I have worked in student media for all four years of my undergraduate experience, and as a mass communication major, I have learned the important role the news media plays in our society. Unfortunately, many college graduates have not.
Whether it be the watchdog style of journalism that serves as a check and balance on entities of power, or journalism that provides a spotlight to stories that would have otherwise gone unknown, college graduates should enter the workforce with a shared respect for the role of the news media.
As more newspapers begin to close or cut back on days of publishing, a new trend in news media has become apparent. Journalism isn’t dead, it went digital. This trend toward technology creates an opportunity to educate college students about the evolving industry and ensure they are receiving information from valid news sources. Colleges should begin requiring every student to take a journalism course before they graduate.
Research conducted by Jack Dvorak, director of the High School Journalism Institute and a professor of the School of Journalism at Indiana University, found students who work on high school newspapers and yearbooks receive better grades in high school, higher scores on the ACT and better grades as college freshmen.
The Newspaper Association of America states that the sample of Dvorak’s study “is large enough and the results are clear enough to demonstrate a statistically significant difference in performance of students involved in journalism compared with those who had no journalism exposure.” While the study does not address whether or not students took an actual journalism class in high school, it’s evident that an exposure to journalism can improve students’ literacy and writing skills.
The NAA also concluded that “the high school journalism experience also can translate into better citizenship as students leave school and take their place as young adults in their home communities.” The same case can be made for college students entering the workforce, who should want to be informed of what is occurring where they choose to live. Not every college student has an interest in working in student media, but a single journalism course can be helpful far beyond graduation.
Ideally, the required course should focus on media writing and the ability to value truth over ideology. A 2016 report from Pew Research Center showed only 27 percent of millennials say the media has a positive effect on the way things are going in the country today. A Stanford University study revealed 82 percent of middle-schoolers failed to spot the difference between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website.
“Fewer schools now have librarians, who traditionally taught research skills,” wrote Sue Shellenbarger, columnist for the Wall Street Journal. “And media literacy has slipped to the margins in many classrooms, to make room for increased instruction in basic reading and math skills.”
Eighty-eight percent of young adults regularly receive their news from social media. It’s important they are taught how to evaluate the validity of sources they come in contact with during the hours of time they spend online each day. During a post-truth era where the spreading of false stories is easier than ever, such a lesson is needed more than ever.
College students are already required to take certain courses in English, history, math, science and a foreign language. These courses are often met with criticism from students who question why they should be required to take courses that have no relevance to their future. That argument cannot be made of a course in journalism, which will affect every single student, regardless of career aspirations.
The sooner students are taught about journalism’s universal effect and importance, not only will performances improve in the classroom, but greater interest will be shown toward current events as well.
Seth Nieman is a 22-year-old mass communication senior from McComb, Mississippi.