One sweaty Thursday evening in July, I was aggressively driving my dad’s car from my job in Pilsen, Ill. to Build Coffee, a shop in Woodlawn, before all the chairs were occupied. Earlier that week I found a Facebook event advertising a free, public newsroom on the South Side promising to facilitate a dialogue for journalists and community members alike, asking a critical question: “How should we report on crime in Chicago?”
Well damn, how should we report on crime in a corrupt city, in a corrupt state, in a corrupt country? Is the current reporting by the Chicago Tribune, or the New York Times, or any other mainstream media organization lacking? Yes, I thought, it is. Could these ideas also be implemented in Galesburg, the Midwest, the rest of the country? Yes, I thought, yes they could, and how radical that would be.
The nonprofit news organization that hosts public newsrooms every Thursday night is called City Bureau. They have four founders, all journalists who felt unwelcome in traditional newsrooms, in part because of their intersecting identities as queer, women and people of color. I thought, I can have a place in journalism. We all can.
Sitting in that cozy/cramped coffee shop, surrounded by enthusiastic people who have ideas that resemble, and surpass mine, I thought how dismal it was that I’ve never felt this comfortable before, despite working in the media industry for five years, and taking eight journalism classes at Knox.
City Bureau’s newsroom was like nothing I had ever seen. The profound, yet simple ideas: paying regular community members $15/hour to do event coverage, holding open editing hours for local creators to pitch or discuss stories, protecting sources as courageous and generous human beings, interviewing citizens instead of politicians and law enforcement, on and on the founders relayed their model. The audience was silent, rapt.
On returning to Knox this fall, I found the only journalism classes being offered are Digital Photojournalism I, and two sections of Graphic Design I. These are both cross-listed as Art classes. Many upperclassmen, myself included, have already taken these 100-levels.
Even if the department were to offer a few more courses to turn the minor-only subject into a major, the department as it stands lacks differing thought. This is inseparable from the fact that there is no diversity within the faculty. There are no professors of color. There are too few students of color. These two things are not a coincidence.
According to the Knox College website, there are seven faculty job openings, none of which are in the journalism department. Last spring, Business got approved to move from a minor to a major. This fall, enrollment is up. Think of how it could skyrocket with a Journalism major, and a good one at that.
Think further, of how our campus, our city, our country itself could truly benefit from a steady stream of good journalists coming out of our colleges. In a time when journalists are being attacked, being killed, and political leaders are not condemning such acts, but are in fact a part of such acts, at least our colleges should be institutions that stand behind students who want to pursue the profession.
Further, journalism students need professors who understand the specific climate of journalism as it stands today. We need to understand covering governments hostile to journalists. We need proficiency in industry standard software, videography, motion graphics and more. There is a serious lack of educational resources for student journalists at this school.
It seems the institution itself forgot who founded it: abolitionists. Who co-founded this very paper: S. S. McClure, a muckraker. These are extraordinary facts. We, as people who claim this school as some sort of a home, come from radical do-gooders. We should return to their ideals.
Andrea Faye Hart, one of the City Bureau founders, said, “Sometimes, you have to teach up,” in response to a question about professors, editors and others in power who won’t let writers break from the traditional mainstream media reporting model.
But I’m not an education major, I’m a writing major. So I plea. Administration: give student journalists the tools we need to succeed. There is a deep need for a diverse, inclusive course of study taught by faculty who represent the greater student body, and our unique information needs as emerging journalists in 2018. We deserve a major. We deserve professors. We deserve to be invested in.