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‘Unclass’ changes how students prepare to be journalists

March 19, 2015 | By Jasmine Leonas

With a constantly changing media landscape, Medill students need to prepare themselves for jobs that might not even exist yet. To meet that challenge, Medill faculty have created the “unclass.”

Officially called Advanced Interactive Storytelling & Design (JOUR390), students in the class work in teams to complete a story project. The teams find a story to tell and then reports, storyboards, designs, writes and builds an online presence. But unlike most classes, students in the “unclass” create their syllabus by opting into dozens of workshops on topics as varied as design to factchecking to JavaScript. Students pick which skills they want to strengthen or explore in order to best tell their chosen story topics.

Past projects have covered topics as varied as the science of brewing coffee, the marketing of club drug MDMA and the banning of books in the Information Age.

Alumni have credited the experience with jumpstarting their professional life.

“I genuinely got a career path out of the ‘unclass,’” said Shelly Tan (BSJ14), now a graphics editor at The Washington Post. “It showed me that journalism isn’t as narrow as it’s sometimes presented and it can still be new and exciting in the Digital Age.”

Using innovative ways to tell stories is not only important, it’s essential.

“So much of journalism happens on the Web and if you can’t fully build your vision for your storytelling, then you are always making a compromise,” said Tyler Fisher (BSJ14), now a News Apps Developer for NPR.

Many alumni of the “unclass” now work in digital media. Sean Lavery (BSJ14), who works in print and digital production at The New Yorker, says the “unclass” didn’t just prepare him for his current job, it got his foot in the door.

“My boss told me after I was hired that she decided to give me an interview when she saw a website included in my cover letter,” Lavery said. “It was the one we put together for the ‘unclass.’”

Hear alumni of the “unclass” talk about their experience