News

When I hear from journalism alumni about how they’re doing in their jobs, I always ask about what they learned from us that still sticks with them and urge them to suggest ways to improve what we offer our current students.

From time to time, we'll have some of those big picture conversations about journalism and journalism education. We sometimes get into what this school offers, what that university teaches, and what they have found helpful in their own careers. As they look back, I am not surprised at some of the words they use to describe their experience in our classes: vintage, classic, retro.

Old school, in other words.

I think that’s accurate, which gladdens the heart of someone who teaches about the importance of accuracy.

The core of our craft remains the same: to cultivate curiosity, encourage enterprise, and develop journalists with a passion for storytelling with a purpose.

I believe it is wise to avoid teaching trends and following fads that seem to fade as fast as they appear. The approaches we take reflect the changes in the media landscape, but the core of our craft remains the same: to cultivate curiosity, encourage enterprise, and develop journalists with a passion for storytelling with a purpose.

That means our students will learn to write stories before they tweet snippets. It means they will be comfortable conducting face-to-face interviews and not just Facebooking potential story subjects. And it means they will work ethically, honestly, and openly instead of acting like tabloid-trolls looking only to embarrass and harass.

Our students are certainly current on contemporary journalism practices. They know how to employ social media. They gain practical experience with the tools of digital newsrooms, and we are fortunate to have resources that allow us to train them in ways that make them attractive to employers.

But good journalism education is not just about learning the essential skills of writing, editing, and photography. Good journalism education requires a thorough grounding in liberal arts and exposure to a diversity of subjects to expand the mind, engage the senses, and enrich the soul.

Good journalists are good readers. Our students and graduates will long remember how Professor Mike Spear asks what they’re reading and how he loans them books and constantly sends them articles that he thinks they will find interesting.

Good journalists are good storytellers. Our students and graduates know how to listen, how to ask questions, and how to weave a narrative of news that is complete and compelling.

Good journalists are interesting and interested people. They are curious about many things and eager to learn more.

A few years ago, we conducted a survey of our graduates and their employers. We wanted to be sure we were providing the right kind of academic preparation for a career in any media-related field. We wondered if we should make changes in our foundation courses, what kind of new courses to offer, or what alterations we ought to make in the overall program.

Without exception, the feedback we received indicated that the essentials of journalism taught within the liberal arts tradition gave our students a solid foundation that led to significant success in news, public relations, advertising, law, teaching, and many other endeavors. Alumni write often to talk about how what they learned in News Writing and Copy Editing, among other classes in the department, is prized by their employers in virtually every profession.

Our graduates are thriving in and out of the newsroom.

I am inspired and renewed as a teacher when I read or watch work produced by our alumni and see how they have put into practice what they learned in class. I am delighted when their work brings them professional recognition and proud even if their successes are not as publically lauded.

The journalism program has changed over the years, just as the industry has changed. We offer a breadth of courses created just within the last three years that showcase the experience and flexibility of our faculty, and we are constantly developing new classes and revising some of our old ones.

That does not mean that we abandon the tools and traditions of journalism that have produced alumni who win Pulitzer Prizes, lead newsrooms, practice public relations, or pursue successful careers in a wide number of fields.

We may work on deadline in our field, but what we teach is timeless.

Tom Mullen is director of public affairs journalism in the journalism department and director of Catholic life in the University chaplaincy. The serial commas used in this piece, a departure from the AP style Mullen rigorously teaches his students, are the editor’s addition in keeping with this magazine’s style.

One of Mullen's former students is Colleen Long, ’00, who described her job with The Associated Press covering crime in New York City in "Half Paradise, Half Hell" in our Spring/Summer 2015 issue.