UC Answers: How does UC prep journalists in the digital age?

Department head Jeffrey Blevins speaks to the study of journalism at UC

Journalism has been taught at the University of Cincinnati since the late 1930s, first in the Evening College, and beginning in the mid-1950s, in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, College of Arts and Sciences, when the college first offered a certificate in journalism in 1977.

Since becoming a department in 2012, enrollment has grown from a program of roughly a hundred students to 171 students majoring in journalism, along with 30 other students in one of the department’s three added certificate programs, which include journalism, digital broadcast news and literary journalism. Journalism students elect coursework in hard news, feature writing, investigative reporting, photojournalism, entrepreneurship, political reporting, visual storytelling, international fieldwork, sports reporting, broadcast news and social media.

Jeffrey Blevins, professor and department head, explains how UC prepares students of journalism to enter an evolving field. 

 What does a achieving a journalism degree entail today (as opposed to 10 years, 20 years ago)?

Journalists today need to have a broader skill set than ever before. Through the 20th century, journalism used to be siloed into print and broadcast journalism, with further subdivisions into magazine reporting, documentary film and photojournalism. All of that has changed in the digital age through the development of mobile telecommunication devices and social media. Consequently, students need a comprehensive journalism education that involves hard news, feature writing, investigative reporting and photo/videography. They have to be able to do it all — write, shoot, design and be mobile.

Is there a foundation you need to pursue a career in journalism?

Not really. Certainly, it’s helpful if students come in with an aptitude for writing and basic media production skills, but those are also skills that students will learn and develop here anyway. More importantly, journalism students should be critical thinkers with a desire to do research. By its very nature, journalism is interdisciplinary and journalism education grew out of so many other areas, such as sociology, political science, communication and English. Today, we see this interdisciplinarity in how students apply outside areas of interest and expertise to journalistic practice. Rather than thinking of themselves as a “newspaper reporter” or “television reporter” — they are music journalists, entertainment reporters, political analysts, business and economic journalists, environmental reporters, etc. 

What are the newest areas of journalism to pursue?

Besides reporting on environmental issues and policy, there has been a growing interest among students in politics and journalism. We have several journalism students that minor in political science, political science students who are pursuing a certificate in journalism or they are simply double-majors. Journalism and political science also have a natural connection in the area of public affairs. Currently, recalcitrant issues highlighting both inequities in our society and community and ineffective and unjust governmental responses are filling our news media: a global pandemic disproportionately infecting and killing minority populations; militaristic policing tactics disproportionately affecting minority communities and now even targeting protestors and journalists seeking to draw attention to these practices.

What are the challenges and opportunities for journalists in the digital age?

The opportunity is there is more media consumption going on now than ever before. Nielsen Media Report was the finding that Americans spend more than 10.5 hours per day engaged with some form of media (social media, television, online). We also have more and better tools than ever before to do really in-depth reporting.

How has social media affected the relationship between journalists and the public?

The most significant effect of social media is that it has become a platform for a lot of conspiracy theories, sophisticated memes, mean tweets and fake news, which has vexed the very notion of truth and knowledge. People make claims on social media without any real regard for truth or falsity, and they are often insufficiently informed about whatever it is that they are tweeting about. The problem is the public can’t tell the difference between what is credible or not, or able to weigh all information the same without regard to source or only believe what confirms their own bias. While institutions of journalism employ empiricism in the reporting of information and the presentation of facts, while on social media, everything is relative; there is no right or wrong, fact or falsity, truth or lie. 

What other career choices are there for students with a journalism degree?

Besides all of the different specialty areas of reporting, a comprehensive and  broad set of skills are transferable to so many career paths in our society. Journalists not only have to write, they have to think critically, analyze, investigate, perform social scientific research and be able to translate that research into stories that are digestible to the general populace — it’s social science done on deadline. Furthermore, journalism students graduate with media production skills, they are media savvy, they know how to find information and they have a healthy sense of assertiveness. They tend to be go-getters and self-starters. Those qualities transfer well into business, law, entertainment and other media related careers.

Featured photo at top of Jeffrey Blevins and video by Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand.

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