by Susan Brockus Wiesinger
My family has called me “Pooh” for as long as I can remember. And, for nearly as long, I’ve wondered why they relate me to a pudgy, not-so-bright, stuffed bear.
But there was a point when I simply chose to embrace whatever relationship exists between me and Winnie-the-Pooh, largely because of the little nuggets of wisdom spread throughout the works of A. A. Milne. I think of it as the Tao of Pooh, a philosophy of being at peace with what is and helping shape what will be. It’s a kind of careful, intentional optimism.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t.”
And optimism is needed. We’re in about year five of rapid technological innovation and stunning economic decline, both of which have had a tremendous impact on the content of the program, the job opportunities of our news and PR grads, and the very nature of what it means to be a journalist.
“When stuck in the river, it is best to dive and swim to the bank yourself before someone drops a large stone on your chest in an attempt to hoosh you there.”
Our base budget has been cut significantly since 2007 and we’ve been presented an increasingly grim series of budget scenarios, cheerfully labeled doomsday, apocalyptic and scorched earth. And for each there has been a request from the college dean for our department’s response to the current worst-case scenario.
“When you do the things that you can do, you will find a way.”
At first it was hard to imagine how the department would survive. We run pretty lean and there just weren’t a lot of places to cut. The endless challenges to journalism also were causing a bit of anxiety. How do you defend your right to make buggy whips in the age of the automobile?
As a faculty, we came up with a plan. A bold and slightly dangerous plan.
“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”
We decided to re-invent, re-brand and re-grow the program – pretty much all at once.
We opted to continue our laser focus on the core skill set that gets our grads jobs: Researching, interviewing, writing and editing. At the same time, we started significant and immediate adjustments to integrate multiplatform storytelling throughout the curriculum. The future belongs to content producers, so our grads should know not only how to write, but how to convey information in whatever format the story demands – print, blog, tweet, video, audio, photo.
“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
We also elevated the visibility of our excellent public relations program by renaming the department and starting a dynamic branding campaign (“This is Journalism Today”), led by Tehama Group Communications. This included the addition of a Facebook page that serves to connect current students and alumni, host internship opportunities, and generally build community.
Somewhat simultaneously, we decided to take an active role in Chico State’s new General Education program, and succeeded in getting four classes into the university-wide curriculum that rolled out this fall. J&PR now offers:
- JOUR 130, “Writing for Professional Audiences,” a multiple-section, foundation course that is the equivalent of ENGL 130 and is part of several GE pathways;
- JOUR 210, “Popular Culture, Media and Values,” a large lecture course in the Science, Technology and Values Pathway;
- JOUR 211, “Women, Men and the Media,” a large lecture course in the Gender and Sexuality Pathway; and,
- JOUR 255 and 255I, “Media Literacy and Civic Values,” a large lecture course and separate small, writing intensive course in the Science, Technology and Values Pathway.
These courses not only increase our visibility as a program, but also give our faculty access to first-year students, many of who are still seeking a best-fit major. And from the number of students signed into J&PR as new majors this fall alone, the big-course plan appears to be getting the word out about our great major and helping us grow.
We also were fortunate enough to have two new hires: Mark Plenke as adviser to The Orion and full-time news professional-in-residence; and Prisca Ngondo, an assistant professor of public relations.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why we call it the present.”
As a result of these near Herculean efforts on the part of a tiny, dedicated faculty, the program is growing.
One year ago the program had full-time equivalent course enrollment of 145 (FTES = number of students in a given course times units offered, divided by 15). This fall we blew by the previous department record of 180 when we hit 192. Just to drive the importance of that point home, FTES is equal to money at the university. It’s how you prove you deserve to survive.
So the answer to how we will get through whatever additional budget cuts come our way is that we won’t. There simply isn’t anything left to cut. And we don’t want, expect or deserve to be cut. We are doing everything possible to ensure the vitality and growth of Chico State’s department of journalism and public relations.
Careful, intentional optimism, coupled with perseverance and genuine enthusiasm for journalism. It seems to be working.
Art by E.H. Shepard. Quotes from A.A. Milne.
And Susan's favorite Pooh segment from Disney.