Sherman Ave Freshman Guide: Medill

4 Sep
McTrib, where only 14% of journalism students shrivel up and die annually.

McTrib, where only 14% of journalism students shrivel up and die annually.

“Hi, I’m a journalism student at Northwestern and I’m working on a story about ______.” Memorize those words. They will constitute the beginnings of probably like 80% of your class-related conversations for the next four years. Or something. I’m not sure, I didn’t like fact-check that claim or anything. In fact, this might be a good time to discuss Medill F’s and factual errors… nah, we’ll hold off on that. First, the good things!

  • Professors. Medill is indisputably the top  the second-best among the top three or four journalism schools in America. What’s more, because it’s located so close to Chicago, and has such a highly regarded graduate program, there’s a venerable pipeline of talented professors moving back and forth from the Chicago Tribune to Medill. This is awesome. Take advantage of this. These people 1) usually know what they’re talking about (at least when they’re not discussing multimedia) and 2) have crazy good connections and reputations. Letters of rec? #HELLYEAH. Find professors with experience in your interest area and take as many classes with them as possible. You’ll learn plenty and have a good recommendation to rely on.
  • Opportunities to not be in Evanston. Have you ever thought about doing a story on the inherent contrast between the wealthy North Shore homes that surround NU and the struggling, sometimes homeless populations that are located just a few blocks away? Yeah? So has everyone else. And Evanston residents and business-owners are SOMEHOW a little bit tired of hundreds of journalism students demanding their time each year for stories that won’t ever run in a publication. Not to mention CAPS (NU’s mental health services) makes the goddamn NSA look like a bastion of transparency. Don’t even bother emailing them for stories, they dgaf everywhere. So what does this mean? Being a journalism student in Evanston loses its luster after about 78.4 hours. However, you have plenty of chances to leave Lord Tisdahl’s lair. J301, a required class, makes you commute to Evanston-ish neighborhoods in Chicago and report on Evanston-ish issues there. But because you take the El, you feel like a real reporter! And your JR affords the chance to jet off to some tropical or South African or political or ritzy destination for a quarter and report at real news outlet. Or, like, Seattle if you’re not tight with the Medill admin. Then there’s Medill on the Hill, an increasingly selective program that gives about 20 undergrads the chance each year to cover Washington, DC stories for a quarter from the nation’s capital. That’s a cool thing. For 20 of you. The upshot here is that Evanston can be boring and you should take advantage fo unique opportunities to go report from other locations. Some people like 301, I swear.
  • The speaker series. If the first two items I’ve discussed seemed to include some backhanded compliments, this one is completely sincere. Medill brings incredible speakers multiple times each quarter, and admission is free to all students. Sometimes there’s pizza too! Some of the speakers are famous– Gwen Ifill, swooooon– and some are not. The less famous speakers often spend more time interacting with the students in attendance and have some the best, most candid stories to share.
  • Multimedia. Despite what I said earlier, some Medill professors know a ton about multimedia. Classes on coding, video documentaries, broadcast and a whole host of others are available for students with room in their schedule (aka, not you), and if you can, take these. When your professor invariably says, “There are tons(!) of jobs in journalism right now!!!!” don’t stand up and smack him/her for lying to your innocent face. Let him/her finish sentence, because they were probably about to say “if you’re good at using cameras, and editing footage and creating flash graphics; or if you like cat GIFs and wanna werk at BoobzFeed.” Learn dis shit, if you have room in your schedule.
  • Alums. Wilbon. Adande. Weigel. George R. R. Martin (srsly). Greenberg. Schefner. Lynn Sweet. Musberger. Joshua Green. Isikoff. Soooo many more. #GoCats
Medill can help you too be despised by all your fans.

Medill can help you too be despised by all your fans.

In spite of the wildly rosy picture I’ve painted so far, there are also a few things to watch out for during your time in Medill that might catch you a little off guard.

  • Medill F’s. And we’re back to this. A Medill F is a situation in which you receive a failing grade for an assignment because of a factual error. This can mean getting a date wrong, misspelling a name, or devoting coverage on your cable news network to the idea that the President was born in Kenya. Most professors will cut students some slack and allow them to resubmit for a less than perfect, but significantly improved, grade. Notoriously annoying, you can usually avoid Medill F’s by Googling everything in your story and making sources spell literally every pronoun for you. In general, these sound like way more of a problem than they actually end up being.
  • Getting the wrong prof for a class. With many classes, you’re going to hear what an “awesome,” fantastic” and “life-changing” experience it was for past students. These students had a different professor than yours. You will sit there wondering what you did to deserve this. The answer is the dirty thought you had about your friend’s sister when you were 18 and she was 17. That’s why this happened to you.

There are also a few logistical things you’ll probably want to know.

  • What’s a JR? Journalism Residency. You go for a quarter to a publication (newspaper, magazine, or TV station) or marketing firm and pay tuition to be an intern. It’s fun. They tell you where you’re going about a month before you go and you have to find housing. Fucking fun. But you also get to work with incredible people and do real journalism and learn things and be a real person. Some people go to South Africa.
  • What are required classes? J201-1 (intro to being a journalist), J201-2 (look, we used an Internet!), J202 (history of journalism, kinda), J301 (you’re a journalist, Harry), J310 (found a typo, u have 2 drop out), J370 (plz don’t do a libel), one other pre-JR class that varies.
  • Where should I live? Allison.
  • What’s a “track?” At some point– probably your sophomore year– you’ll be asked to pick whether you want to be on the news/online, magazine, broadcast, or marketing track. This will determine what type of residency you’ll have for your JR. It will also determine 1-2 pre-JR classes you have to take. It will seem like the biggest decision in the world. It is not.
  • What buildings will I have class in? 1) Ohhhh look how shiny McTrib is! So #new! #21cent!!! Wait. Why don’t I have cell phone service? Where are the outlets?? Why is this auditorium so dark?!!? 2) Ohhhh look how classic Fiske is! I bet lots of #scholarly work has been done in this place. Wait. Why is it so hot? Where are the outlets?!?! There’s something vaguely sexual about this basement!!
  • What campus publications should I work for? The Daily, NBN, NNN, WNUR. The Protest, if you like Syrian infants. Not Sherman Ave. They’re bad ppl.

4 Responses to “Sherman Ave Freshman Guide: Medill”


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    […] There’s great journalism there–is that what you study?” No, I’m in Weinberg. Liberal Arts and proud. Like most […]

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