Magazine writing divided between departments

by Dina Kleiner / Beacon Staff • February 19, 2015

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Many students interested in magazine writing have to make a major choice before they even arrive at Emerson: whether to join the journalism or writing, literature, and publishing department. 

Journalism classes at Emerson focus largely on the industry’s print, broadcast, and multimedia forms, while magazine writing classes are taught in the WLP program. But some students and graduates said they feel magazine writing is a form of journalism, so there should be more collaboration, instead of division, between the two departments—a change that the journalism department is currently considering.

Chrisanne Grise, who graduated in 2010 with a journalism degree, said the current setup deprives journalism students of a medium they may be interested in.

“It was strange that magazine writing wasn’t more part of the journalism department,” said Grise, who is now an editorial assistant at Parents magazine. “When I was there, I felt like most of the people that wanted to do magazine writing were in the journalism program.”

Benoit Denizet-Lewis, an assistant professor in the writing, literature, and publishing department and a writer for The New York Times Magazine, said splitting magazine writing among two departments hinders the learning experiences of students.

“I think we should do everything we can to break down the walls between WLP and journalism so that our students can learn to be both strong writers and strong reporters,” Denizet-Lewis wrote in an emailed statement to the Beacon. “I know that if I were a student right now at Emerson, I would want to take plenty of classes in both departments.”

To pursue magazine writing, some students said they feel they have to go to unusual lengths. Freshman journalism major Rachel Fucci said she is considering changing her major to writing, literature, and publishing to take magazine writing classes, a field she said she may pursue after graduation.

“I feel like with the WLP major, I’ll be able to do things that are more focused on my future career path,” she said.

Fucci added that because the journalism department requires all students to become proficient in multiple storytelling forms — including camera work — she isn’t currently getting to focus on magazine-style writing.

“I won’t have to waste time or energy on learning how to use equipment I probably won’t use in the field,” she said.

In her experience, Grise said the divide between writing, literature, and publishing and the journalism departments has inhibited students’ opportunities to take full advantage of magazine classes. Grise said she had to declare a WLP major to get into magazine writing classes, even though she had no intentions of leaving the journalism department.

“I couldn’t get into them otherwise,” Grise said. “Every time I tried to register, they were already full.” 

Shaylin Hogan, senior administrative associate of the writing, literature, and publishing department, said WLP majors are exclusively allowed to register for publishing classes for the first two weeks of registration, a system designed to allow them to fill those seats first.

Hogan said magazine classes in the writing, literature, and publishing department are more focused on creativity than reporting.

“The magazine writing classes we have are not investigative journalism-type style. They’re more literary style,” Hogan said.

Maria Koundoura, chair of the writing, literature, and publishing department, declined to comment for this article.

Sarah Dwyer graduated with a writing, literature, and publishing degree in 2013 and founded Emerson’s Atlas magazine. The split between the two departments isn’t representative of a real-world workforce that requires both reporting and narrative writing skills, Dwyer said.

She said aspects of journalism should have been further incorporated in her magazine writing classes.

“In WLP, we never had that conversation about where journalism is going,” said Dwyer, who now works for Springboard Retail, a marketing company. “We only took writing workshops, so we were only talking about developing skills. We weren’t talking about the marketplace.”

Paul Niwa, interim chair of the journalism department, said instead of being more inclusive of magazine writing, the journalism department is seeking a broader approach to long-form storytelling.

“We don’t have an ambition to create a magazine department,” Niwa said. “We’re not defined by medium… We’re defining ourselves by a structure of values.”

Denizet-Lewis said although the divide may creates a detrimental barrier between departments, he believes magazine writing is appropriately placed in WLP.

“At its best, magazine writing is both journalistic and literary. So, magazine writing courses could make sense in either department,” Denizet-Lewis wrote. “But I think our diversity of magazine offerings in WLP—and our faculty of essayists, biographers, journalists, and magazine writers and editors—makes this department a smart choice for young writers and editors who want to learn about print and digital magazines.”

Niwa said journalism professors has started discussing plans to collaborate with their counterparts in writing, literature, and publishing.

“Even journalism faculty wonder why there’s such a separation between the two,” Niwa said. “We have broad agreement that we want to do more with the publishing group of WLP.”

Niwa said certain ideas, like co-teaching courses with WLP professors, and allowing certain journalism and WLP courses to be interchangeable in terms of registration prerequisites, are being discussed within the journalism department.

“There is no good reason why we don’t have more collaboration between the journalism faculty and the faculty of WLP,” Niwa said. “But those things take time.”

 

Correction, Feb. 25: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Maria Koundoura as having declined to comment. In fact, she was unavailable for comment.