Medill 2020

The Medill School of Journalism is getting a makeover.

The school, part of Northwestern University, is being revamped in response to changes in the media industry, according to Dean John Lavine. The new plan, Lavine recently told Inside Medill News, weaves together three critical elements of media: news/stories, audiences and consumers, and channels of communication.

The news element is traditional journalism--finding the news and reporting it. Audiences and consumers involve marketing and advertising, and channels of communication refer to how the story is delivered: in print, online, in a blog format, on TV, radio, etc.

Ideally, the restructuring will boost salaries for Medill graduates, Lavine said.

According to a recent question-and-answer session between Lavine and Inside Medill News:

Q: How will Medill 2020 differentiate the school and its curriculum ?

A: Some schools have great journalism; others have great marketing where you learn how to reach an audience. If you come to Medill, you will learn from two expert faculties who are also committed to learning from each other.

Then, there is the rest of Northwestern, which has become one of the country's premiere universities. All of its intellectual excitement and expertise is open to Medill students.

With the knowledge they gain from the new curriculum, our graduates can expect to have greater impact on their profession and higher pay when they enter the workforce. According to a national study conducted each year, Medill grads already earn more than their counterparts from other schools, but we're aiming to significantly increase that gap.

In addition, it won't be long before employers will want to send their current employees to us for continuing, updating education. Think what a commentary that is and what it means for the value of our forthcoming graduates.

When asked how journalism and marketing/communications are compatible but different, Lavine said:

The ultimate goals of journalism and integrated marketing communications are different. The goal of marketing communications is to persuade -- to facilitate a sale by having consumers spend their time with their stories and messages. The goal of journalism is to inform. What they share, however, is a fierce commitment to relevance and the need that stories and messages be meaningful.

Without an audience and an ability to understand and reach the audience, journalism does not exist. You can have all the words in the world, but if nobody reads them, hears them or sees them, what good are they? It has often been said that "Journalism's goal is to tell the truth and create an informed public." Yet, the press cannot inform without the public being half of that partnership.

Most important for Medill students who will enter the media and marketing worlds between now and 2020, those who will get the best jobs not only will know how to find and tell a high-impact story but also how to do it in new forms and on new platforms that better engage their audiences.

Protecting the Fourth Estate

Northwestern is my alma mater--I went first as an undergraduate, to the School of Speech (now the School of Communication), and later returned for graduate studies at Medill. I can say with full assurance that I wouldn't be where I am were it not for Northwestern and Medill.

So after seeing "School of Journalism" dashed from the prominent position it has held on Medill's Web site, I balked.

Could such tinkering with the name compromise the school's dedication to the Fourth Estate? Might the value of the degree change, perhaps decline?

It's still too soon to tell, given the plan is in its infancy. But after talking with a Medill official and reading the q-and-a session with Lavine, I am somewhat reassured.

The face of journalism is changing, largely due to technology. I'm all for journalists becoming more tech-savvy and better able to tell their stories across all mediums. And if, as Lavine suggests, Medill grads' salaries climb--all the better. It's equally critical that we journalists have a sense of who's reading/watching/listening to us--without our consumers, we're less than a flash in the pan.

Journalists are above all objective, accurate story-tellers of news and trends. We chase stories, always searching for ways to shine the light on truth and empower others with knowledge, so they can think and decide for themselves.

That's the beauty and duty of the Fourth Estate. May the Medill School of Journalism stay true to it.


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