The Daily Aztec

JMS classes aren’t doing enough

An open letter from graduating seniors at The Daily Aztec

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Most of the graduating seniors on The Daily Aztec’s editorial board are students in JMS. We know the territory. We know what’s taught in these classes.

There are many things we love about JMS. But we have to be honest — our classes are not doing enough.

Many of us have been in JMS classes for the last four or five years. And most of us agree that in those years, just one or two of our JMS classes have actually been useful.

This isn’t a letter to bash on the school of JMS. Rather, we feel like we have been ignored when we have continuously expressed our concerns. We want something done for the current and future JMS students of SDSU.

We have heard the complaints from numerous students, and we know you have, too. We have heard it from students still in the major, students who are currently graduating and alumni. They’re all similar, so why is it that years later, nothing has changed?

So, before the year comes to an end, we will voice these concerns once again.

If it wasn’t for this newspaper and our internships, we would definitely not feel prepared to go out into the real world. Nor would we have acquired the skills necessary to be journalists today, when it is necessary to know not just AP Style, but how to report on breaking news, edit video and tell stories through more than just writing.

We have learned this through countless hours in our newsroom. We have built a video section from the ground up, where one person took on the responsibility of teaching students how to create 1 minute 30 second video news packages.

Yes, we have a broadcast class. But it’s only one class — one that we are not allowed to take it until we are at least juniors — and it fills up pretty quickly.

There are plenty of successful reporters who have graduated from SDSU’s JMS program. But they’re learning the skills they need for their careers elsewhere, whether that’s at The Daily Aztec or some other news organization. Several alumni reporters have said they had to take supplemental broadcast classes at community colleges after graduating.

The average JMS graduate is simply not prepared to go out into the real world. That has to change.

Then there’s the GSP. The Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation test students must take to get into any JMS major.

It’s dreaded by many students because they’ve heard countless stories of “failing” it multiple times or missing the cut by just two points. In fact, between 81 and 89 percent of students who have taken the GSP since 2013 have failed it. What does it say about the JMS program that most students educated in its classes can’t pass a test that’s mandatory to moving forward in their major? What are students learning, exactly?

Beyond that, what is the virtue of placing so much importance on this test? Even the best of writers still have to look words up. What if you’re looking to be a journalist in Spanish media? Because of a test, are you going to take the opportunity of being able to get a journalism degree from students? Sure, students can still petition their way into their majors, but not everyone is successful.

And there’s more.

This year, our group of editors was the most diverse since we have been part of this newspaper. Our editor in chief and managing editor are both Latino. Our assistant news editor is Latino. Our opinion editor is black. Our assistant sports editor is Filipino. Our video editor is North African and Muslim. And that doesn’t even include the dozens of volunteer writers, videographers and photographers on our staff.

As an editorial board made up of JMS students, we expect you to represent us. The lack of diversity within the faculty of this school has led to a lack of understanding between students and faculty, and this will continue to happen if nothing is changed.

There are some bright spots.

Dr. Nate, thank you. You have gone out of your way to have conversations with many of us, and several of us would consider you a mentor. You’ve always been honest and treated us like real adults. You are truly here for the students.

Dana Littlefield, thank you for teaching us what it’s like to be a journalist in the real world and for participating in panels that highlighted the need to have more diversity in newsrooms.

Professor Schmitz Weiss, thank you for pushing us when it came to our stories. You didn’t let us give up;  you pushed us to be better.

There are more professors who we are surely failing to mention. But the fact remains that there are problems with the JMS program that urgently need correcting. As much as we appreciate every member of our JMS faculty, we would be remiss if we did not address them.

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5 Responses to “JMS classes aren’t doing enough”

  1. Alyssa Knowles on May 9th, 2019 1:28 pm

    As an advertising focus in the JMS program, I felt more than prepared as I entered the job search post graduation. I failed the GSP three times (and my grammar is still the worst), but I saw the value in having it as a qualification.

    For all of the hard working professors in JMS preparing their students for life after school, please don’t generalize an entire group based on one focus.

  2. Dylan Grise on May 9th, 2019 2:07 pm

    Some of the classes you mention are super impacted and are only available for those students that require them to graduate. I had to take certain placement tests several times and even petitioned to get into the program I wanted to be in. I had AMAZING teachers and classes at that help position me to be successful once I graduated.

    Certain degrees are more specialized and require a different level of knowledge. I knew what classes I wanted and chose my degree accordingly. Once I had committed to my degree, I took the tests necessary to be eligible for said classes and had no problem getting in. Sometimes it seemed like the effort to get into the classes was excessive, but I hunkered down and got what I needed out of school.

    It has become far too easy and acceptable to blame the system (and despite what the article says about not bashing the program, that’s exactly what they are doing.) If someone wants to be proficient in technical writing, research, analytics etc., they should sign up for the degree that offers those programs; not something they can just “get by” with to get there degree, hoping it will be enough or that the education is equivalent (it’s not).

