I am the proud owner of a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Eastern Kentucky University.
That’s right: proud.
There is no doubt in my mind that I am where I am today because of going through EKU’s journalism program, and though I may be just a bit biased, I would set the education I got against any other journalism program in the country.
That’s why it troubles me to learn that the university is considering shutting down the journalism department at my alma mater. Budget cuts are the reasoning behind the move. But, I would urge the administration to reconsider this proposal – not just because of my own nostalgia, but because the education and real-world training of future EKU students is at stake.
Not only did I learn the craft of journalism while at EKU (researchin’, writin’, late-night pizza dinin’), but I also learned how to work on a team, how to communicate for an audience, how to be a leader, and how to be tenacious in the face of fierce opposition. I employ all of those skills – and so many more – in my current position at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Ky.
You see, I didn’t remain in the journalism field after college. Although I did complete a stint at my hometown community newspaper, The Hazard Herald, I ultimately entered graduate school and moved on to the nonprofit sector.
But this is precisely my point. Like many EKU Journalism alums, I found another passion in another field. But because of the skills I learned through my journalism education, I was more than prepared to transition into my career. I dare say there are few academic programs at EKU that would have afforded me similar preparation.
It’s not just journalism alums who have benefited from learning those transferable skills. Many students take journalism classes or work at the award-winning student newspaper, The Eastern Progress, but major in programs outside the journalism field. I would wager that those students would credit their time on the third floor of the Combs Building with teaching them valuable lessons and skills that they use to this day.
Speaking of The Eastern Progress, its presence on campus is beyond invaluable. The paper serves as a training ground for future journalists. And as the campus watchdog, the newspaper often reports on issues of which students otherwise might not be aware. It allows students to experience the creation of an actual product that will be consumed by the public instead of simply turning in homework assignments. It’s where leadership and collaboration skills are fostered, and where students learn how to interact with different types of people – a skill that will be used in any job they might have in the future.
On the surface, or by the numbers, it may seem like the journalism program’s impact is small. But as we should all know, numbers don’t tell a complete picture of “impact.” Talk to any alum of the program, of The Eastern Progress, or anyone who took any journalism classes and ask them what the program has meant to them. That’s how you’ll measure its true value.
It’s no secret that the journalism industry has suffered in recent years and has had to restructure the way it functions in order to remain profitable. But good journalism has always remained relevant. Its critical role to a healthy, functioning democracy is paramount and should never be discounted or undermined. Cutting the journalism program at EKU would be a slap in the face – not only to the program’s distinguished alumni, faculty, staff and the university community, but also to journalism as a profession.
If good journalism is to survive and thrive in this country (and most especially in the far-reaching rural counties that comprise the majority of EKU’s service area), we need schools to invest more in their journalism programs, not cut them when times get hard and budgets get tight. While I don’t wish to diminish that budget cuts at universities are very real and difficult, it has to be said that if concessions must be made, surely there are other avenues than simply cutting an entire program that has been so invaluable to the campus community and to the students who pass through it. Perhaps the program can be moved into another higher-budget department so that the classes, expert faculty and staff can be retained?
I urge EKU’s administration to not take the journalism program away from future students. To do so would be to limit their education in many known and ways. In these trying times of economic upheaval where budget cuts are more normal than they should be and jobs are scarce, can we really afford to deprive our future workforce in such a way?
Appalachian Transition and Communication Associate
Mountain Association for Community Economic Development
EKU Journalism Department and Eastern Progress alum