3 Reasons Texas A&M University is Right to (Re)Start Its Journalism Major

Texas A&M University recently announced plans to relaunch its journalism major roughly 10 years after it was downgraded to a minor.

According to a TAMU announcement, the new program will be small and selective, at least at the start, capping enrollment at 25 students per class year — with students granted entrance only as entering freshmen. Its other key attributes: interdisciplinary (students will be required to have two minors) and broad-based (stressing a mix of skill-sets, types of reporting and “traditional print journalism along with the developing web-based media”).

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Amid so much industry tumult, is this really the right time to jumpstart a journalism program? Absolutely. Unequivocally. 110 percent yes.

I will now use my developing web-based media platform to outline three quick reasons why.

1) Students still want to study journalism!

TAMU officials were undoubtedly inclined to give the journalism major a second go-round in part due to the rising popularity of its related minor. As the university’s director of journalism studies confirms, “It’s grown in five years from fewer than 20 students to more than 80.”

This is not an aberration within academia. As the latest annual survey of journalism & mass communication programs shares, the number of undergraduate students in the U.S. specializing in journalism went up slightly from the year before.

I personally witnessed the popularity of journalism as an area of academic study while at the University of Tampa, my previous employer. A program we started from scratch a few semesters back already sports more than 70 majors and minors. I also notice it on this blog every day, with tons of search-referral traffic coming from web-surfers seeking information on journalism schools and programs (the searches being conducted by the students themselves or more likely their parents or other family members).

Why is there such sustained, outsized student interest in a craft that cynics declare is dying? Sure, maybe some simply see it as an easier major. And I imagine others are enticed by the pop culture aura surrounding it — the endless superhero journalists and other fictional characters with newsroom credentials that flash before their eyes while growing up. But my guess is that many get excited about journalism because it is the most enticing bridge — connecting their disparate loves of creation, people, the world and tech tinkering in one easy-to-follow curriculum.

Some students want to write, but not in poetic verse or fictional style. They want to express themselves, but not through literature analyses. They love engaging with and learning about strangers, but not to the extremes of sociological research. They want to be adept in digital tools and platforms, but not as computer scientists or software engineers. They want to idealistically change the world and have a voice, but not through PR or advertising.

That leaves journalism, a practical area of study they can wrap their heads around, use as a leaping point to a variety of careers and not feel like a sell-out, a bore or a lonely researcher prior to being of legal drinking age.

Bottom line, students are still majoring and minoring in journalism en masse. So having a program for them to do that increases the chances they will enroll at your college or university.

2) Journalism is tailor-made for the 21st-century curriculum.

In an academic universe increasingly bent on interdisciplinary options and a liberal arts base, journalism is a perfect fit. It is a craft that feeds off other disciplines and general knowledge of the world.

Students need to know about the niches or beats they hope to one day tackle — not just how to cover them. An interest in reporting on areas such as business, technology, sports, politics, global affairs, urban issues, the environment, education, science, food and fashion screams for courses to be required not only in journalism but also in those specific disciplines. Journalism students also benefit from gaining more general exposure to courses touching in some way on modern culture, current events, history and human interaction.

A revved-up major with a healthy dose of outside concentrations, built atop a strong liberal arts core, is win-win-win for the students, the schools and audiences seeking quality reporting from smart journalists.

3) Journalism programs are now journalism providers.

A growing number of programs — and individual professors and classes — are overseeing news sites, news services, publications, special projects and pro-student collaborations aimed at enabling students to practice journalism NOW. Three quick examples: 1) Reese News Lab at UNC. 2) PhiladelphiaNeighborhoods.com at Temple University. 3) OR Magazine at the University of Oregon.

When handled correctly, these initiatives can lead to powerful acts of journalism, ensure certain types of reporting and certain coverage areas are not forgotten and enable the field to stay technologically cutting-edge.

High horse alert: Society will always have a need for quality journalism. More than ever, a journalism program has the opportunity — I’d argue even the responsibility — to not just teach and preach journalism but help students produce it in impactful, innovative ways.

Will boasting a full major as a backdrop to this work go a long way toward upping its production value? Absolutely. Unequivocally. 110 percent yes.

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