    If someone doesn’t get what they think they needed from school, they should ask themselves if it was the schools’s fault for having eligibility requirements for certain classes or if the lack of foresight when choosing their degree is is the issue.

  3. Donna P. Crilly on May 9th, 2019 3:48 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I am a JMS alumna c/o 2013. Specifically, I majored in journalism. I’m not sure how it is now — whether media studies, advertising, etc is a separate thing, or if it’s all lumped together. I was also a copyeditor and news writer for the DA back when it was a daily newspaper.

    I can understand your frustration. It is why I am currently studying anthropology in graduate school. The world is changing faster than we can keep up with, and I expect that some fundamental pedagogical issues need to be addressed. For one, cultures and communities are constantly colliding on the internet in this modern globalized world. In anthropology, it’s important to understand the meanings of terms and concepts in the context of the communities they are studying. What does the world look like in the eyes of others? The journalism doctrine ‘seek truth and report it’ is beautiful. But it needs to be dissected. It assumes that there is one truth, that facts add up to the truth, and that people who read the news will make informed decisions based upon that truth. What is seemingly common sense, is actually ethnocentric.

    I would love to see what the curriculum looks like today and compare it to my era. While 2013 was not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, in today’s world, it was ages ago. So how do we approach j-school when we have this fundamental issue? I’m sure the JMS professors scratch their heads at this problem every day. I wonder whether the approach needs to not only be practically focused but also theoretically and heuristically based.

    On the one hand, journalism is now more important than ever. On the other hand, well…

    At any rate, I also took and failed the GSP multiple times. But when I finally “made it” to the j-school, I was really proud. I understand the need to be the best writers in the school and in the country, if possible. JMS 310W was like “writing bootcamp,” and it brought me to a level I was previously unaware I was capable of reaching. If anything, more emphasis needs to be put on getting those crucial writing skills down pat. And yes, that means GSP.

  4. Amanda Kay Rhoades on May 10th, 2019 9:42 am

    There’s a lot to unpack here, as this is a far more complex topic then I think a lot of people realize. I’m sure some of you will also come to that realization yourselves the longer you navigate the journalism industry, should you choose to.

    I graduated from the JMS program with a journalism degree in 2016. (I failed the GSP and had to petition my way into the major despite having edited my community college newspaper and magazine). I was one of a small number of journalism graduates from my class to get hired by a news publication upon graduation, and I now attend the University of Oregon’s multimedia journalism graduate program.

    I’ll stick to saying “SDSU’s journalism program” rather than JMS, because I can’t speak for the other majors like media studies and public relations, but I do think that there should be more emphasis on video and audio production. Maybe even collaboration with the film department. There are many people interested in careers in journalism who aren’t great at writing (for a multitude of reasons, but English not being their first language could be one). That’s not a barrier in the industry, so I don’t understand why it’s one in the journalism school. If our goal as journalists is to reach greater audiences, we have to accept that not everyone has time to sit down and read the paper and produce content that informs those other groups. That means photography, video and podcasts. In this sense, it is true that the journalism department has barely scratched the surfaced of what’s expected of reporters today.

    On the other hand, journalism has been struggling for over 10 years now and the shifts in technology come so quickly that by the time someone publishes a book on the next big thing, the audience has already moved on. A good example of this is Facebook and Facebook live. These are challenges the industry faces as a whole, not failures of our professors. And speaking of the professors, I’m saying there isn’t room for improvement when it comes to diversity, because I’m sure there is, but do keep in mind that even now, newsrooms have been mostly white and mostly male. The reason I bring this issue up is because many of the academics studying journalism and media and becoming university professors are former newsroom employees, so, it’s going to take some time before we begin to see a good amount of diverse candidates move their way up through the ranks.

    I am in a graduate program right now that’s teaching me how to produce documentary style audio and video, and it’s hard. It’s the focus of the entire program. So to expect these professors to teach the foundations of journalism, how to write, and how to produce professional quality news video and audio is not realistic. But journalism is an always has been an industry of self-starters. If you are interested in something, it’s up to you to pursue it and convince your boss why you should be doing it as part of your job. At SDSU, you can join the newspaper or radio station if you want to learn those things. In this way, the journalism school does prepare students for the real world. One thing I would’ve really liked to see them do better was make sure the students understand what they’re up against and what’s transpired in the industry over the last 10 years, because I’m not sure that concept was fully grasped by those who selected our major.

  5. Amanda Kay Rhoades on May 10th, 2019 9:49 am

    Where I wrote “And speaking of the professors, I’m saying there isn’t room for improvement when it comes to diversity, because I’m sure there is,” I mean’t to type “And speaking of the professors, I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement when it comes to diversity, because I’m sure there is,” and “But journalism is an always” should’ve been “But journalism is and always.”

    You can see why I failed that GSP 😉

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