A Degree in Facebook?

By Netanya Bushewsky
On November 17, 2011

For those of you wondering what happened to the English Communications track, fear not — it hasn't disappeared, it's merely undergone a slight face-lift.

Now known as the Media Studies Major, the English Communications track has been evolving since 2009. "In 2009-10, the English department was asked by Dean Bacon to change the Communications concentration to Media Studies in order to reflect more accurately what is going on in the field of media," said Dr. Linda Shires, Chair of the English department.

This means taking into consideration the fact that, due to large companies such as Apple, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the baton of social media has been passed down from large business corporations to the general population. With this shift in power, the main forums for media have shifted from traditional outlets like newspapers, televisions and radios, and turned towards tablets, smartphones, laptops, and blackberries. It only makes sense that students interested in a Media Studies path would enter the workforce prepared to take on an ever-shifting forum. 

Students are given the option of three tracks within the major; Journalism, Advertising or Public Relations. They are expected to fulfill two English and three Literature requirements, and choose four electives from over 30 unique Media courses offered at Stern and Syms, and 31 courses offered by FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). Subjects range from Broadcast Journalism, Advertising, Copywriting, and Screenwriting, to Fashion Journalism, Publicity workshops and Video Field Production. With over 60 courses to choose from, "a student could really design a fascinating set of courses," commented Shires, which will allow students to excel, "in a communications field that is becoming ever more global and exciting."

The new Media Studies major differs from the previous English Communication track in various ways; notably, the addition of the required Media Studies course. This consists of an overview of the history of Media - beginning with homing pigeons and smoke signals, to the first newspaper (The Gazetta in Venice) and Telegraph (Pony Express), all the way to Facebook, and online magazines. The course, taught by Bill Daddi, president of Daddi Brand Communications, is mostly discussion-based, meant to provoke insight, and eventually predict the future of media.

Included in this required course are lectures by visiting media professionals, who are brought in to shed light on intriguing careers and inspire curiosity in students. The first speaker of the semester was Anahad O'Connor, a reporter from The New York Times. Best known for his science, health and national features in print; he can be found online looking for the latest in science technology and busting medical myths with The New York Times blog, "O really?" 

The 30-year-old reporter had news that might comfort students who have yet to determine their major. Though he had started as a pre-med undergraduate student at Yale, hoping to finish with a doctorate, he quickly found working in medicine wasn't nearly as interesting as writing about it. He changed majors and began working for the school newspaper. In the summer of 2005 he started a summer internship at The New York Times, and was eventually hired as a full-time writer.

O'Connor's advice for future journalists? Instead of relying on pure reporting and writing skills, "build up your multimedia skills." Learn to shoot film, take digital photos and blog. More than ever, the blogging forum is taking on a world of its own, and writers such as Brian Stelter and Jennifer Mendelsohn have been promoted from home-bloggers to New York Times reporters.

O'Connor had some disheartening thoughts on the future of print news. With the online paperbecoming more prevalent, O'Connor believes "The New York Times paper will get phased out within the next 10 to 20 years," referring to the print version as, "The Dead Tree Edition."

So what does this mean for The Observer, current writers, and future Media Studies students? Get online! Start a web-based newspaper, invest more time in individual blogs, and be on the lookout for internships.

The Media Studies major is not just for writers. Current pre-med, science students, and the like will also find exciting courses for them within the major. Don't overlook Media Studies just because you're not a writer — exploring new turfis never a bad thing. Try writing for the school newspaper — perhaps you'll find it as fitting for you as it was for Anahad O'Connor, the pre-med student-turned-reporter.

In the nature of English Communications evolving with the times, and offering modern courses like Media Studies, perhaps the student body will evolve too. Who knows, maybe Stern's reputation will move from producing psychologists and Speech Therapists to Advertisers, PR Specialists and Journalists. Or maybe that's a prediction better left on Facebook.


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