We live in an age where “alternative facts” is a euphemism for lies. More than ever, we need people committed to truth. We need journalists.
At Princeton, fortunately, students can study journalism. But the path is limited. The Journalism program is not a concentration, a certificate, or even a department. It is housed under the Council of the Humanities, with only one designated administrator to speak of.
Journalism classes are top-notch and underrated: Tangible and relevant subject material is taught by industry veterans. Robert Smith, from NPR’s Planet Money, teaches students the art of audio journalism. Elaine Sciolino, the former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, passes her knowledge on to students in her local reporting class, which travels to Paris to report over spring break. Another class ventures overseas during the summer with decorated investigative journalist from The Washington Post, Joe Stephens, to report on the Grecian refugee crisis. These classes challenge us to be writers, investigators, storytellers, public truth-tellers, and witnesses on the frontlines of history.
But Princeton students who take journalism classes all four years receive no recognition on their diploma.
Make no mistake: journalism classes are rewarding unto themselves. But without a certificate designation, incentive is reduced. Students opt for courses that count toward certificate credit, because credit, as it turns out, is more attractive than no credit.
I learned the hard way that Princeton does not recognize a deep study of journalism. Princeton boasts an independent concentration program, advertising it for “students with academic interests that cannot be pursued adequately within an existing departmental concentration, certificate or interdisciplinary program.”
I tried this. I applied to be an independent major in journalism. I spoke with professors, an administrator, and a dean — all unsuccessfully. Repeatedly, I was told that journalism is a vocation, not an art, and that other concentrations could prepare me equally as well for the field.
So I examined other concentrations. English is the only department that even mentions journalism, with a single sentence on its webpage claiming that it prepares students for journalism careers. Besides this sentence, the English department does not overlap with journalism: no subsections, no cross-listed courses, no specific journalism advisors.
The English department doesn’t teach the skills of tenacious interviewing, objective reporting, fact-scrutiny, or rapid accuracy. Journalism teaches these skills and supplements the work of existing concentration. That’s what certificates are for.
Certificates for skills are proliferating. There are now six different engineering certificates, an applied mathematics certificate, and a computing certificate. And recently, the Keller Center announced a certificate program in entrepreneurship for the 2016-2017 year, stating, “Entrepreneurship is driving enormous social and economic changes that are shaping our collective future.”
Journalists shape the future by uncovering the past and narrating the present. They report on Aleppo, Zika, natural disasters, Brexit, private emails, Flint, and Donald Trump. Journalists don’t just drive social and economic change, they catalyze it.
Journalism is not a glamorous life. The hours are long and sporadic, information gathering is challenging, interviewees can be rude and unhelpful, and the pay is low.
But journalists persist because they are committed to accuracy. They know that knowledge is power, but also that knowledge controls power. They render public service of the highest form, to the benefit of all citizens, by sieving through falsities and providing reliable facts.
Princeton values service, and journalism is certainly service, now more than ever.
Through its indefatigable commitment to truth, Journalism has more than earned its worthiness to be a certificate.
Laudably, Princeton believes that the training for journalists should start in high school. Its Summer Journalism Program offers low-income high school students an opportunity to learn skills that will make them valuable in the nation’s newsrooms.
This is remarkable outreach. But the University can’t pat itself on the back until it offers the same opportunity to its undergraduates.
Princeton: take up your own mantle and establish a certificate program for undergraduates. We interested students have the motivation, inspiration, and tools to do this job well. Give us the incentive and recognition for this service so that we may pursue this vocation. The world needs intelligent, well-trained, liberal arts educated, credible journalists now more than ever. This, Princeton, is your opportunity to make a difference.
Emily Erdos is a sophomore from Harvard, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.