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Defining the Mission – Journalism for the 21st Century at Texas A&M

On April 23, the Department of Communication/Journalism program will host a virtual awards ceremony for the Office of the Texas Governor Annual Barbara Jordan Media Awards. Media professionals and student journalists from across Texas will be recognized for work in all media forms that accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities.

By Angelique Gammon

Photo of the outside of Bolton Hall.Despite cancellation due to COVID-19 precautions, two spring campus events have focused positive attention on the teaching and practice of journalism at Texas A&M since the degree became part of the Department of Communication in January 2018. Throughout the planning process for both events, the supportive response of campus partners and media professionals asked to participate, as well as an enthusiastic response by prospective journalism students from across Texas, highlight the growth of the journalism program.

Although the annual journalism seminar has been canceled, the Barbara Jordan Media Awards ceremony will  be hosted virtually in April. Both the events shine a spotlight on the department’s progress to craft a small, excellent, degree program that centers on engaging issues of diversity and inclusion as it prepares graduates to meet the needs of 21st century journalism.

Every year, the annual Office of the Texas Governor Barbara Jordan Media Awards is hosted by a college journalism program in Texas. The 2020 awards will be hosted virtually by the Department of Communication/Journalism on April 23, the first time since 2006 the program has been hosted at Texas A&M. During the ceremony, media professionals and student journalists from across Texas will be recognized for work published in 2019 which accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities. The virtual ceremony will include the winners in all media categories, representatives from Texas A&M and the journalism degree, and members of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities.

Together, the two events demonstrate the role of the journalism major and minor within the department, the university – and in the world at large – by focusing on the issues of diversity and inclusion, said Dr. Kevin Barge, professor and head of the Department of Communication.

“An important question we always need to be asking ourselves is‘What does journalism need to consider in contemporary society?’” said Barge. “The need to engage with issues of diversity and inclusion within journalism studies as well as contemporary society is critical.

“The Extending Our Reach seminar is a recruiting activity where the focus is on how we can diversify journalism newsrooms by bringing high school students to campus from traditionally underserved populations,” explained Barge. That also is part of the larger focus of the department as a whole, he said.

The Barbara Jordan Media Awards do the same thing, he noted, but for different issues – disabilities – by fostering and encouraging a climate of inclusion.

“The journalism program at this stage has a clear focus on issues – diversity, inclusion and technology – and how they intersect,” said Barge. “Our question has been how to build quickly with quality.”

Over the past four semesters, a number of new multimedia courses and special topics in journalism have been added, said Nancy Street, associate head for undergraduate studies for the Department of Communication.

“The course offerings are rich, grounded in learning to write to a journalism standard that will stand the test of time, while increasing the role of multimedia and mobile journalism in courses,” said Street.

“Our special topics – especially sports – have exploded, and we have new opportunities for journalism internships with 12th  Man Productions,” said Street.

In the fall, History of Mass Communication Jour 102, will be taught in the new 21st  CenturyClassroom building, Street added.

“The course serves the University as part of the core curriculum, and it is certainly a critical skill at this time,” noted Street. “It’s an exciting time for journalism.”

Evaluating progress in communicating, and achieving, diversity and equity goals comes down to knowing how students are doing overall, said Dr. Leroy Dorsey, associate dean for Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Initiatives for the College of Liberal Arts and professor of Communication. Closing the gap between the four-year graduation rate of majority white population compared to the African American, Hispanic and Asian student populations defines accountability, said Dorsey. First, by identifying why that gap exists, and then programming for it, he said.

“First generation college students talk about not feeling like they belong,” explained Dorsey, who heads the Freshman Innovation Group in the College of Liberal Arts. “They are academically competent – but they don’t feel that.

“There needs to be a conscientious effort by leadership in departments to have conversations about inclusion and climate and diversity so that all units make it central,” said Dorsey. “It’s a sustained conversation, not a once-a-year conversation.”