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Mission of the SJMC

Murphy Hall construction begins

The mission of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) is to integrate mass communication education, research and outreach. We focus on preparing students for careers in the wide variety of specializations within journalism and strategic communication, and on expanding and sharing knowledge of mass communication and its role in society. We do this through teaching, research and outreach that are focused on improving the practice of journalism and strategic communication. We believe in professional preparation and in a liberal education rooted in the arts and social sciences. We are committed to teaching students to think critically and creatively in an environment that is diverse, dynamic, globally aware, interactive and intellectually challenging. We prepare undergraduate students to be leaders in mass communication fields and to be thoughtful, productive citizens in their communities and in public life. We prepare graduate students to be the next generation of leading scholars, educators and professionals.

The History of the SJMC: 1917 to the present

SJMC Undergrads in the 50s


Journalism education at the University of Minnesota formally began in 1917 when plans were drawn for a major curriculum with courses offered in continuity. Before that time, there had been four sporadic journalism course offerings, including a 1915 writing course given on the St. Paul campus by William P. Kirkwood, publications director of the College of Agriculture. It was Kirkwood who convinced the College of Science, Literature and the Arts (CSLA) to offer a journalism program.

A major development assuring the future of journalism at the University of Minnesota came in 1918 when William J. Murphy, publisher of the Minneapolis Tribune, bequeathed a portion of his estate to the university for “the establishing and maintaining of a course of instruction in journalism.” The department of journalism was established in 1922 within CSLA and Reuel R. Barlow was named administrator with the title, “instructor in charge.”

The department had been located in Folwell Hall and the old Music Building until moving into Pillsbury Hall in 1929. The department’s first master’s degree was awarded a year later. A former Seattle and New York newspaperman who obtained his Ph.D. from Wisconsin, Ralph D. Casey, became the head of the journalism department in 1930.

Casey had begun building what was to become a renowned faculty. Mitchell V. Charnley, former newspaperman, magazine editor and Iowa State College professor, was hired in 1934 to teach reporting and to develop the magazine journalism courses. Ralph O. Nafziger, former newspaperman and Wisconsin Ph.D. candidate, joined the faculty in 1935 to be a research specialist in international communication and the foreign press. He also taught news editing and public affairs reporting.

The construction of Murphy Hall, a new home for journalism, was authorized by the Regents in 1938 and completed in 1940. The department became the School of Journalism in 1941. A School of Journalism Research Division – the first of its kind in the nation – was established in 1944. In 1948, Minnesota was one of the first 35 schools to be designated “accredited” by the American Council on Education for Journalism. The school’s library expanded in 1950 with the establishment of the Thomas Heggen Memorial Library.

Major curriculum changes were made in the 1960s. R. Smith Schuneman developed a photojournalism program. That same year the faculty developed a curriculum statement that established specializations in broadcast journalism, magazine journalism, creative graphic arts, photojournalism and public relations. A major revision of the undergraduate curriculum took place in 1965 with the addition of an introduction to journalism course and the creation of a course in basic visual communication.

The 1960s and '70s were a period of tremendous growth. The number of undergraduates grew from 300 in 1960 to 602 in 1970 and then to 1,156 in 1980. Special entrance requirements had to be initiated in the mid-1970s because the growth had surpassed available space. Two other special programs had been launched, as well. The Minnesota Journalism Center, funded by a gift from John and Elizabeth Cowles, was created in 1979 to promote interaction between journalism academics and professionals. In 1984 the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics & Law was established with a gift from Otto and Helen Silha. The journalism library was named the Eric Sevareid Library in 1980.

When Mark Yudof became president of the university in 1997, there was increased interest in journalism education at the top administrative levels at the university. In concert with then CLA Dean Steven Rosenstone, the president set up a Communications Studies Task Force. Its 1997 report called for a $9 million renovation of Murphy Hall, new labs, updated equipment and new faculty lines, in addition to the founding of a “New Media Institute” and a state-of-the-art information center that would bring journalism and mass communication education at Minnesota back to its original prominence.

In 2004, the work of the school faculty, SJMC director Al Tims (who was appointed interim director in 1997 and permanent director a year later), Rosenstone and university administrators was recognized by an independent review team designed to assess the program’s progress. The independent review lavished praise on the newly-revitalized SJMC, noting that the work to rejuvenate the program had been “truly transformative within the SJMC” and applauding the school’s “responsiveness and foresight, [which] has allowed it to reclaim its place among the elite schools of journalism in the country.”

Thus, the school enters the 21st century with the facilities, the faculty and the programs to meet the opportunities and the challenges of the new millennium.