Updated: Medill announces major changes to Journalism Residency program

Tyler Pager, Assistant Summer Editor

Medill will introduce significant changes to its Journalism Residency program by providing students with three options to complete the requirement, including using an existing internship, the school announced Monday.

The JR program offers students in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications the opportunity to spend an academic quarter working at professional mediacompany. Students choose from four different tracks, news/online, magazine, broadcast/video and marketing communications, and take four classes on that track prior to completing their JR.

Medill students will now have three options when planning for their JR. Students can choose to participate in the same process that has been used in the past, in which Medill faculty select and vet a site.

The two new choices allow students to choose their own site, which Medill has to approve beforehand, or students can use an existing internship or fellowship to complete their JR requirement, even if it is done over the summer. Students must have taken all of their pre-JR courses, however, before using an outside internship to fulfill the requirement.

Medill Associate Dean Craig Lamay said the program was changed as “a matter of fairness and equity for students.”

“There is a concern for internships of all kinds and all schools as to paid and unpaid internships and what’s proper and even for that matter what’s legal,” he said. “We’re trying to both respond to those legitimate concerns and also make JR flexible for students who have all kinds of personal and curricular needs.”

Additionally, JR will now count for four credits instead of three. However, students will only earn credits if they pay tuition. Therefore, if a student chooses to use an existing internship or fellowship for JR, they must pay full tuition to receive credit.

Students can choose not to pay tuition and make up three additional journalism credits in addition to the required pre-JR courses that are already in place. One of the units must be a Medill skills course and at least one must be a Medill industry-understanding course.

There are no changes to student stipends, as students placed in a JR site by Medill will continue to receive a $1,250 stipend, if the site does not pay them.

The changes will begin with the class of 2016.

Lamay said new guidelines give students more opportunities to complete the JR requirement.

“It allows them to take advantage of existing programs that are excellent and that we think they should earn residency credit for and it helps students in all kinds of financial situations,” he said. “It just seems a better program academically, it seems a better program professionally and it seems a more equitable program given the varying needs of students.”

Rising Medill senior Kelsey Thompson said she was not surprised by the changes. Thompson will be going on her JR this winter, but will not benefit from the new guidelines.

“It’s seems like it’s about time because there have been so complaints about it recently,” she said. “The four credits would be the biggest one for me because it makes sense that it would fulfill the full course load. I never understand why it was only three.”

In October, ProPublica published an article about the JR program, which discussed students paying tuition during JR and not always getting paid at the internship. However, Desiree Hanford, Acting Director of Undergraduate Education and Journalism Residency Coordinator, said the article played no role in the changes. Hanford said the faculty is constantly reviewing the curriculum in an effort to improve it.

“We’ve always taken the step to look at how we can improve the program and this is another step in that process,” she said. “The ProPublica article, I think, happened to come up at a time when this was at the forefront of a lot of people’s mind, the paid versus unpaid internships.”

The ProPublica article also addressed Medill reaching out to JR sites to see if they would be willing to pay students during their JR. Hanford told The Daily she received mixed responses from the sites.

“I think everyone in the industry would love for every student on any internship to be paid, but the reality is that, at least in the media environment right now, that’s not possible,” she said. “That said, the stipend is still there. Each student is guaranteed to receive that if they go through a site that Medill has vetted and has accepted into the program.”

Hanford announced Thursday that at the end of this month, she will no longer serve as the Journalism Residency Coordinator.

This article has been updated to include comments from Craig Lamay and Desiree Hanford and the announcement that Hanford will be stepping aside as Journalism Residency Coordinator. 

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