Some push to add journalism classes

For an aspiring journalist, a glance through the Yale College Programs of Study might be cause for disappointment. Hidden in hundreds of course listings for the Political Science and English departments are less than a half dozen classes that involve the media.

Although a Yale education traditionally focuses on the liberal arts, students and teachers alike said they think the University is not providing students with adequate journalism opportunities. While Yale officials said new programs are currently under development, some lecturers have taken matters into their own hands by establishing new programs to fill this gap.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he is currently involved in conversations regarding fundraising for more courses and internships involving journalism that could be administered by the Undergraduate Writing Center.

“We’re hoping to have the details worked out this academic year so that we might be able to add to our journalistic offerings by next year,” Salovey said.

But Stanley Flink ’45W, who currently teaches “Ethics and the Media,” is working on his own to establish an endowed visiting professorship in media studies. The program would bring eminent journalists and major scholars of politics and the media to Yale for a semester or a year to teach seminars. It would also include conferences, symposia and lectures throughout the year so that Yalies could contribute to the American dialogue on the importance of the media, Flink said.

Adam Simon, who teaches “Political Communication and the Media,” said last month’s packed Law School lecture featuring Bob Woodward ’65 of the Washington Post was a testament to a student interest in journalism.

“The turnout and energy present at Bob Woodward’s recent talk demonstrated the community’s enthusiasm for this field,” Simon said.

Flink, a former correspondent for Life magazine and a writer and producer at NBC and CBS, personally interviews 150 students for 24 slots in his seminar each fall. His class focuses on the history, theory and practice of ethical journalism.

“It is the only course at Yale that is specifically geared to the life of the news media,” Flink said. “Yale does not have a significant role in the national discussion about the role of the media in democracy.”

During his half-century as a reporter, Flink has witnessed the transition of journalism from print to television to the Internet. He said the media is more relevant today because of its role in the political sphere.

“The media is the biggest player in public affairs because no politician can do without the media, and no politician can do with the media,” Flink said. “They need them and they fear them.”

Yale President Richard Levin and Provost Andrew Hamilton have approved the visiting professorship, but the chair lacks the necessary funding. Flink said he is working with the Office of Development to contact alumni who work in journalism, but he said that without a big name attached to the project, raising the required $2 million to establish the chair is difficult.

Lloyd Suttle, deputy provost for graduate and undergraduate programs, said raising funds for visiting programs is not a primary University focus.

“One of the University’s highest priorities is raising funds to endow existing tenured faculty positions,” Suttle said. “Raising funds to endow visiting faculty positions in fields that are not currently covered in the curriculum is of lower priority.”

Other faculty members are concerned that a visiting professorship will not establish a lasting commitment to the University because it will offer a limited number of students a varied experience from year to year.

“It is difficult for visiting faculty to make a programmatic contribution to the Yale community,” Simon said. “One visiting position will probably only provide a taste of the intellectual breadth offered by the field of media research.”

Steven Brill ’72 LAW ’75, who teaches English 467, an advanced writing seminar on journalism, this fall, said the University must also increase opportunities offered to aspiring journalists outside of the classroom.

“How can and should a place like Yale fill the gaps?” Brill said. “I don’t think that a school like Yale needs a journalism school, but the question is, ‘How do we channel your interests into different paths and different opportunities?’”

This spring, Brill said he plans to announce a program offered through Undergraduate Career Services that would encourage students traditionally courted by investment banking and consulting firms to pursue journalism instead. The initiative will also assist students in finding internships and offer stipends to encourage them to take positions at small local newspapers, which traditionally do not pay well.

Therese Lim ’07, a student in Brill’s course who said she is interested in pursuing journalism as a career, said any new programs would give undergraduates much-needed experience in the field.

“It’s not something antithetical to the value of a liberal arts education to teach communication skills,” Lim said. “If you haven’t proved your mettle in college, it’s very hard to get a foot in the door.”

Some students in Flink’s class said they had taken the course out of personal interest in politics or ethics. Whitney Haring-Smith ’07 said he does not intend to become a journalist, but he will be able to apply the knowledge he has gained in law, business or another field.

“Understanding the media from a journalistic perspective and benefiting from such an experience is very valuable knowledge,” he said.

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