You are a young, enthusiastic journalist, looking forward to taking your first journalism class at a college known to have one of the best journalism programs. But when you get there, you find out the first class you take only teaches the theories of journalism.
Medill first-year Arthi Venkatesh experienced this scenario in fall 2022. She said learning journalism ethics through reflections and short essays in JOUR 202 Journalism Values, Practices & Trends did not prepare her for the nonstop, hands-on reporting assignments in JOUR 201-1 Fundamentals of Reporting & Writing News.
“[JOUR 201-1] throws you off at the beginning,” Venkatesh said. “I wasn't prepared for that, just because 202 was so slow compared to this one.”
Venkatesh is among the class of 2026, who takes JOUR 202 first in the fall instead of JOUR 201-1. Starting from the class of 2025, Medill first-years took the first three courses of Medill’s core curriculum in a different order from their upperclassmen counterparts, beginning with JOUR 202 instead of JOUR 201-1. Before fall 2021, all Medill first-years began with 201-1, then 201-2 during Winter quarter and finally 202 during Spring quarter, said Daniel MacKenzie, the Director of Undergraduate Academic Advising at Medill.
To major in journalism, students must complete three courses: JOUR 201-1 Fundamentals of Reporting & Writing News, JOUR 201-2 Fundamentals of Video Journalism, and JOUR 202 Journalism Values, Practice & Trends (202 can be replaced with a separate class with advisor’s approval for transfer students if they enter Medill during Fall or Spring quarter).
As their names imply, JOUR 201-1 and 201-2 introduce students to the industry standards of reporting, writing, shooting and editing, while JOUR 202 teaches theories of human behavior and media consumption.
When asked about the change in JOUR 201 sequence, the main instructor of JOUR 201-1, Desiree Hanford, and Medill Associate Dean Beth Bennett both declined interview requests.
Robert Brown, the director of diversity, equity, inclusion and outreach at Medill said the three-course sequence ensures all students with various educational backgrounds and experience will be equipped with the same set of skills.
“[JOUR 202] is the entry point and shapes what students come to understand Medill and the journalism education,” Brown said.
Medill fourth-year Jack Izzo took JOUR 201-1 fall 2019 with no prior journalism experience. He said that he felt 201-1 was a weed-out class for him.
“201-1 was my trial class,” Izzo said. “If I didn’t like it, I [was] probably going to drop Medill. In fact, I know a lot of people who did.”
Looking back at his journalism education, Medill fourth-year Nicholas Song said JOUR 201-1 introduced him to the traditional style of writing in print journalism, including ledes, nut grafs, headlines and more. It establishes the guidelines for print journalism he wishes Medill would do to the same extent for other types of media, like broadcast journalism or photojournalism.
“As the first class everyone takes simultaneously, it sets off the tone for the journalism education in Medill. I felt I was on the same page with everyone else in my cohort,” said Song, a transfer student who took JOUR 201-1 in fall 2020 as his first class in Medill.
Song added that he only started reflecting on the theories he learned in JOUR 202 after he had hands-on experience in journalism.
“I don’t understand how you can approach the theories without any prior experience,” Song said.
Medill third-year Allison Rauch agreed, saying she is glad she took JOUR 201-1 first, because she immediately realized she was not interested in print journalism.
“I enjoyed 202 for its historical aspect,” Rauch said. “Taking 202 after the two hands-on classes is like a step back and looking at the industry as a whole. It’s especially helpful if you’re deciding, okay, is this actually something I want to do?”
Izzo said Medill may lose out on strong and enthusiastic journalists by putting 202 first, which he felt slowed down the pace of journalism education.
“People are going to drop [out] because they’re like, why am I not writing and reporting?” Izzo said.
Some in the class of 2026 enjoy the slower pace of 202. Medill first-year Bettina Sanchez said she also never had any journalism experience prior to entering Medill.
“For me, taking 202 first is very welcoming,” Sanchez said. “During 202, we did a lot of scenarios of how an interview should look like, which prepared me for 201-1.”
Venkatesh also hopes for a tighter connection between topics, instruction and activities in three classes. She shared her dream of combining different elements from the three courses into a single extended class.
“We could learn the topics, like objectivity and truth, then apply it in a reporting assignment,” Venkatesh said. “Through that, I would retain much more from the sequence than it is now.”