Montana j-school dean addresses public affairs reporting class controversy

Romenesko Letters

From PEGGY KUHR, Dean, University of Montana School of Journalism: We here at the U of Montana have been the focus of several recent items questioning what we’re doing with our journalism curriculum, and focusing especially on our public affairs reporting class. Attached is a note I just sent to Tony Rogers at about.com in reply to his latest note about us. Since Romenesko carries items about journalism education and in the interest of setting the record straight, I’m sending you the memo as well.

Sept. 13, 2010

To: Tony Rogers
About.com guide to journalism

From: Peggy Kuhr

Dean, School of Journalism
The University of Montana

Dear Tony Rogers,

I write to clarify misunderstandings about our curriculum changes at The University of Montana Journalism School.

In the midst of criticism about changes in our undergraduate curriculum, one important aspect has been misunderstood – or conveniently ignored. More students than ever will be taking public affairs reporting classes each year.

How can that happen if we’ve stopped requiring public affairs reporting? Because we’re offering more sections of public affairs reporting than we ever have before. We’ve also made the public affairs class available to many more students across the school.

Here’s the difference: Previously, public affairs was only required of students in one side of our program. It was required for print students and not for photojournalism, broadcast news or broadcast production students. We offered two sections each fall, accommodating the 32 print students admitted to our professional program. Now, we will offer two sections in the fall and another section in the spring. That’s an increase of 50 percent in public affairs reporting classes. Broadcast, photo and online students are taking public affairs reporting, and we’ve had to turn students away because those classes are full. Now, all of our faculty – not just those in the print curriculum – are pushing students toward public affairs. We expect the spring class will be full. The result: more University of Montana students than ever taking public affairs reporting.

To bring it to the student level: last academic year, a total of 32 students enrolled in public affairs reporting. This fall, 32 students are enrolled, and we have 16 more openings in the spring.

Did we replace solid reporting classes with technology requirements? Hardly. In this multimedia world of news and information, we know we must prepare students to be leaders. Our new requirements include a semester of photojournalism and a semester of broadcast videography and production for all pre-professional students. Students will learn to use that technology to do journalism, not just to take pictures or produce video. Reporting and writing are as much at the core of those classes as in our basic reporting class, which also is required of all our students. And all students will be able to put those skills to work in the array of professional journalism courses in print, online and broadcast news available to them in the final two years of study.

Montana’s is a professional school. We require top-level experience in the news media before someone can join our full-time faculty. Our curriculum decisions come from faculty who understand how the news media are changing – and who value the foundations of journalism. We welcome questions about our new curriculum – and we expect journalists to do what we tell our students: Before you write a story, or post to a blog, or form your opinion, find out the facts.

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