The journalism program of the LMU English department has recently chosen professor Kate Pickert, assistant professor of journalism, to lead the department subdivision. She has been teaching at LMU for six years.
The journalism program opened at LMU as a minor. The English department decided to launch it as a major in 2018. Pickert is excited to lead the program into the future after watching it evolve into what it has become today.
“When we launched in 2018 I think we never imagined that by spring of 2021 we would have more than 150 journalism majors and minors—so it’s been really exciting to see that growth and also to see it happen alongside a global dialogue about news, information, misinformation and the value of journalism,” said Pickert.
Pickert says that going forward she sees digital platforms and technology becoming even more important to delivering news and getting quality journalism out to the public. She wants to make sure LMU journalism students are able to leave after their four years equipped with the proper skills to reach a greater audience in an increasingly digital world.
When asked how the journalism program can also better integrate critical discussions on race, power and privilege in the field going forward, Pickert said “I think evaluating our program on how we can do better on [social justice issues] is something I’m very interested in thinking about for sure."
Pickert is excited to debut a class in the fall centered on race in journalism and literature as a first step forward in those critical discussions she previously mentioned. The class will also focus on analyzing who tells stories and what kind of stories are being pushed in the journalism world.
After a year of information and misinformation regarding the pandemic, anti-police brutality protests and the 2020 election, Pickert described what role journalism continues to play in the midst of such turbulent times.
“On the one hand, journalism’s role is what it’s always been; foundationally we are a craft and field that values facts, accuracy, reality, the closest approximation to the truth that we can get to regarding the truth….the past year has shown us just how much we need journalism. We refer to journalism as the fourth estate and we’ve always referred to it as a foundational pillar of democracy, but I think we’re finally seeing why,” said Pickert.
“What a lot of journalism scholars are arguing is if we need to think of American journalism as something more involved than a sort of observer class of folks saying ‘here’s what people said, here’s what’s happening’ and instead do journalists need to be more pro-democracy and kind of on the side of the American democratic system?” she said.
Pickert added that the tougher battle is making people actually believe the facts a journalist is delivering and she thinks this will continue to be a source of debate not only in the journalism program but also in the journalism world as a whole.
When asked if she’s worried about journalism students entering a world where their field faces competition from bots spreading misinformation, Pickert said,“Yes.”
She elaborated further, saying “I think one of the things that’s created [this] situation is that on Facebook, for example, a New York Times article looks the same as a random blog post by a random person. So there’s a lot of pressure on Facebook to do a better job at differentiating what news is trustworthy, but I think that we’re never gonna really win that battle and relying on social media companies to combat misinformation—I think that’s a really tall order.”
Pickert says that she is mostly worried about students coming into journalism without being aware of which sources are fake and which are not. She hopes that by the end of their time in the program they are capable of distinguishing between the two.
For Pickert, the a silver lining of 2020 is that she believes people saw the power of journalism and of verified information. She believes this resulted in people placing greater value on their news sources and recognizing the power reporting holds in defending the democratic system.
Overall, Pickert is excited to integrate technology and news further in the journalism curriculum going forward as well as making the journalism curriculum more mindful of race, power and privilege in news organizations and news pieces. She is excited to get all these plans started next fall semester.