Editorial: Young People Are Hearing the Call of Journalism

  • In this Sept. 20, 2018 photo, Student Newspaper Censorship Register editors, from left, Nataleigh Noble, Halle Newman, Julia Shannon-Grillo and Jenna Peterson stand outside the Burlington High School in Burlington, Vt. The students stood up to censorship in their student newspaper and won. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Credit where credit is due: President Donald Trump is doing wonderful things for America’s journalism schools.

In spite of — actually, because of — his relentless dissembling about “fake news,” his “enemy of the American people” slanders and the ugly verbal assaults on the press corps by those attending his rallies, Trump is inspiring more and more highly motivated young people to seek undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism.

As The Washington Postreported recently, applications and enrollment figures are up at many well-regarded journalism schools, and classes in investigative and political reporting, narrative nonfiction and environmental journalism are being added and filling up.

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, for example, saw an 11 percent jump in its incoming classes of undergraduate and master’s degree students compared with last fall. Its freshman class — 279 students — is the largest in 10 years. Undergraduate applications to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University are up 24 percent. And at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, an estimated 130 freshmen are entering the journalism college this fall, up 50 percent from last year. The University of Florida, where the number of students majoring in journalism dropped more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2014, is now seeing a rebound and is responding by expanding its faculty and adding experts. And the Scripps Howard Foundation is giving Arizona State and the University of Maryland $3 million each over the next three years to establish graduate centers for investigative journalism.

The comparison to an earlier era — and an earlier scandal-plagued president — is inevitable. “In some ways, it’s almost like a Watergate moment,” said Lorraine Branham, dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, referring to the criminal and constitutional crisis that drove Richard Nixon from office in 1974 and helped highlight the important role investigative journalism plays in our democracy.

And while these young people are being drawn to the craft of journalism in part by the opportunity to be seekers of truth at a time when their president has proven to be a serial liar (The Washington Post has documented some 5,000 false or misleading statements made by Trump since taking office), they also see in journalism an opportunity to tell the stories that are important to them — of their people, their communities, their struggles and triumphs — in their way.

They want to give voice to those who have been ignored or marginalized or shouted down, such as members of the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, sexual assault survivors and others.

And they want to harness their digital savvy to tell those stories in all manner of new ways — not just in newspapers and magazines or on television or the radio, but also in blogs and wikis, websites and podcasts, apps and social media.

And we are pleased to note that interest in journalism — and in truth, transparency and the First Amendment — is alive and well at the high school level, too.

Last month, four students at Burlington High School posted a story on the website of the student newspaper, the BHS Register, that broke news, based on public records, about a school employee who was facing a state investigation on charges of unprofessional conduct.

The principal first asked for the story to be taken down, which the students did (noting on the website that they had been censored), and then said it could be reposted after the story had been picked up by local media.

And then the administration and the School Board announced that they would — in consultation with students — develop a new policy on school publications that comported with a new Vermont law that seeks to protect student journalists.

“It was obviously overwhelming and hectic,” senior Halle Newman, 17, one of the BHS Register editors, told The Associated Press, “but it was also exciting and something I can see myself doing again.”

We think an experience like that would look great on an application to journalism school.