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Washington and Lee University

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Journalism at W&L

About the Department

Alumni Spotlight

Jessica Hopper '08

Digital Associate Producer for NBC News’ Rock Center with Brian Williams

Mission Statement

As the nation's only accredited journalism and mass communications program in a highly competitive liberal arts university, we remain committed to our first and highest mission: to educate, to broaden minds, to inculcate habits of honor, careful analysis, reasoned discourse and excellent writing in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic culture.

As a department with professional constituencies and an obligation to prepare citizens to participate in a democratic society we seek to fulfill our mission by helping students develop abilities to think critically, to communicate clearly, to understand the ethical dimensions of the decisions they make, and to fully recognize the central role of news media in a free society.

Our professional responsibility remains that which was enunciated when scholarships for printers were first announced under Robert E. Lee's presidency 140 years ago: educating students and professionals so that they can perform the crucial function of informing the community.

Because the journalism profession rightfully expects our graduates to become competent professionals, the department is committed to teaching students the skills and familiarizing them with the tools that are the standards of the industry. We remain committed to keeping abreast of those skills and tools as the information revolution continues.

The department must fulfill these multiple responsibilities within its commitment to a liberal arts education and the curricular limits established by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

An Introduction

The Department of Journalism and Mass Communications is among the largest programs at Washington and Lee. The department faculty believe journalism is the ideal liberal arts major, combining a deep grounding in the liberal arts and sciences with solid experience in research, analysis and clear communication. Its majors have an excellent reputation throughout the news industry, in the law and in advertising and public relations.

New Facilities for a Digital World

Since the total renovation of the department's building, Reid Hall, was completed in fall 2002, students and faculty have worked in an environment perfectly designed for the convergence that is sweeping the professional media world.

The W&L journalism program had been among the first in the nation to fully computerize all reporting and editing classes, and now it is among the first to create totally digital classroom and laboratory systems.

The journalism curriculum itself undergoes continual adjustments, as the department faculty respond to changes in the profession. A few years ago, the department's print and broadcast sequences were separate. Today, those two sequences are merged into a single Journalism sequence. While separate Reporting for Print Media and Reporting for Electronic Media courses remain, as well as free-standing editing and producing courses, students in those classes plan news coverage together, and regularly work together in the labs on stories for print, electronic media and the Internet. Their work appears on The Rockbridge Report's television newscast and converged Web site.

A Focus on Fundamentals

It is important to remember that, as dramatic as they are, these technological changes are not the focus of our program. The most distinguishing aspect of Washington and Lee's journalism program is its focus on fundamentals, on the concepts and concerns that remain constant regardless of how information is transmitted.

Students begin their journalism education by learning the roles that an independent press plays in a free society and by confronting the ethical component that exists in virtually every professional decision that journalists make. With this grounding, journalism students are prepared to make good news judgments.

The Liberal Arts Tradition

Because journalism at Washington and Lee is deeply imbued with the spirit of a broad, comprehensive education, it is an ideal liberal arts major. To make sure that journalism majors will be well grounded in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, they may take only about one fourth of their courses in journalism.

Today, when we are constantly reminded that we live in the Information Age, it is important to understand how the mass media influence societies. It is perhaps even more crucial for young people beginning their careers in the Information Age to be able researchers and clear writers.

A number of journalism majors come to the department solely to develop these competencies, and have no inclination to become journalists. In fact, more than one third plan a career in law or some other non-journalism field.

A Professional Perspective

Combined with this grounding in the liberal arts is a highly professional perspective.

While some communications programs focus on popular culture and communications theory, the W&L journalism department emphasizes the professional competencies of information gathering, analysis and writing.

The department's demanding professional courses are taught by faculty who have substantial experience in the newsroom and regularly return to it, and they are active members of professional organizations. One is a multiple Pulitzer Prize-winner.

The reporting students use the community as their primary source of news, and the labs receive feeds from the Associated Press and CNN. All students in the professional sequences are required to take a capstone in-depth reporting course in which they research and produce projects for broadcast, print and the Web. Their work involves interviewing local officials and inspecting official records, searching on the Internet, researching with such sources as Lexis-Nexis, performing statistical analysis with spreadsheets and databases, and producing graphics with the aid of satellite mapping.

