The Retriever starts off each semester by recruiting students to fill writing and reporting positions. For fairness and transparency, our structure is currently such that students can only hold the position of editor or assistant editor after working their way up from the bottom. However, the stream of incoming writers has been, at best, a steady trickle. Our policy of hiring only the best, most competent candidates has meant that we struggle every semester to ensure that all necessary positions are filled by hardworking students who care about news.
At The Retriever retreat, a semesterly conference where staff meet to polish our skills and brainstorm ideas for a better semester, an editor pointed out that the best way to ensure a pool of glowing candidates would be to require applicants to have taken a prerequisite Intro to Journalism course, something that would inspire students to care about the news and teach them how to communicate campus updates in a clear and effective way.
At the very least, an overhaul of the Journalism minor, which is offered by the English department, might signal to the student body that the campus cares about journalism and has the resources to do so. This is not a problem that needs to be solved with additional hires or new classes, but rather a realistic look at what classes are currently offered.
For example, one of the classes that fulfills the Journalism minor is an “Introduction to News Writing” course, a course that hasn’t been offered in years. Two other course options that fulfill the minor are internship credits, which begs the question of chicken and egg: To get an internship in journalism, one must first take classes in journalism, but to take these classes, they must be offered. Meanwhile, courses like Politics and Media, Podcasting and Media Literacy have been continually offered across other departments; the former two courses are electives within their respective majors and could therefore be easily folded into the Journalism minor.
Though there are, undoubtedly, plenty of good writers at UMBC, the issue seems to trickle down from on high. Because of the popularization of the internet and other electronic forms of mass communication, the concept of staying informed through print news has all but disappeared. A 2018 study from Pew Research Center shows that more Americans get their news from social media than from print newspapers. This trend suggests an even larger problem; if people don’t support news publications, how are we to uphold the standard of true, objective, informative news that is so important in an age where bias and fake news run rampant?
UMBC students, faculty and administration all pride themselves on our reputation as an academic powerhouse. President Hrabowski often refers to us, endearingly, as a “nerd school.” However, a large part of encouraging intellectualism and cultural diversity is promoting media literacy. We need students who care, but how do we get them to care?
In other departments, this element of getting students to care is an innate part of the program — if you can’t bring yourself to care about your introductory chemistry class, you won’t move on to more advanced topics. The introductory English course, English 100, does not fulfill this same purpose. Because it tries to appeal to a large variety of students who need to check the course off of their Degree Audit, English 100 will never truly be a satisfactory introduction to the discipline of writing.
So who is trying to get us to care about journalism? UMBC currently staffs one journalism professor: our faculty advisor, Deborah Rudacille. She took over the position after our former advisor, Christopher Corbett, retired at the end of last semester. It is not these professors’ fault that they are the only ones teaching journalism; they never should have been put in a position where one leaving meant the other had to carry campus journalism on their back.
One journalism professor cannot possibly teach the entirety of a subject, even one as limited as the Journalism minor. Media literacy is increasingly important, a fact that UMBC surely knows, considering the consistent focus on academics. But to place the responsibility of media literacy for 11,000 students on one professor is both cruel and absurd. And, it leaves a huge amount of students without the basic understanding of how and when and why we should be reading newspapers, creating a cohort of uninformed students.
In 2013, Towson University began an initiative to take the Collegiate Readership Program and incorporate reading the newspapers left on campus into their actual syllabi. This sets a precedent that reading the news is as important, if not more, than reading textbooks.
UMBC’s responsibility as an institution is to arm students with habits of reading and writing to take on the world around us with strength and conviction. So why is the news being left behind?