Indiana University alum on j-school's new home: 'Trust but verify'

Indiana University's board of trustees voted Friday to approve a new Media School, which will combine the old journalism school with the departments of Communications and Culture and Telecommunications. The new school will officially open on July 1, 2014. Lesa Hatley Major, currently the journalism school's interim dean, will be the new school's associate dean.

The move will take the journalism school from its current home in Ernie Pyle Hall to Franklin Hall. In response to the possible merger and the move, a Facebook page launched in February to Save Ernie Pyle Hall, or at least get the new school named after the famous newsman.

Owen Johnson, associate professor in the school of journalism and also leading the Ernie Pyle Legacy Committee, said he was initially concerned about the merger "because it seemed as if it was tilting away from a professional/academic balance into an academic bias," Johnson wrote in an e-mail to Poynter. "But as discussions continued, especially last summer, it seems clear that the balance will remain and both sides will be beefed up."

But some alumni are concerned about what the merger means for the school of journalism and Pyle's legacy.

Max Jones, editor of The (Terre Haute, Indiana) Tribune-Star and an IU alum, wrote October 7 that "Part of the reason I’m skeptical is a comment made by IU President Michael McRobbie when defending his plan to eliminate the journalism school and roll it into a larger media school. He told the Bloomington Herald Times last year, 'There’s no point in saving a school that trains people to manage fleets of horses if the motorcar has taken over horse-drawn transportation.'"

JR Ross, president of the IU School of Journalism Alumni Association, told Poynter via phone that things have come along way since February, with the journalism program getting more emphasis in the new school. Questions remain about what fits into the new program and what doesn't, he said. Some hang-ups for the alumni association include loss of the school's independence, which Ross said could be viewed negatively on a national level, and the actual name of the school itself.

"It's the Media School," he said. "That covers everything."

And it deemphasizes journalism.

Specifics of the new curriculum haven't been worked out yet, but the school will hire 15 new faculty members during the next three years, Johnson said. If things work out as hoped, he said, "students will be able to take the core of what they already do in the School of Journalism, and add to it the tools to make them better broad-based journalists."

Over time, Johnson said, journalism schools and journalism departments have closed, so it's natural that people would be concerned that that's happening at IU.

The school's current building is named for the World War II correspondent who attended IU, working the city desk at The Indiana Daily Student one semester before Poynter's founder, Nelson Poynter.

"The Ernie Pyle name complicated people's reactions," Johnson said. "The then Department of Journalism moved into Ernie Pyle Hall in 1954, so our modern history is closely tied to Pyle's name."

But Pyle should actually become more visible with the move, Johnson said. The school won't be in Ernie Pyle Hall anymore, "but our new digs, Franklin Hall, almost certainly will have a statue of Pyle, visible to anyone coming to the main entrance of the IU campus."

The school will also have a living museum telling Pyle's story, and Johnson said they're also talking about activities to make his name visible to both journalism students and the IU community.

Ross is also a fan of the Pyle statue and said he wants to merger to be successful and hopes it's the beginning of something new, not the end of the journalism school.

"We're journalists," he said. "Trust but verify. We have faith in the school, but prove it to us."

Previously: IU provost: Merging schools puts ‘educational excellence first,’ ‘administrative structures’ second | Indiana University to merge journalism, communications schools


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