The campus publications and WLUR-FM are extracurricular activities that have no formal relationship with the department. But the many journalism majors who work on them regularly seek out the department faculty for advice and comments. Students find that the solid professional habits and perspectives they develop as reporters and editors are quite valuable when they compete for internships and jobs.

A Varied Program

To meet the variety of interests among its majors, the journalism curriculum has professional sequences for students interested in journalism careers and a communications sequence for students planning careers outside journalism.

A major trend in the news media today is convergence, the combining of print, electronic and online news operations in a single operation. There are several models, and it is not certain which will ultimately prevail. But we do know that the department's students will be prepared by training and perspective to be leaders in this evolving field.

Some journalism programs are responding to this technological revolution by increasing their focus on the computer applications the industry is using. That's not true at Washington and Lee, despite excitement over the renovation of Reid Hall and the department's excellent facilities.

The focus of all classes is on concepts and principles, not on the technologies or equipment they are using. Today's latest developments are destined for tomorrow's scrap heap. But the principles that journalists should use in making professional judgments do not change.

All students in the professional sequences must have at least one internship, perhaps the most important criterion for a job in journalism. That experience and the demanding professional courses they take mean that journalism majors are well positioned for excellent jobs upon graduation and rapid advancement.

An Emphasis on Ethics

The University received an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 1996 to establish a substantial program in journalism ethics. Long a major emphasis in the journalism department, ethics has become a primary focus.

The department curriculum now includes three courses in journalism ethics, open to all university students, and all journalism majors are required to take an ethics course. Professionals regularly visit campus to "do ethics" with the undergraduates.

The Knight Chair holder, who is widely respected in the field of journalism ethics, frequently participates in professional workshops and national conventions.

A Program in Business Journalism

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation gave the University a $1.5 million endowment in 1999 to create a program in reporting on business and economics and to establish a chair in business journalism.

Students in the Business Journalism sequence take specialized courses in the department and a substantial number of courses in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics.

This highly innovative program responds to an increasing need in the industry and society for knowledgeable, skilled journalists who can report clearly and with authority in this vital area. The Reynolds Chair holder supervised several Pulitzer Prize-winning stories before she joined the faculty.

An International Perspective

Many journalism students develop an international perspective, an increasingly valuable orientation. Several have a second major in a foreign language, and this often includes a term abroad.

The department has four scholarships, the Todd Smith Memorial Fund, the Edward Jackson International Reporting Fund, the Edward M. Korry Scholarship, and the Allen Schanck Roberts '85 Scholarship Fund, that provide support for majors to undertake projects in foreign reporting. Students on those fellowships have reported from Australia, Germany, India, Kenya, Korea, Latin America, Russia, Spain and Tibet. Some journalism majors take internships abroad, sometimes with W&L graduates as their mentors. The department offers courses in international press systems, and two of its faculty have been Fulbright scholars.

An Outstanding Reputation

Washington and Lee's journalism department is highly regarded both on campus and in the profession.

The faculty regularly return to the newsroom to maintain their skills and act as consultants. They advise journalism programs at universities throughout the world, and they hold positions of responsibility in academic, professional and accreditation organizations.

Similarly, journalism students are eagerly sought after for entry-level positions and are accepted at prestigious law and graduate schools. Many are double majors, and they are deeply involved in campus life as newspaper reporters and editors, fraternity and sorority leaders, dorm counselors and members of service organizations. W&L's most recent Rhodes Scholar was a journalism major.

As graduates, they have been highly successful professionally as journalists and lawyers, in advertising and public relations, and in a wide variety of other communications-related fields. They are valued in virtually any field for their ability to gather information and present it compellingly, with precision and clarity, in any medium.

Their reputations, and their devotion to W&L and the journalism department, strengthen the competitive position of those who follow them.

More information

The department's Web site includes information about the curriculum, scholarships and faculty. The department head, Prof. Pam Luecke, can be reached at lueckep@wlu.edu or 540-458-8435.