Annenberg modernizes its journalism degrees

In an effort to modernize degree programs for a changing industry, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism unveiled a revised undergraduate degree, the Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Thursday. After undergoing the University’s review process, the new degree program will likely go into effect for the Fall 2016 semester.

In an email sent to current Annenberg students, Willow Bay, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, said, “USC Annenberg’s B.A. in journalism will prepare our students to build rewarding careers, thrive in contemporary newsrooms and lead the industry in an exciting time of rapid change.”

While the school currently offers two undergraduate journalism degrees — either broadcast and digital journalism or print and digital journalism — the new journalism B.A. program eliminates the distinction. The change, according to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Gordon Stables, is meant to create a curriculum that was flexible  as journalism changes over time and as students develop their specific interests. Beginning in their junior year, students in the new degree program will have the option to choose an area of emphasis in print journalism and sports journalism, among others.

“I think the best way to describe the goals of the new curriculum was to allow it to be forward-looking so that as things change in technology, in journalism and in related industries the curriculum has the flexibility to keep those current in what they’re doing,” Stables said.

Nick Ring, a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, pointed out that the new combined journalism program could enable students to explore the industry in a way that’s not currently possible.

“I think that the new approach that they’re going with will just make it more accessible, and students won’t feel as tied down to one side of the field, and they’ll have more of an opportunity to explore what areas they like the most,” Ring said.

Students in the current journalism degree programs, depending on their class status, can blend the new course offerings into their degrees as electives or transition entirely to the new journalism B.A. degree. Stables said that courses with the same number that are included in both degree programs will count toward major credit for both despite slight tweaks to the course names and content.

Heeding input from faculty in the journalism school, the new undergraduate program includes dedicated classes for data journalism, programming  and visual storytelling — areas that were optional at best in the old degrees. Courses that emphasize digital-specific ethics and civic engagement are also new additions.

Max Schwartz, a senior in the current broadcast journalism program with a position as news editor at Annenberg Media, felt that the new degree program’s emphasis on digital skills was prudent.

“I think it will only be beneficial as we move more digital, as most content is now on online platforms, and as more employers look for that skill,” Schwartz said. “It’s definitely great, and I’m glad that the school is moving forward on that front … because they want to stay the best and [be] competitive.”

The new digital emphasis was also inspired by the technological capabilities of the media center in Wallis Annenberg Hall, where different forms of journalism converge in one space.

“The phrase ‘inspiration’ is 100 percent correct. The curriculum couldn’t have been developed without the time with the faculty and students working in [the new media center]. Building [Wallis Annenberg Hall] was really re-developing the culture of journalism education here,” Stables said.