SJMC undergraduate curriculum grows with the addition of J203

The 2018 fall semester brought the start of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s newest course, Journalism 203: Information for Communication. This two-credit course is the latest addition to the journalism undergraduate degree requirements.

After being accepted into the SJMC, students are now required to enroll in both Journalism 202: Mass Communication Practices and Journalism 203, totaling eight journalism credits during the first semester students are admitted.

This semester, J203 is taught by assistant professor Chris Cascio. Prior to teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cascio taught a data visualization class at the University of Michigan.

The goal of J203 is to provide students with the vital skills — information gathering and sourcing, information analysis and syntheses, and information visualization and presentation — that are used by professionals in journalism and strategic communications.

While J202 focuses on story structure and how to develop and write a cohesive story, J203 focuses on recognizing, interpreting and utilizing data in stories. For example, Cascio explains that he pushes his students to utilize primary sources rather than assuming a secondary source is accurate. J203 teaches students the skills they need to take complex data and synthesize it into information that the public can understand and learn from.

“We thought it was really important that students learn how to not only interpret data, but also how to visualize it in a way that the public can understand as well,” Chris Cascio says.

J203 serves as a supplement to the traditional J202 course. It expands upon the short units covered in J202 on gathering data, building graphs, conducting surveys and digging into facts during an interview. Similar to J202, the new J203 course covers topics in both the reporting track and the strategic communications track to satisfy all new SJMC students.

J203 also tackles data visualization issues that strategic communication track students utilize in the field. Previously, J202 taught students an overview of how to use data gathering programs like Simmons OneView, which pulls industry information on businesses and consumers from a variety of sources. Cascio has expanded the overview to a week-long lesson where he assigns students a company on which to do Simmons background research. These Simmons skills are then used throughout the rest of the semester on larger projects.

In order for J203 to truly serve as a supplement to the four credit J202 course, Professor Katy Culver, who is teaching J202, reviewed the class content to compare the timelines of the two. This helps both professors Culver and Cascio to know what is being taught in the other class and when students have been pre-exposed to a course topic.

SJMC faculty are also aware that eight credits of journalism courses after just being admitted can be overwhelming for students and find ways to accommodate.

“We end our course (J203) in week 12 to give students more time to focus on their large individual story projects in J202,” Cascio says. “That’s what is so nice about the two courses coinciding together. We’re aware of what is happening in each and we try not to overwhelm students with too much work.”

As the first semester of the additional course to the journalism undergraduate degree progresses, Cascio is excited to continue working with students and supporting them with skills in data collection, interpretation and presentation that will not only be helpful to students in future SJMC courses, but also in their respective journalism and strategic communication fields post-graduation.