavine. “It’s essential that we get students to graduate with expertise in this, because it’s just too important.”

The grant will make Medill the only journalism school in the country to offer a program aimed at national security coverage, Nesbitt said.

In the past few years, the school has tested courses on similar topics. Past classes have included “Press, Pentagon and the Public” taught on the Evanston Campus and “Covering Conflicts & Terrorism,” which was offered at the Washington, D.C., bureau to graduate students.

Nesbitt said both classes were extremely successful, although “Press, Pentagon and the Public” received low to average CTECs in the three years it was offered.

A faculty committee put together the proposal for the new program last year and is currently working to develop the curriculum.

“It fits really well with our new commitment to public affairs reporting overall,” Nesbitt said. “We think a critical part of the mission for training journalists is to educate students on how to cover important news and how to make that news more interesting to more people.”

For the 2009-2010 school year, Nesbitt said she expects one or two courses will be offered to undergraduates. A national security class will be offered sometime next year, and a civil liberties class is expected in 2010. The “Covering Conflicts” class in D.C. will now be offered three times per year for the next three years.

By the time the program is fully operational by 2011, 10 courses will be offered for undergraduate and graduate students every year, Nesbitt said.

The grant will benefit both Medill students and practicing journalists, Nesbitt said. The grant will enable faculty to develop a Web-based seminar system to teach journalists how to cover security issues.

Classes such as these could attract Medill students to more serious forms of journalism, said sophomore Serena Dai.

“We live in this Paris Hilton age where celebrity culture is everywhere,” Dai said. “Sometimes we forget that there are more serious issues that exist and need to be reported on.”

New course offerings will also help the school become more marketable, she said.

Additionally, the grant will let the journalism program round out its curriculum, said Medill freshman Justin Schecker.

“I think it’s great for a school like this that already offers business and legal reporting to now include this,” Schecker said. “National affairs related to homeland security is just as pertinent.”

In fact, there might not be anything more pertinent, he said.

“The conflicts that have been thrown into mainstage media since 9/11 aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” Schecker said. “These are issues that our generation will unfortunately be exposed to for years to come.”