Student interest in journalism is on the rise across the United States. But some attribute this increase to the deepening polarization in the country, and not to a keen interest in promoting the principles of a free press.
Behind the resurgence of student interest in journalism is what Nick Anderson, education journalist at the Washington Post calls the “Trump Effect” in reference to the former president’s attacks on journalists and media outlets having raised students’ interests in the profession.
The year Trump took office, a number of journalism schools, such as Columbia University in New York and Northwestern University in Chicago report remarkable increases in their application rates for the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Daily Northwestern. The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California in Los Angeles in fact saw its highest-ever number of first-year applications in the same year.
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of St. Thomas is not an exception to this nationwide trend, and has seen a steady enrollment increase each year since 2017, according to the department chair, Professor Mark Neuzil.
Neuzil attributes the jump to Trump. Young people tend to have stronger political opinions and “Trump certainly had an impact in this regard,” he says, adding the new generation of students for the most part “comes to us with a point of view.”
That is the downside of the growing student interest in journalism, because their politicization may seriously harm their ability to uphold the core principles of objectivity, fairness and accuracy in journalism.
As long as students can separate their own views from what they cover, however, Neuzil sees no threat in this development.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just different,” he says, adding that the previous generations have held strong political opinions, too.
The difference is, “we mostly kept them to ourselves, but now they share it everywhere, on all their social media channels and they’re not shy about it,” he explains.
Potential impact of having stronger opinions on the profession is yet to be seen. Neuzil thinks many of the new generation of journalism graduates and students will end up producing documentaries or opinion pieces, where it is considered to be more acceptable to have a point of view.
“But if they end up working for a mainstream media outlet, which expects some sort of real reporting, this might be little challenging,” he says. “They might have to adjust.”
Miles Sahiffer, a journalism student at St. Thomas, understands the need to adjust.
“I am quite political, and to be honest, kind of on the left,” she says. “I don’t want to let that affect my reporting.”
For other students, their interest in politics grew only after gaining some experience as college newspaper reporters.
Sam Larson, a journalism student who also works in the college newspaper, says he did not even understand politics before getting into college.
“I covered the midterms,” he says. “I can say I started to understand more about politics after getting into journalism school.”
Another student, Adam Mueller, says he previously wanted to cover sport news, but covering the midterm elections “opened his eyes.”
“I realized that I can actually be doing good things,” he adds. “Instead of just covering sports, I can talk about my community, inform people on what is going on. Now I have become more interested in politics since studying journalism.”