Why Journalism Still Matters at the UW

Our students, faculty, and alumni have heard it before: Journalism is dead. Not so, argues UW Communication Journalism lecturer, Caley Cook.

In a recent podcast for YesCollege.com, Cook gave a rousing defense of the industry, both as a profession and as an academic field of study. She insists that those who hold a journalism degree have access to a limitless range of opportunities, thanks to the diverse skillset students acquire.

In the UW Journalism program, Cook explains, students are primarily taught two things: how to be a storyteller, and how to be critical and analytical.

“We want you to be able to walk into a situation and try to understand it, even if you’ve never been there before, and then be able to tell others about what’s happening. That is a difficult, but very valuable, skill to have in any profession,” Cook said.

The Journalism program at the UW offers students the unique chance to explore news in as dynamic an environment as possible; there are no specialized tracks to which students have to limit themselves.

“Seattle is a really vibrant media scene,” Cook notes. “We have everything here from traditional metropolitan newspapers, to sites like GeekWire (started by two former journalists upon leaving The Seattle Post-Intelligencer). There all these different media outlets into which we can send our students.”

Students echo Cook’s enthusiasm.

“The greatest lesson I have learned is that you are never too young or too inexperienced to make quality work,” says journalism student Claire Butwinick. “I came into this program with little confidence in my credibility to reach out to sources and develop my own ideas, but the journalism program taught me that I can achieve my goals and gain respect from others through persistence and hard work.”

For Communication student Mia Andre, studying journalism is all about learning new and versatile skills.

“I do not want to go into journalism after I graduate,” Andre says. “Instead, I am looking for positions in marketing or public relations, but all of the skills I have learned through the program are really valuable. For example, I’ve got a really great understanding of the media and how to work with editors, which is valuable in PR.”

Another aspect of the UW journalism program of which Cook is proud is its emphasis on immersion.

“When we get our students into these type of scenarios, you can really see them light up,” Cook said. “You see them learn in a way that they weren’t in just a classroom setting.”

For example, while covering UW’s nationally-renowned football program for The Daily, journalism student Alec Dietz says that he fell in love with writing. He agrees with Cook that, while classroom teaching is definitely necessary to an extent, “getting out there and getting experience with real news outlets and real people has definitely been the most beneficial part for me. I’ve noticed that the more reporting I’ve done, the better I have gotten at it.” He adds that, although there are times he has felt intimidated when working alongside professional reporters from The Seattle Times and The Tacoma News Tribune, he reminds himself to just keep working at his craft. “I think the more I work with them, the more comfortable I will feel, and the more I’ll be able to ask questions and stick my neck out there as a young journalist.”

In addition to honing their technical skills as storytellers, UW journalism students have the opportunity to fully explore what makes these shared experiences compelling.

“One of the lessons that stood out to me was the trauma training we had to go through in COM 361,” recalls journalism student Grace Li Dong Madigan. “It really made me reflect on how important our jobs are as journalists, and also put into perspective how ethics come into play in our industry. Having the opportunity to practice [this style of interviewing] in a safe environment, where we could get feedback and a taste of what might happen, was so valuable.”

Finally, students in the UW program are determined to make their peers more aware of what constitutes good journalism; the hard work that goes into stories, but is so often dismissed by the public.

“One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my classes is that every story counts, no matter how big or small,” said journalism student Molly Quinton. “All of my professors have instilled in me a solemn reverence for the power I wield when I am writing a story. They also created a space where I was able to fail safely and learn from my mistakes, supporting me every step of the way.”

To learn more about the Journalism program, students and families are encouraged to attend “How We Communicate.” Led by Caley Cook, this interactive session will take place April 14, during the UW’s annual Parent and Family Weekend.