The English department at the University of Michigan is one of the best of its kind. It offers a wide array of classes exploring different genres and periods of literature as well as specialty classes focusing on topics ranging from social issues to nature conservation. On top of its broad course listings, the department also provides students with additional exposure to the world of English through author readings, workshops, and writing contests. Despite its diversity in literature studies, neither the department nor the university offers a major in journalism, an area of study widely sought out by students. To compensate for this, the English department offers a handful of writing-based classes geared toward the field of journalism and has recently launched English 344.001, a class focused on writing for publication, for the Winter 2020 semester.
Unlike other public writing courses, English 344.001 accounts for the ways journalism is swiftly shifting to online media platforms and equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to understand a field that’s no longer about simply delivering news. Through this approach, students are given the opportunity to gain valuable journalism experience that will introduce them to what the field looks like in the world today. Instructor John Buckley intends to do this by requiring students to write and edit pieces while simultaneously exploring different features that contribute to the online news sources students read today. During class time, students discuss marketing strategies, website layouts, and writing techniques in order to gain a more holistic understanding of online journalism.
Throughout the term, students will produce content for a new website that promotes the English department and all it has to offer. They will get the opportunity to write and publish anything from book reviews to news about department-sponsored events, and even have the chance to contribute to columns of their choosing. Despite its small team, the class mimics a real online newspaper thorough writing, editing procedures, and opportunities for students to contribute to the website in other creative forms such as graphic design and photography. Also included on the website is an updated calendar that lists events happening within the English department so students interested in the area of study can be informed about upcoming author visits and other English-related offerings.
While a major part of the course is geared towards writing and creating content to build the new website, the class will also take students’ journalism skills beyond the words they write and explore other factors that contribute to modern-day journalism. One way Buckley plans to do this is through assigned readings and a multimodal project. His carefully selected readings explore marketing strategies used by online journals today and how other forms of media (i.e., social media) play a role in a website’s traffic. The multimodal project also expands the art of journalism beyond writing by requiring students to deliver ideas through different forms of media such as videos or podcasts.
This is the first semester the class is being offered, but the English department hopes to include English 344.001 in future terms and continue to add to the website with new groups of students. Through frequent production of content by students, the department wants to make their events and offerings more accessible to all students and show prospective English students the benefits of an English major or minor. Although the course is still in its preliminary stages, the overall outlook for its efficacy is positive, and students enrolled in the course are eager to share the website with the rest of the university. If after touring the website you have thoughts or comments you’d like to share with students in the class or the instructor, feel free to share them via the Contact form on the website.