Flipping around the dial while stuck behind the wheel in Los Angeles traffic, Julia Simon tuned into the rich storytelling of National Public Radio and discovered a lasting interest in journalism.
And when Simon, Class of 2009, watched The Control Room, a documentary on the gap between American and Arabic-language reporting of the Iraq War, she was inspired to take an Arabic class at UCLA while still in high school. She later pursued the study of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
Simon hoped to combine her interests and report on the Middle East in a way that would help improve American understanding of the area. “Many of the Arab journalists featured in the film deplored the conceit of Western journalists who came to countries like Iraq thinking they could report on all sides of a story without knowing Arabic,” Simon says.
Despite the challenging economic outlook for media companies, Simon is one of 200-plus College students preparing for careers in journalism, reflecting the belief that a liberal arts education remains the best preparation for jobs that require insightful writing and reporting.
After spending last summer at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC, Simon is currently an intern for the BBC News bureau in Cairo, where she works mostly in Arabic and has met people ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to politicians and artists.
“My interest in the region grows every day I live in Cairo,” Simon says. “I hope to use my knowledge of Arabic and the Middle East to bring nuanced and well-researched stories to a Western audience.”
Programs Promote Critical Thinking
The students are part of Chicago Careers in Journalism, one of four pre-professional programs organized by Career Advising and Planning Services and the College. The programs, which also include health professions, business and law, are intended to give students considering specific career paths a chance to learn more about the prospective fields and to make them more competitive in the application process.
“CAPS prepares students for opportunities that are currently available in the field, as well as educating them about the changing face of the journalism industry,” says Meredith Daw, Director of Career Advising and Planning Services. “Our focus is on making our students as competitive as possible regardless of the platform.”
The program is popular with students in part because it helps improve their writing and develop investigative skills. Such reporting requires critical thinking—a skill that many College students are eager to apply outside the classroom, says program director Kathy Anderson.
“Our students have all the strengths that news organizations are looking for,” Anderson says. “Because they have strong liberal arts backgrounds, they have broad interests and think deeply. They also want to become involved, they’re curious and they want to get answers.”
Anderson, former News Director for the University and a veteran broadcast journalist, helps advise student publications, including student newspapers and the science magazine, Triple Helix. Through the program, Anderson mentors students and helps them find internships and grants to support them. Students also participate in discussion sessions and workshops, which alumni journalists often lead.
College Well Represented in Internships
During the past academic year, 45 students were placed in internships, including this summer at outlets ranging from “Meet the Press” and NBC’s political unit, to O Magazine, the New York Daily News, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Among the interns is Supriya Sinhababu, Class of 2010, who interned as a reporter with the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire in Washington, DC over the summer. She covered Capitol Hill and news events around the District of Columbia. Sinhababu is planning on a career in journalism.
“Writing is my main skill set, so journalism is a logical field for me,” says Sinhababu. “The outlook for traditional media may be bleak, but the need for journalists with traditional reporting know-how, standards and ethics won’t change over time. The business models and the platforms for storytelling are in flux. The demand for quality reporting isn’t.”
Through a grant from the program, Sinhababu was able to take an unpaid internship last summer with the South Bend Tribune in Indiana. “Without the clips and experience I got from that job, I wouldn't be in Washington right now,” she says.
Sara Jerome, Class of 2009, is also in DC—on a six-month internship for the Atlantic Media Company. She is writing for the National Journal, the company’s weekly policy magazine.
“I’m enjoying it because it’s giving me a chance to be immersed in policy journalism, and to do a lot of work with new media—the magazine’s blogs are really active,” she says.
She plans to seek a full-time job in journalism. “I know it’s a tough time for this. It’s what I really want to do, though, so I didn't want to abandon it because of the circumstances.”