Southern Oregon University’s Communication Program maintains a high commitment to journalism education, and we are dismayed by factual errors regarding recent changes in our student newspaper reported by local media. These have included an editorial and headlines in the Mail Tribune and the Daily Tidings.
Despite the false impressions created by recent reporting, these are the facts:
The Siskiyou has not been canceled. The Communication Program has uncoupled The Siskiyou from a specific academic course (COMM 378), a decision that brings SOU in line with the curricular practices of most other universities in Oregon and around the nation. In addition, this decision is consistent with SOU’s commitment to managing enrollment in a responsible way, which includes minimizing low-enrolled courses, generally those that enroll fewer than 10 students. This change makes it easier for students in other programs to participate, frees students from having to pay tuition to be reporters, and makes The Siskiyou more independent.
The Siskiyou is not ending. We expect that The Siskiyou will return in fall term as an official student club, and have taken steps to make this transition. The paper will have a faculty advisor, an editor, and staff when classes resume. Even if zero students show up, we will keep the website and its infrastructure online, and actively recruit the student interest needed to resume. In every scenario, SOU will continue to provide web hosting, equipment, access to a work space and other university resources in support of student journalism on our campus.
SOU did not "stop emphasizing journalism" in 2014. Our Social Media and Public Engagement concentration, launched in 2015, is specifically designed to serve the needs of students interested in journalism careers. As narrated in SOU’s catalog, “students emerge from the SMPE concentration with skills and dispositions in personal reputation management, content strategy, online journalism, visual storytelling, design thinking, and new media entrepreneurship.”
Journalism in the 21st century is more visual, more data-driven and more connected to social media than in the past; our new curriculum teaches journalism skills as they are practiced today. Our curriculum positions SOU as an innovative leader among small colleges and universities.
SOU does not "bear responsibility" for the decline in enrollment in journalism courses. We’ve worked hard to sustain journalism course enrollments, and continue to teach journalism skills in both journalism-specific courses (this term including broadcast journalism and sports reporting), and in courses that mix journalism and non-journalism topics (including multimedia writing, strategic social media, media photography, media ethics and law, and others).
We have not had a named concentration in journalism since 2009, but we are adding a minor in digital journalism starting in the 2016-17 academic year, an attractive option for majors across campus. We are committed to teaching contemporary skills in journalism as part of a long-term growth strategy for our program.
We honor the passion of the students, faculty and community members urging us to “Save The Siskiyou.” We expect difficulties in the process as we negotiate this transition. But we also believe SOU students will channel their passion into their reporting and continue the tradition of quality journalism demonstrated by The Siskiyou for decades.
Erik Palmer is an assistant professor of communication and Alena Ruggerio is communication program chair and professor of communication at Southern Oregon University.