Medill launches graduate sports journalism program

Ally Mutnick, Campus Editor

With the support of some famous alumni, professors at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications are in the early stages of bringing a sports journalism program to the graduate school curriculum.

Billed as a Sports Immersion program, the new initiative will begin this academic year with student trips to sports media companies and team franchises with the potential of becoming an area of concentration for Medill’s graduate program.

Starting Winter Quarter, a faculty committee will begin to introduce courses, eventually adding classes in sports reporting, sports marketing and other electives to the graduate school, said Medill Prof. Charles Whitaker (Medill ’80, ’81), who chairs the committee. 

“Medill has for decades produced probably more high-profile sports reporters and media professionals than any of our peer institutions,” said Whitaker, a Students Publishing Co. board member. “We decided to get off the sidelines and get into the game with sports journalism.”

While the program is only for graduate students, some courses may be offered to undergraduates as well, Whitaker said. Medill Prof. Candy Lee is currently teaching a sports marketing class for undergraduate students, and ESPN contributor LZ Granderson taught a course in the fall on sports journalism.

Twenty-nine students were accepted as “priority members” into the program, meaning they will be assigned a Medill alumni mentor and receive the first invitation to special trips and speakers, Lee said.

Possible locations for trips include tapings of ESPN shows Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn and visits to Chicago sports teams to learn business operations.

Lee said courses in the program will still give students a strong knowledge in the basics of 21st century media, but they will do so through the overarching theme of sports journalism.

“Medill is so famous for its alums that are in sports (journalism), yet we’ve never actually had a specific sports program,” she said. “It’s great if we can marry students interests and passions with their areas of learning.”

Whitaker recalled a time when some Medill professors had a distaste for the idea of a sports journalism program but said the journalism world has changed.

The program’s creation comes shortly after the arrival of Medill Dean Brad Hamm, who created the first master’s degree in sports journalism during his time at Indiana University.

Strong support from Medill alumni encouraged faculty members to create the program, Whitaker said, citing interest from journalists including J.A. Adande (Medill ’92), Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80), Mike Greenberg (Medill ’89) and Christine Brennan (Medill ’80, ’81).

Whitaker said he would not rule out the idea of a sports journalism program in Medill’s undergraduate school, but said it will not happen in the “foreseeable future.”

Medill officially launched the program Monday with a sports movie night attended by University President Morton Schapiro. About 30 interested students attended, Whitaker said.

Medill graduate student Kim Adams was accepted as a priority member in the program at the beginning of the quarter. A former college basketball player, Adams said she sees sports journalism as a growing field. She was drawn to Northwestern, in part, by the success of NU alumni.

“I kind of got my heart set on Northwestern and obviously was ecstatic when I got in,” Adams said. “When I heard they were launching this program that would offer us so many opportunities in sports journalism, I was so excited.”

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