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BYU journalism majors don't want their program changed

Students reacting to rumors, head of department says

PROVO — Rumors are swirling that Brigham Young University plans to alter its journalism program and turn the award-winning student-based news operation into a public-relations arm of the administration.

But professors who lead the future Woodward and Bernsteins in classes say the students should have followed lessons learned in Journalism 101: Confirm stories with the sources who have the best information.

"Being journalism students they should have come to the source," said Laurie Wilson, chairwoman of BYU's communications department. "Instead of pursuing the story they reacted to rumor. That's not the instinct of a reporter."

Wilson said the review of course content is routine for a university. The school wants students to graduate with skills needed to succeed in the marketplace and the curriculum should be tailored to trends in the industry, she said.

BYU was among the first universities to merge its efforts to produce a newspaper, television and radio shows and a Web site. Students from the three media work together to gather and package news about BYU and Utah County.

Despite what is being bandied about in student hang outs, changes to the program have not been decided. Wilson said ideas are being considered and discussions have not yielded conclusions.

"And having won our third Editor and Publisher award," Wilson said, "we're not predisposed to make any major changes."

She also said there are no plans to take away student control of the publications.

"I've heard through the grapevine they they are concerned about losing their independent voice," she said. "We're not going to remove them from decision making."

Rob Rogers, city editor of the Daily Universe, the campus broadsheet, said students have approached a BYU administrator with questions — and received vague answers.

"It was frustrating," said Rogers, who was one of 16 students who signed a letter that called for a meeting with Wilson.

Rogers said students are concerned about a plan to assign more faculty to advise students as they are writing and editing stories in the campus newsroom. With faculty standing watch, Rogers said that would undermine the authority of student editors and hamper the staff's ability to meet deadlines.

Rogers also said students don't want BYU's Internet-based news operation, to be "slowed down" by professors who are trying to update their courses without realizing students already are producing high-tech work on the Web site.

"We feel the curriculum is light years behind what we do up here," said Rogers, who graduates this year.

Wilson said the mentoring in the newsroom would cut down on mistakes and give students a sounding board while they are making decisions on deadline. It also would provide a lab experience for students who are in journalism classes, she said.

For example, students in an editorial writing class would write for the paper's opinion page. A faculty member would have a scheduled time to be in the newsroom to help students who have questions about columns or editorials they are drafting.

The presence of a professor in a newsroom does not take away editorial control from students, Wilson said.

Rogers said students have worked hard to gain national acclaim. They don't want to see the program diminished because changes are made without input from people who have been through the program.

"We don't want to see that sacrificed," he said.