One student’s thoughts on their Journalism education at Ithaca College
The journalism program here at Ithaca College is, I think, one of the best in the nation. The expectations of you to pursue your craft on day one rival other prestigious programs around the country. However, as much as this program has benefited many of us, it still has flaws that need to be addressed to ensure that this program can continue to be one of the best in the nation.
When I came into the major, I started off with the Introduction to Journalism course, which serves to give the fundamentals of the major and teach students the guiding principles which will be built upon in subsequent classes. My introduction class was taught with one class being a larger session in Park Auditorium, and another separate class in a smaller group setting. On the surface, this works well: you can teach the broader topics in the larger session and then do deep dives into them in the smaller sessions.
However, this only works well when you have the same professor for the breakout session as you do for the larger session. In my case, I had different professors, which meant different teaching styles and opinions on what good journalism is. While I understand going through your undergraduate degree and having different professors is important, for that first semester where everything is entirely new and unfamiliar, it can be overwhelming.
What you learn in Introduction to Journalism is mostly centered around the history, ethics and principles of journalism. One of the points drilled into our heads early on is that objectivity is the key to good journalism and journalism is only good when we are completely objective. This teaching of objectivity as the cornerstone of journalism isn’t unique to just this program. It is something that has been drilled into the heads of all journalists no matter where they are trained.
Objectivity is something that is incredibly hard to achieve; no one can ever be completely objective. Our life experiences and backgrounds dictate how we all approach and look at the world around us. There are instances where reporting the “other side” doesn’t help the story or the people within the story; in fact, it can actually harm them. Human rights issues, racism, homophobia, sexism and ableism are all topics in which the other side of the story doesn’t matter because it only gives a platform for hate.
In my opinion, objectivity creates a space that is not safe for journalists of color, female journalists, queer journalists and disabled journalists. There are two great pieces that actually provide more context to what I’m saying. In an opinion piece by Wes Lowery and a Poynter piece from two years ago, the two explain how objectivity is centered around what society has deemed as “normal.” What “normal” can boil down to are cishet, non-disabled, white males. But the truth is, experience is our biggest ally; it opens up avenues in reporting that would otherwise slip through the cracks.
Journalists are not stenographers. Our goal should not be to just quote people, but to give context to what those we cover say. So long as we are transparent about where our personal biases are, we have the opportunity to create journalistic work that is incredibly powerful, nuanced and accurate, preventing us from perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
Since coming out of that intro class, there have been classes that seek to break down what it means to be objective and teach us a better way to make sure that we aren’t slanting our reporting to favor a specific person, issue or group. But these conversations, while good to have then and now, should have been made when we first entered the program. That way we could not only create a safe space for those in marginalized communities, but we could also help to prevent the industry from continuing to perpetuate the negative old-style journalism.
One of the required sections of the journalism major is the selected topics courses. Each journalism major is required to take two and they are supposed to be hyper-focused areas within the industry. I was able to take Latinx and the Media and Journalism Innovation, two courses taught by amazing professors who pushed us to talk about the way that we could do better in journalism. These courses are valuable because they allow us to tap into areas of our beats or industry that we are interested in learning more about.
However, I wish we would expand on these classes and implement more focused teachings on how to properly cover the marginalized communities that we talk about in those introduction or journalism ethics courses. Making sure that we use correct language and phrasing is vital to ensuring that we are not perpetuating harmful stereotypes surrounding these communities. Just like we are taught AP style in that introduction class, we should also be taught the stylebooks from other minority-focused journalism groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Center on Disability and Journalism and countless others.
The critiques that I can provide as a journalism major are completely different from those which I can give to journalism minors. Journalism majors have a degree program that includes tons more industry-focused, hands-on coursework. For journalism minors, however, these luxuries are nonexistent and students are instead pushed to just the principles-based classes. The journalism minor includes introduction to journalism, investigative journalism, visual journalism, issues and the news and the choice between journalism ethics or history. Nowhere in this curriculum is there room for them to have a chance to have more hyper-focused courses link the special topics courses. The journalism minor should have the same goals as the journalism major, training the next generation of journalists that have hands-on experience from day one.
Aside from making sure that we are taking all the precautions to not perpetuate stereotypes and hate of others in our reporting, there needs to be mention in the introduction or later course about the hardships of the industry. Many journalists have been sounding the alarm recently of the massive burnout and mental health problems that can come with working in journalism. Our jobs are under constant deadlines and we often cover incredibly heavy topics. Teaching ways to mitigate these as much as possible and making us aware of not only the mental stressors, but the financial ones as well, is extremely important.
We are in an age where there is so much technological change. The journalism industry has been forced to constantly adapt and overcome those challenges. There has been an awakening from within the industry, including from many of the students that I am studying with, who are seeing that journalism can do so much more if we just change our demographics and our approach to reporting on specific topics. As a student-journalist over these past four years, we’ve seen almost everything. From a president that sought to target us to mass social justice movements to a global pandemic to an insurrection at the Capitol. Seeing all of this has in many ways heightened the importance of the courses we take in this major and minor, as well as the topics discussed in them.
While it is easy to just fire critiques at the program, there is also context to why this is all happening. It’s no secret that the college as a whole has gone through changes that may have prevented the journalism department from implementing my observations. To start, the journalism department only has a handful of faculty to teach all of these wide-ranging topics. So it becomes harder to teach these more specific topics in individual classes. Instead, what the program could do is bake these ideas into lessons within the introduction class. But there is also another catch to this: professors may not be comfortable or well-equipped to speak about reporting on these communities if they do not have a connection to or prior reporting experience with them. There are ways to avoid this, like contacting alumni to speak about their experiences reporting on these communities or opening it up for a broader discussion with students.
It has also been four years since I took that Introduction to Journalism class, and there have been changes made to the program. Instead of the larger session with the different breakout class, journalism students thankfully now have one professor to guide them through that first semester. This gives them not only the stability they need to learn these concepts, but also creates a rapport with that professor and perhaps asks those harder-hitting questions about the industry they are striving towards. Being a journalism major is something that I take immense pride in. I want to see this program be one of the leading ones in producing the next generation of journalists that will work to make the industry better for everyone.
Alyssa Spady is a fourth-year journalism major who believes in the true power of storytelling. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.