UND to bring back journalism major

UND will reestablish a journalism major this year, exactly 100 years after first offering what became a popular and highly respected degree.

Final approval having been granted from the North Dakota University System, the major will be offered in the Department of Communication, said Soojung Kim, associate professor and chair of the department. Graduates will fill a real void in the state, where – despite economic and media trends that are challenging news outlets nationwide – editors and news directors say it’s very hard to fill newsroom jobs, at both the entry and advanced levels.

This means North Dakota communities aren’t getting the media coverage they need. And this deprives them of a service that rivals first responders in civic importance, Kim said.

“We have to serve the state,” Kim said. “As North Dakota’s flagship university, I believe it is our duty to do that.” And right now, residents in too many communities simply are not being informed as well as they should be, she continued.

“The job of a journalist is essential, and I want to focus on building a strong, new program that’s responsive to the journalism industry.”

A ‘new generation of journalists’

Cecile Wehrman, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, said UND’s initiative is welcome. “North Dakota newspapers are in dire need of a new generation of journalists,” she said. “NDNA has long been in discussion with the UND Communication Department about the need for a journalism degree, so it’s great to see that happening now.”

For decades, “we’ve been successful in attracting candidates from across the country to serve North Dakota newspapers, but it’s never been easy and it’s getting harder,” Wehrman continued. “It’s never been ideal to have to help a young journalist adjust to our climate and culture, but it was better than having no journalist at all. … Now, it’s almost impossible to find someone who wants a career in newspapers.”

UND students can take journalism classes today, but the program leads majors to a Communication degree. The new journalism major – which will be offered during the 2024-25 academic year – will retain the liberal-arts core that remains at the heart of journalism and communication education, while also equipping students with the digital communication skills that are in demand.

These include graphic design, computational social science and statistical analysis, communicating through digital media, and the art of storytelling through video and sound.

“We have an outstanding Department of Communication here at the University of North Dakota, and the upcoming program in journalism is an example of their leadership and vision,” said Eric Link, UND’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“Preparing students to enter the workforce with not just skills in the fundamentals of journalism, but also able to navigate an increasingly complex array of media outlets, digital platforms, and beyond, will put these students at the forefront of modern journalistic enterprise.”

Brad Rundquist, dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences, noted that journalism may be more important now than ever before, given the challenges people face in gathering accurate information that they can use to make sound and informed decisions.

And while students know the media job market is changing, they also know the gigantic difference that journalism can make in our region, nation and world.

“I routinely hear from students who want to come to UND to study journalism as well as from working journalists in our region, most of them UND alumni, who are wishing for local candidates with suitable education and training to fill open journalism positions within their organizations,” Rundquist said.

“By re-starting a journalism degree, we will serve the university and the state by recruiting new students to campus and enhancing the region’s talent pool.”

Weekly papers, statewide dailies, national news

The fact that many working journalists in North Dakota are UND graduates is no accident. For one thing, UND offered a journalism major from 1924 until 1985, when the Department of Journalism and the Department of Speech were merged to establish the School of Communication.

For another, the UND journalism program was a standout. For decades, the North Dakota Newspaper Association was housed within the UND Department of Journalism, as was the association’s Hall of Fame. High school journalists from North and South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota attended annual conventions hosted by NIPA, the Northern Interscholastic Press Association that UND founded in 1920. The student chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, later known as the Society of Professional Journalists, routinely won national honors.

Some 150 students were majoring in journalism in the fall of 1974.

And UND journalism graduates and faculty populated newsrooms both near and far, ranging from the Larimore (N.D.) Leader to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, to Life magazine – Edward K. Thompson, managing editor and editor from 1949 to 1970, was a UND journalism grad – and NBC News.

Interestingly, the construction workers who are now renovating Merrifield Hall on campus may happen upon a remnant of UND Journalism’s early days.  “During construction of Merrifield Hall (in 1930), a portion of the foundation had been specially constructed to bear the weight of heavy printing equipment, if and when the Journalism department could afford to equip a print lab,” wrote Tom Deats, longtime journalism professor, in a departmental history in 1983.

So “in the fall of 1931, the department bought and installed an old Linotype, a cylinder press, a folder and other equipment. In November 1931, the Dakota Student was printed at the new ‘university press’ for the first time.” Hot-type printing skills were taught as part of journalism education at the time, just as digital media skills are today.

“The year 2024 will mark 100 years since the establishment of the Department of Journalism,” Kim said. “And what better way to celebrate than to bring the journalism degree back!”

“At the same time, what I’m most looking forward to is the future and how we can grow,” she continued. “We’ll be building on a very strong and prominent journalism alumni base, we’ll be offering a program that’ll be responsive to the industry’s needs, and we’ll be producing well-educated journalists who’ll be ready and willing to use their advanced skills. It’s such an exciting time.”