Updated minor keeps journalism relevant at Mason

George Mason University’s Communication Department faculty voted to change its electronic journalism minor into an updated journalism minor starting this semester. The decision comprises one component of the department’s ongoing efforts to better accommodate its students and their career ambitions.

“I think [the name is] a really positive change because it reflects the multimedia world that we live in,” said Beth Jannery, a full-time Mason professor and the journalism minor coordinator. “Our students can get a really strong and broad and also focused journalism background, so they can do a little print, a little broadcast, even using their iPhones, online reporting… It’s really multifaceted.”

Jannery proposed the change when she began her tenure as Director of the Journalism Program in August 2013. She also coordinates the sports communication minor and the journalism concentration.

The vote to alter the minor name was unanimous, Jannery said.

“It was actually a really interesting, thorough and formal process… where we looked at our curriculum and we looked at what would be best for our students to help them become more competitive,” Jannery said. “It used to be where you could just do print or newspapers or magazines or you would be a broadcast journalist on TV, but now our students are expected to do it all. We didn’t want to limit them to just electronic journalism.”

Despite the name change, the requirements to complete the minor remain the same as before, featuring courses like Writing and Reporting and Online Journalism. The department did not even officially notify students of the change.

“Some people still think it’s electronic journalism,” said Corrinda Wright, a junior who recently declared her journalism minor.

Even so, students and faculty alike view the adjustment as necessary.

“The nature of journalism today is digital, so no adjective is necessary,” said Steve Klein, a retired Mason professor who coordinated the electronic journalism minor until June 2013. He now teaches a course about journalism history as the Communication Department’s sixth Instructor Emeritus.

From a student perspective, expanding the minor’s breadth also provided some practical benefits in terms of career preparation.

“When we go out to get internships and jobs, electronic journalism is kind of confusing,” Wright said. “It’s like, what does that really mean?”

“[Electronic journalism] sounds like it narrows down the minor a lot more than it actually does,” said sophomore Ashley Hill, also a journalism minor. “It definitely sounds like we have a broader minor than electronic journalism because [electronic] sounds like we only know how to do computers and not actual writing.”

According to the Registrar’s Office, the university has 65 journalism minors, 53 of whom are majoring in communications.

Communications majors interested in journalism have the option of choosing either the minor or a journalism concentration, depending on their priorities. Because many of the classes needed for the minor are also needed for the concentration, both offer their share of advantages.

“It’s just kind of the same thing,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, a junior concentrating in journalism who serves as treasurer for Mason’s newly established Society for Professional Journalists. “I could declare a minor in journalism, but I would literally be taking one extra class because everything is double-dipping.”

For others, though, the minor allows for increased flexibility.

“[The communications major] had a media production and criticism concentration,” Hill said. “That just best fit with broadcast journalism, so that focused on the media, and I funneled that even further into journalism.”

As the name change shows, Mason’s journalism program has to constantly adapt in order to stay in sync with the volatile field and best prepare its students for life after graduation.

“The seriousness of our profession as journalists, if you’ve seen the news lately, has really taken center-stage,” Jannery said. “Our reporters are expected to be on the front lines. Not only do they cover the print media, but they’re expected to get right in there, to get video, to tweet and be on social media promoting their stories. There’s a lot of talk about are there going to be enough jobs because newspapers are folding. But actually what we encourage our student journalists to do is really go out there and make work for themselves.”