Mount Holyoke has yet to prove its commitment to journalism

Graphic by Thalia Brown '19

Graphic by Thalia Brown '19

BY LINDSEY MCGINNIS '18

You always hear people talk about that one class they took in college that changed their life. For me, it was Catherine Manegold’s intro to journalism course.

Students had been on the waitlist for years, but I got in my first semester from some last minute schedule-shifting fluke. My high school didn’t have a newspaper, and I’d never taken a journalism class in my life. As cliche as it sounds, a good professor makes all the difference, and Manegold — an award-winning veteran of the New York Times, author of two books and the former James M. Cox Professor of Journalism at Emory University — was just that. Through one-on-one feedback, hours spent workshopping leads and an incredible amount of patience, Professor Manegold taught me how to write a decent story and showed our class the importance of a thorough and diligent press.

However, the college has a policy that visiting faculty can only teach full time for a maximum of six years, which means that Manegold, willing or not, is on her way out. As we reluctantly bid our one-woman journalism department goodbye, we have to ask: what comes next?

The English department will start looking for a replacement in the spring, but that might not be enough. You have to wonder, if the school isn’t committed to retaining excellent professors, why would those professors want to teach here? How can MHC prove its commitment to journalism education?

Let’s start by hiring professors without expiration dates. It’s important to remember that professors don’t just teach classes — they mold their respective departments, promote the college and serve as academic and professional mentors. These responsibilities can’t fall on just one professor, either. There’s no singular way to “do journalism,” and Mount Holyoke’s curriculum should reflect that.

The Journalism, Media and Public Discourse Nexus, designed specifically to guide students from college to a career, is currently chaired by two sociology professors. The program’s website states that “employers in journalism and media want students who are knowledgeable and articulate across a wide array of subjects in the liberal arts.”

Let’s be real, they also want clips. They want students with a deep understanding of journalistic ethics. They want a student with recommendations from an industry veteran, and now more than ever, they want students who can tell powerful multimedia stories. You don’t need to know every trick in the book, but they want someone who’s read the first couple chapters.

In intro to journalism, I learned how to get the most out of an interview, how to fact check my information and more. I gave sweat and tears (and sometimes snot) as I worked through sickness and school vacations to make all my deadlines.

As an editor for Mount Holyoke News, I meet dozens of first years and sophomores who are interested in journalism. I can help them fix their leads and give them interview tips, but I will never have the time or resources to give them what Professor Manegold gave everyone in our class. It should not rest solely on the shoulders of the MHN staff to foster a student’s passion for journalism.

This isn’t just a problem for future reporters. It’s time we stop considering journalism a vocation and start looking at it as a central pillar of democratic society, as the rapidly evolving Fourth Estate. If we want Mount Holyoke students to make real, meaningful change in the world, then we need to be effective critics and consumers of media — meaning that MHC needs to step up their game. 

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