UM creating quality journalists

By Dr. Bruce Finklea, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication

Guest Column, published September 27, 2017 in the Shelby County Reporter.

“I want to be on TV.”

I hear that often from prospective students visiting the University of Montevallo who want to study multimedia journalism. But being a reporter is much more than just being on TV or seeing one’s name in the byline of a newspaper article.

It takes a special person to be a journalist. They must have a passion for news. They have to work long hours, often on holidays and weekends. They sometimes have to miss family events to cover breaking news.

Aside from the routine demands of the job, it’s a tough time to be a journalist for other reasons. Twitter tirades blast our work as “fake news,” and phrases like “alternative facts” seek to discredit the hard work of thousands of reporters across our country who want nothing more than to seek out and report the truth.

National polls show increasing distrust of the media, but reputable news sources are vital to our way of life. They keep us informed and hold elected officials accountable. They are our nation’s watchdog. Journalists record the history of humankind as it happens.

For college students trying to pick a major, journalism may seem like one to steer clear of in the current political climate, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We need high-caliber journalists now more than ever.

This is an exciting time to be a journalist. Advances in technology are allowing reporters to tell stories in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Then, when you combine state-of-the-art technology with the finest traditions in journalism, up-and-coming journalists have an opportunity to impact the world like never before.

This fall at the University of Montevallo, we opened Strong Hall, a brand new, state-of-the-art facility to prepare students for a variety of careers in mass communication. While storytelling is at the heart of what we do, one of the most important skills a journalism degree can impart on a student is information literacy.

We’ve all seen how quickly stories can become viral in today’s social media age, but many of the things we see online are not from reputable or reliable news sources. People used to jokingly say, “I saw it on the internet, so it must be true.” But now it seems to be a notion that many people actually believe.

Each day in my classes, I strive to help my students learn to be media literate members of society. Taking a few moments to evaluate the validity and credibility of information can prevent the spread of misinformation and articles designed as clickbait.

No matter one’s political or personal beliefs, everyone should care about journalism in our country. We need high-quality journalists and reputable news outlets to provide truthful, accurate and objective accounts of the events that impact us daily. Without them, our society would have nowhere to turn for credible, reliable information.

Many of Montevallo’s journalism students go on to work at TV stations, newspapers and magazines across the country. Not only do they know how to tell a good story, but they also know the importance of getting the facts right and sharing the information that matters to their audiences. Oh, and some of them get to be on TV, too.