The idea of offering some sort of journalism program first reared its head sometime via Rob Glimour, last year’s Brock University Student Union (BUSU) president suggested a “journalism plus” program. In lieu of the fact that “plus” programs are non-credit, costly, and need extensive planing and administrative work, the idea was shelved for the time. But when the English department created a new set of professional writing courses, Bonnie Neuman, associate vice-president student services, approached Marilyn Rose, chair of the department to discuss whether journalism had academic potential within the English department.
This coincided with the arrival of Robert Alexander, a new addition to Brock’s English faculty this July with a handful of journalism credentials in tow. A professor at the University of Lethbridge, Alexander holds a Ph.D in English, a BA in journalism, and spent three years at The Toronto Star.
Doug Firby, managing editor of The St. Catharines Standard for the past four years, was present at the informal meeting when Gilmour proposed the idea of journalism at Brock. Once a student journalist himself at the University of Western Ontario, and a former instructor at Windsor, Firby was very excited at the proposition that The Standard could be involved.
It was decided that a journalism course would be added to the course offerings of 2001-2002 and that The Standard would be involved in attempts to enrich the learning environment. Although not listed in the syllabus, it is confirmed that The Standard has given a number of options to Alexander. Editors, photographers and reporters could be made available for guest speaking, as well as tours of The Standard and the potential for students to be involved in the production process, giving students the chance too have a byline in a commercial paper on their resum.
“There is no substitute for real world experience,” said Firby.
But with corporate partners demanding increasing involvement in the curriculum development process, students at Brock are concerned about the journalism plus program compromising Brock’s academic integrity. Is The Standard’s involvement in the program just an attempt to control what is taught at Brock, while simultaneously getting free labour and expanding their demographics?
“Sure we have some selfish reasons,” admits Firby. “We need to adjust to the times with young readers. We are at an advantage as we will be working with the future generation of readers which heightens our understanding of what they want, what we need to change. Papers primarily cater to middle age folk with mortgages and mini vans. Society is changing and we need to broaden our demographics.”
Firby was quick to add how important he feels it is to build a relationship with the most important institutions of our working society.
“We should do more to develop partnerships socially, academically, and business like with major institutions,” said Firby.
Neuman doesn’t seem concerned with the idea that The Standard is looking to take a hand in curriculum development, rather than lend their experience.
“I’ve been very impressed with Firby’s collaboration and motivation through our discussions. He is obviously very keen to create an experience for Brock students and give them a taste of real world journalism. He has certainly been the person the most conscientious in our discussions about ensuring that this doesn’t have any negative impacts on the Brock student paper,” said Neuman.
Alexander doesn’t seem worried about the association with media conglomerate Canwest, The Standard’s parent company. He doesn’t feel that it will infringe professors’ ability to teach about topics such as media concentration, but enhance it.
There are currently no talks of expanding the journalism program. The writing development team of the English department is to meet to discuss progress of its courses next week.