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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Sharp decline in journalism majors at IU is concerning

The foundation of good journalism is laid with the fundamentals taught in colleges and universities throughout the country.

Indiana University has long been a major source of some of the best journalists in the U.S., but suddenly we find the number of their undergraduate journalism majors has gone down significantly.

A recent report by Michael Reschke of the Herald-Times in Bloomington said that number has declined by 38 percent since the IU School of Journalism became part of The Media School five years ago.

Between the 2014-15 and 2018-19 school years the number of journalism majors declined from 715 to 440.

The merger of the IU School of Journalism with the telecommunications department and portions of the communications and culture department to create The Media School in 2014 not only took the word “journalism” out of the school’s label, it left troubling questions, Reschke wrote, about whether “graduates of the newly formed school [would] be trained to seek the truth, minimize harm, act independently and follow other tenets of journalism.”

“There’s a foundation that journalism gives that you can’t get elsewhere,” said Michael Sanserino, managing editor of The Athletic Pittsburgh and a graduate of the IU School of Journalism.

Sanserino, a 2005 South Side High School graduate in Fort Wayne, received a scholarship from The News-Sentinel as the Sterling Sentinel Award recipient in journalism that year and worked as a student intern at The News-Sentinel through the fall of 2006.

Sanserino told the Herald-Times he is concerned about the decline in the number of journalism majors at IU and declared that at a time when the media is bombarded with accusations of fake news, teaching journalism fundamentals is more important than ever.

The cause of the decline in journalism majors at IU is unclear. That decline is not commensurate with the overall enrollment of undergraduate students at IU since those numbers have increased during the same period by about 18.6 percent, according to the Herald-Times story. And it is not in keeping with the overall decline in journalism majors at schools across the country either, the story points out, since that decline over the last five years has been only 3 percent.

We checked with Ball State University and Purdue Fort Wayne to see what their numbers have been during that same time period.

Johnny Sparks, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the Department of Journalism at Ball State, reported the number of students enrolled in the school’s journalism program has gone down about 44 percent in the last five years (from 1,045 to 690).

At PFW, on the other hand, Susan Alderman, director of media relations, communications and marketing, reported the number of undergraduates in the journalism or multimedia newsgathering and reporting program increased from the 2014-15 school year through 2018-19 by about 96 percent (from 56 to 110). And that’s during a period when overall enrollment at the Fort Wayne campus declined 24.7 percent. The school was IPFW until Indiana and Purdue separated in 2018 to become PFW.

Newsroom employment across the United States declined 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, driven primarily by job losses at newspapers, according to the Pew Research Center. That ongoing trend and a decline in the public’s trust of journalists may be deterrents to students considering journalism as a major. And those factors coupled with the organizational change of the journalism program may have contributed to the decline in majors at IU. Some concentrations that were counted as journalism majors in the old journalism school are now classified as media majors.

The previous emphasis on journalism has been blended in with media advertising, media science and sports media, making the media degree “more of a catch-all within our school,” said James Shanahan, dean of the Media School.

Shanahan insists, however, “there is no evidence The Media School is turning away from traditional journalism” and teaching fundamentals.

“I know the IU School of Journalism taught that,” Sanserino said. “Maybe everybody who goes through The Media School gets that training. I honestly don’t know. But journalism as an institution is under attack right now, and a solid training based in ethics is our best defense.”

News-Sentinel.com has consistently supported journalism education in both secondary and post-secondary schools, and we believe those schools must be committed to maintaining and growing those programs to preserve the integrity of the Fourth Estate.

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