PR class cut for journalists

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By: Vanessa Farquharson

The Ryerson journalism school is killing its public relations course, despite the fact that more than half of journalism graduates end up working in the field.

“We had to look at what electives were most important for our students,” said Joyce Smith, co-curriculum chair for the journalism faculty. “Given courses like investigative techniques and freelance writing versus public relations, the former were seen as most essential to a journalism student’s career.”

Preparing students for a career is what Ryerson prides itself on. The university boasts many programs that offer hands-on experience and the journalism program is no exception, with courses ranging from media law to newsroom leadership, as well as two internship placements.

“We want to ensure we protect our studio hours because that’s why many students come here and not anywhere else,” said Smith.

But even though many of Ryerson’s journalism graduates end up seeking jobs in PR, often because the pay is better, the faculty says it just doesn’t have the resources to encourage this move.

“Some journalism schools realize there are going to be students who go into PR and there are clearly PR companies that would prefer a journalism background,” said Smith. “So part of offering such a course is being realistic. But when push comes to shove financially, it’s clearly not a core course for a journalism student.”

There can be significant overlap between journalism and certain branches of PR such as media relations. Both involve similar forms of researching. But most journalism schools in North America don’t teach PR, as many instructors believe writing on behalf of specific corporations or organizations conflicts with the sense of objectivity they try to instill.

Karen Dalton is a former journalism student and is now executive director of the Canadian Public Relations Society. Upon being informed of the decision to cut the PR course from Ryerson’s journalism curriculum, Dalton was surprised to hear the school even offered it in the first place.

“I never knew Ryerson had a PR course,” said Dalton. “I think it’s very enlightened of the school to have offered it to its journalism students.”It’s a great idea to teach journalism students about the workings of PR, what motivates PR, even to be wary of PR, but also to be able to use it to their advantage, to get access to sources they might not otherwise be able to. Journalists can’t do their job without PR people. It’s unfortunate the course won’t be offered any more.”

David Turnbull, the Canadian chair for the International Public Relations Association, teaches the PR class at Ryerson which is being offered to journalism students for the last time.

“I’m not surprised that the decision was made,” said Turnbull. “In the old days, it was a natural evolution for a journalist to move into public relations after a few years. Journalism schools knew that, and that’s why they offered some training in it. But now the skills required in public relations are much more than simple media relations, and the transfer is not a natural one any more. So, more and more journalism schools are dropping public relations courses.”

Turnbull, who still meets with former students to give career advice, points those interested in PR to Ryerson’s continuing education division, which offers nine courses in the subject.

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