The campus newspaper has for generations been a haven for aspiring journalists looking to sharpen their skills and prepare for careers as writers, reporters, editors, photographers, or designers. For decades Christianity Today has welcomed interns to its various publications to offer these students some experience in the field, and in the past three years the informal connection between Christianity Today and Wheaton College, which sits just two miles south of CT's offices in Carol Stream, has reached back into the classroom where students first learn the skills they will bring to the workplace.
Christianity Today first connected with Wheaton on internships and occasional teaching and guest lecturing on journalism and publishing topics after moving from Washington, D.C. to the Chicagoland area in the late 1970s. So when Wheaton College Communications department chair Dr. Ken Chase and Dr. Christy Gardner, former Wheaton professor and former CT assistant editor/news, were shaping a journalism certificate program in 2011, the college recruited CT senior editor, global journalism Tim Morgan as program coordinator. Morgan brings to the program a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and a background in teaching English in addition to over 30 years of both secular and Christian field experience, For the past two years, he's been administering the certificate program, which requires 24 credit hours in journalism-related coursework, teaching classes as needed, supervising and advising interns, and providing coaching to the college's student newspaper staff.
The heart of the program, according to Morgan, is a for-credit, graded internship. This past summer, the program had interns at Christianity Today as well as in Chicago, Germany, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, and San Francisco. This semester students are interning at Media Associates International and WBEZ/Chicago, among other publications and news outlets.
The program continues to grow and develop with each year. In 2012, Allison Althoff (a Wheaton alum) finished her MSJ at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and returned to Christianity Today, where she had completed an internship, as associate editor of Today's Christian Woman and also as an assistant to Morgan in the Wheaton Journalism program. In the Spring of 2013, Morgan and Althoff taught the college's first-ever Internet Journalism course and the students designed and launched their own website: www.MillennialInflux.com for their articles. The idea, according to Morgan, was for "a website by, for, and about Millennials; it's not explicitly Christian or faith-based, but it does address faith issues all the time."
The program focuses on immersing students in the practical demands of the field. "We want them to stop thinking of themselves as 'students,' and start thinking of themselves as 'working journalists,' says Althoff. In the course of one semester, Morgan estimates students will probably write more than they ever have before in a concentrated time frame-in some cases over 10,000 words in one semester. The goal is to bring the classroom and the newsroom as close together as possible. Students as much as possible function like working journalists: pitching story ideas, covering beats, conducting editorial budget meetings, contributing to brainstorming sessions, etc. The overall goal: for students to be able to research, report, write, produce/publish, and promote articles using traditional methods, new technology, and social media.
It's that new world of social media and continually developing technology and best practices that provides the most dynamic component of the course. Says Althoff, "All of our students are required to launch personal blogs and social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)." Students are now multimedia journalists, using their iPhones for digital audio and photography, and learn how to use Audacity and SoundCloud to record, edit, and publish digital audio projects.
Another important aspect of the program is the integration of faith, learning, and vocation. Having 10 years of experience in the secular newspaper world as well as 20 in the Christian magazine world, Morgan helps prepare students for whatever context their journalistic aspirations might land them in. "Christians in American journalism have been around for generations," he says. "But much of that history is long forgotten. My experience helps me appreciate that the truth is often hidden from view and the higher purpose of the journalist is to put new light on truth - sometimes being a window into another world, other times holding up a mirror to our culture. Students grab hold of these ideas quickly, I'm happy to say."
The experience has been mutually beneficial for both Wheaton students and Christianity Today. "Bar none, student journalists at Christian colleges and universities are the most enthusiastic group about CT and all of our editorial endeavors. So being engaged with them is partly self-interest, but I also value what I learn from students. Every excellent journalist is an educator as well as a student. I have learned from Wheaton students that God truly does call certain individuals into journalism and we should do everything we can to help them live out their calling. That's been a great privilege."
A few stories published by recent alums and current students:
"The Hope Roaster," by alum April Burbank, now on staff at Burlington Free Press
"Teaching the Dragon," by alum Andrew Thompson, Portland Fellows program
"'Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza,' Plus 9 More Hilariously Misquoted Lyrics," by alum Bryn Sandberg, for The Hollywood Reporter
"My Real-Life Beauty Sketch," by alum Abby Woodfin, now with CRU (Campus Crusade, Germany)