For seven decades, the University of Arizona journalism program has been preparing students to cover complex events and issues wherever they occur, locally, nationally or internationally. In the school’s computer laboratories and seminar rooms, students work on stories that appear in real-world news media, and study the political, economic, legal and ethical issues that journalists face in the global information age.

Department Roots

Former journalism student Steve Elliott (left) receives his pen in the Mark Finley Newswriting Competition from Professors Bick Lewis (center) and Phil Mangelsdorf.

Former journalism student Steve Elliott (left) receives his pen in the Mark Finley Newswriting Competition from Professors Bick Lewis (center) and Phil Mangelsdorf.

The Department of Journalism — as it was first known — officially began operations in January 1951, with Douglas D. Martin as its head. Before departmental status was approved, courses in journalism had been included in the Department of English curriculum.  

The faculty members who led the UA journalism program, which offered a bachelor of arts degree, were working journalists before joining academia. Douglas Martin, who won a Pulitzer Prize while with the Detroit Free Press, was the first department head. 

The department was first accredited in 1964 and has been continuously accredited since that time, which means it meets the highest national standards for teaching, research and service. The UA journalism program is one of 109 accredited programs nationally. Only two programs in the state are accredited.

Community Journalism

The department significantly expanded its curriculum in the 1970s when it established a professional master’s degree program and started several real-world news media. Donald W. Carson started the department’s Community News Service in 1973, enabling students to cover statewide stories for small news outlets — a practice that continued as Arizona Sonora News and El Inde.

Mangelsdorf and George Ridge, the program’s fifth head, were responsible for bringing the historic Tombstone Epitaph to the UA in 1975, giving students the chance to publish a real community newspaper. A year later, Jacqueline E. Sharkey founded El Independiente, the only bilingual newspaper in the country produced by journalism students for a real community on a regular basis.

El Independiente is one indication of the program's longstanding commitment to diversity. Another came in 2010 when the program was presented with the Robert P. Knight Multiculturalism Award  at the AEJMC convention.

Changes in classroom technology mirrored the changes in the journalism industry. The hum from video display terminals replaced the banging of typewriter keys in 1971, and by the mid-1980s, students working on the school’s community newspapers reveled in the new last typesetting system. In 1979, the department moved into new quarters in the renovated basement of the Selim Franklin Building, which provided more space for instructional laboratories.

Closure Threat

Students protest the proposed elimination of the journalism program, 1994-96.

Students protest the proposed elimination of the journalism program, 1994-96.

The program encountered its biggest challenge in 1994-96, when university administrators threatened it with closure. The number of faculty and students declined during those years. The threat passed, thanks to more than 1,000 students, alumni, news executives and community leaders who defended the program. The department began to rebuild, but losses were suffered due to the months-long battle. Student enrollment dropped to a low of about 180 undergraduates.  A university-wide hiring freeze compounded by a spate of retirements took the faculty size to just four full-timers at its lowest point. 

Faculty suspended admission to the graduate program to be able to serve the undergraduate students and to create a new graduate curriculum.  Student enrollment climbed and new faculty were hired.

In 2004, the program moved into the $17 million Louise Foucar Marshall Building, a space complete with classrooms and labs capable of handling the future needs of a department full of teaching and research faculty, plus hundreds of students working in print, television and online media. 

Growth and Change

Since that time, enrollment has grown to more than 500 undergraduates, 16 permanent faculty members and nearly a dozen part-time faculty. The faculty includes the leader of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, a New York Times bestselling author, the former chief international correspondent for The Associated Press, and the winner of top awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists for international reporting.

Two faculty members have been named national Journalism Teacher of the Year, an award sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. It is the most prestigious award in journalism education. The graduate program welcomed its first class back in 2008, offering the master of arts in journalism as well as dual degrees with five other programs on campus. That same year the department became the School of Journalism.

Broadcast student Hector Ponce

Broadcast student Hector Ponce

Photo by Simon Asher

Currently, the school offers innovative interdisciplinary programs that enable undergraduate and graduate students to focus on two areas of crucial importance: international journalism and science journalism. Classes are taught by faculty with extensive journalism experience in these fields.

The school also is a leader in border journalism, developing courses and workshops that have become models for other programs, and forging relationships among educators and journalists in the United States and Mexico.

Another reflection of the quality education provided by the program is the fact that The New York Times has selected the school as the exclusive site for the national student journalism workshop it offers every two years in partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Today, as the school looks back on its founding in 1951 and forward to another 70 years, it can do so knowing that students are getting the education and training they need to succeed in an ever-changing media environment. UA Journalism graduates have gone to work for major news media ranging from The New York Times to CNN International, have won every major award in the profession — including the Pulitzer Prize and the National  Magazine Award — and  have written stories that have changed state and national laws and policies.