Journalism School eyes revised curriculum


Julie Koehn/The Daily Iowan
David Perlmutter, the director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, stands next to the wall of televisions in the rotunda of the Adler Building on Monday.
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Under the reins of a new director, the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication is preparing a massive revamp of its curriculum as journalism across the country is brimming with uncertainty.

The change comes as the school prepares to be reaccredited in 2011 and in the midst of the lowest application numbers in 10 years.

This fall, 83 people applied to the school, down from last year’s 120. The highest number of applications was 197 in fall 2003.

Officials are unsure of why numbers are down, but they say it’s time to rethink the way to teach journalism.

“I think our courses need modernization and improvement,” said Director David Perlmutter, who took the position in June.

Central to the new changes will be a new focus on strategic communications, including marketing, media relations, health and sports communication, and philanthropy, he said. The school is also considering implementing classes in finances to give students basic financial knowledge.

The entire curriculum, from the introduction courses to Ph.D. seminars, are set to be reviewed this spring, Perlmutter said.

But the first change students will see is a new computer science and journalism class this spring tasked with creating a new iPhone application. The goal is to help journalism students better understand the technology infrastructure in which they are working, Perlmutter said.

“We are not training you for a particular job or industry,” he said. “You may work anywhere, in any industry, for anyone, including yourself.”

In a time when traditional media are struggling, public-relations positions are expected to grow by 18 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2008-2009.

Journalism jobs, by comparison, are expected to grow by 2 percent, which is considered little to no change by the bureau.

“The faculty realize that we live in the 21st century and that there have been a lot of changes in news media that the school has to accommodate,” said UI journalism Professor Judy Polumbaum, the school’s undergraduate coordinator. “I think the faculty are quite behind him and ready to explore where it goes.”

The UI Public Relations Student Society of America’s membership has swelled in recent years.

“It only makes sense to broaden and embrace journalism and strategic communications,” said UI Associate Professor Frank Durham.

But Perlmutter said the changes will not come at the expense of traditional values, such as accuracy and good writing.

“Everything you would get an ‘A’ for in 1985 is still important,” he said. “I can’t believe there will be a future without good writing.”

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