Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

News flash: Wheaton starts journalism minor

Paula KrebsDespite the decline of newspapers, journalism is alive and well, and in need of multitalented journalists who are armed with skills that cross disciplines, according to Professor of English Paula Krebs. This fall, she and Assistant Professor of English Talitha Espiritu will co-direct Wheaton’s newly created journalism minor. Krebs, who teaches literary journalism, as well as many other courses, began working at daily newspapers in New Jersey and in Indiana while she was in college and graduate school. She is the former editor of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors, author of Gender, Race, and the Writing of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1999), and director of the Summer Institute for Literary and Cultural Studies at Wheaton (a monthlong program aimed at increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue doctorates in English). She also is one of the American Council on Education Fellows for the 2010–2011 academic year. We asked her about the new journalism minor.

First, what initially drew you to journalism?
I was annoyed that our local paper wasn’t carrying stories about the girls’ teams at my high school, so I started calling them with the results of our games. Once I got to college, they hired me as a sports reporter.

Journalism has changed a lot. How would you assess the current state of the field?
This is a particularly opportune moment to put together the new program because media work has become so multifaceted, and online media are opening up in ways we have never seen before. In the age of the citizen journalist, when blogs and tweets can reach hundreds of thousands, we wanted to provide students with a set of courses that would serve them well in any kind of journalism, from conventional to electronic to photographic or video.

How did the new journalism minor come about?
For years, Wheaton students have used their liberal arts education in careers in journalism. Faculty members have advised them about good courses to take to help them in media careers, and they have graduated with solid backgrounds that pay off in the world of media work. But it occurred to a group of faculty advisors that our job with these students would be more productive if we had a template for our advising—a set of courses to recommend for aspiring journalists. So last spring faculty members from English, sociology, studio art, and other fields started meeting, along with interested staff in career services, instructional technology, and the communications office, to design a credential for students who wanted careers in media—something that would indicate that the student had thoughtfully put together a program to prepare for a journalism career or for graduate work in journalism.

What are you aiming to teach students?
Students hoping to be journalists should have a strong major in a field about which they would like to write, whether that is science or sociology or political science, or culture and entertainment. The minor is meant to add to a major by asking students to think about ethics (we require one course in that area), to be able to analyze data (we require a statistics course), to be able to do research (a research methods course in any field is required), and to be able to produce journalistic content (students must take either writing, photography, or filmmaking courses). In addition, students need to get a sense of the field of journalism, so the minor requires an internship. Here’s where we rely on the Filene Center staff as partners in the minor: not only do they help students to find placements, but they are great at teaching students how to reflect on what they have learned in their internships and how it fits with the rest of their Wheaton education.

What is the future of journalism?
The field is becoming what communications theorists call “convergence journalism,” in which reporters carry cameras and digital recorders in addition to their notebooks, and the online stories they file link to video, images, and sound, as well as to other stories. Young journalists see the world differently than we used to—they understand digital ways of telling stories, ways that add all kinds of depth to their reporting.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in a career in journalism?
Read, read, read. Magazines, newspapers, online sources of all sorts. Take courses that give you a strong background in an area of expertise—science, economics, women’s studies, or any field in which you’d like to specialize. Make sure you learn how to learn—how to do in-depth research, how to talk to people, how to evaluate sources critically, how to read a graph or a spreadsheet. And then get out there and practice, as a freelancer, or on structured internships, or on The Wire.