It should come as no surprise that Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications is highly regarded in the public eye. To be fair, I am a journalism major, and I don’t stop talking about it. In all of the admissions Zoom meetings and conversations I had about this school, people bragged that Medill is the number one journalism school in the country – over and over again.
I’ve only been an admitted student for nine months, and even I can deduce that students tend to place Medill on a pedestal. Yet simultaneously, the on-campus morale seems to suggest a different idea.
I am by no means claiming that Medill, and NU for that matter, do not deserve the acclaim that they receive. But the attitude that many students direct towards Medill is not what I expected.
During Wildcat Welcome, the entirety of the first-year journalism class bore witness to an interactive, comical game show all about Medill’s history, quirks and characteristics. The peer advisors competed against one another, vying for the top spot and the ultimate prize: free Medill canvas bags for their group. One round asked PAs what advice they would give to their first-year selves. I remember a PA answered “drop out.”
It seems interesting to me that we place such emphasis on Medill’s glamorous reputation, but once students arrive, they're introduced to so many upperclassmen who don’t necessarily have the same perspective. For me at least, during Wildcat Welcome there was a sense of hesitancy among some of the upperclassmen regarding the actual practice of journalism. To some, the school may have a versatile curriculum, yet a number of students aren’t planning on pursuing a future in journalism.
Ellisya Lindsey,* a Medill fourth-year minoring in Spanish, worked as a communications intern when she first realized that she would not be pursuing journalism. While abroad in Spain, she didn't take journalism classes for a quarter, which made Lindsey feel more sure about her decision.
“I enjoy the concept of journalism, learning about different biases that exist, but I think being an actual reporter – I never enjoyed that portion of my journalism studies,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey is not the only one who feels this way. According to Northwestern’s Post Undergraduate Survey Data from the classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, 36% of Medill students do not go into communications, marketing and media. For the percentage who do, the statistic encompasses multiple fields.
“There is sort of a general vibe of ‘maybe I will, maybe I won’t [go into journalism],’” Lindsey said. So I raise the question: what portion of of Medill actually wants to do journalistic work?
It seems to me that people tend to apply to Medill for the school’s namesake or convenience, even if they aren’t sure of what they want their future to look like. I'm still not quite sure myself. I submitted my college applications with a good mix of journalism and communications majors, depending on each school. But there was no doubt in my mind that if I went to Northwestern, I would major in journalism.
Even if an individual comes to NU thinking about pursuing journalism but decides against it, it’s possible that they will stay in Medill.
“A lot of people honestly just stick it through because of the Medill faculty and the perks of being in Medill," Lindsey said. The skills are transferrable and the advising has been helpful so she decided not to transfer, she explained.
"A lot of times when people have the opportunity to try something new, which in my case was my internship… they might sort of realize, ‘Oh I don’t actually want to be a traditional journalist,’” Lindsey added.
That left me wondering if the new layout of the Medill freshman sequence – which was notoriously known as a “weed-out sequence” – might lessen the number of students who immediately decide against journalism.
When Lindsey was a freshman, the sequence followed an expected succession of "JOUR 201-1: Reporting and Writing," "JOUR 201-2: Multimedia Storytelling" and "JOUR 202: Philosophy of Modern Journalism." She found being immediately placed into 201-1 very stressful.
Starting with the Class of 2025, however, the sequence began with the redesigned "JOUR 202: Journalism Values, Practices & Trends." In my opinion, we are being given a better opportunity to learn about the basics of journalism, including its purpose and merits. Through this course, rather than being tossed right into the practice, we are being eased into the field. I enjoy our opportunity to get familiar with the field and really understand the concepts of journalism, from its history to its primary objections. Hopefully, this will allow more of the first-year class an opportunity to get to know what journalism entails and if it is the right field for them without the pressure of immediate reporting.
At the end of the day though, Medill provides all of its students with beneficial skills and experiences. The two main skills, according to Lindsey, are writing and storytelling. Having the capability to master these skills can be applicable in all fields.
"...A lot of that is can you read through stuff, synthesize it, and come to a conclusion," Lindsey said. "That’s all that journalism is. You’re doing interviews, you’re going through all of the information you get, all of your research, and then you’re writing something.”
*Disclaimer: Ellisya Lindsey is a member of NBN's corporate staff.