About the Department

Mission Statement

As the nation's only accredited journalism and mass communications program in a highly competitive liberal arts college, we remain committed to our first and highest mission: to educate, to broaden minds, and to inculcate habits of honor, careful analysis and reasoned discourse. We train students to produce excellent written and multi-platform work that can tell the nuanced stories of an increasingly diverse and pluralistic culture.

As a department with professional constituencies in journalism and strategic communication and an obligation to prepare citizens to participate in a democratic society, we seek to fulfill our mission by helping students develop abilities to think critically, to communicate clearly, to understand the ethical dimensions of the decisions they make, and to fully recognize the central role of news media in a free society.

Media historians recognize that the education of journalists at our institution dates back to 1869, when printer scholarships were established. Our professional responsibility has remained the same: educating students to perform the crucial function of informing communities.

Because the journalism and strategic communication professions rightfully expect our graduates to become competent practitioners, the department is committed to teaching students the skills and familiarizing them with the tools that are the standards of the industry. We remain committed to keeping abreast of those skills and tools as the information revolution continues. We are dedicated to helping students tell stories in text, through audio, via both moving and still images, and by using the ever-evolving tools of social media.

The department must fulfill these multiple responsibilities within its commitment to a liberal arts education and the curricular standards established by the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

Core Values

  • We value free expression and vigorous public discourse, the keystones of a democratic society.
  • We value the pursuit of truth and the sharing of information with audiences that will empower them.
  • We value ethical reasoning that guides ethical practices.
  • We value an increasingly diverse society whose members embrace their shared experience and celebrate their uniqueness.
  • We value the development of critical thinking, careful analysis and outstanding writing.
  • We value honor, civility and compassion.
  • We value an undergraduate education that is both broad and deep and that emphasizes the importance of serving society.
  • We value small classes and close mentoring relationships with students.
  • We value faculty scholarship and contribution to the journalism and strategic communication professions.

An Introduction

The Department of Journalism and Mass Communications is among the largest programs at Washington and Lee. The department faculty believe journalism is the ideal liberal arts major, combining a deep grounding in the liberal arts and sciences with solid experience in research, analysis and clear communication. Its majors have an excellent reputation throughout the news industry, in public relations, and in a variety of other fields.

New Facilities for a Digital World

Since the total renovation of the department's building, Reid Hall, was completed in fall 2002, students and faculty have worked in an environment perfectly designed for the convergence that is sweeping the professional media world.

The W&L journalism program had been among the first in the nation to fully computerize all reporting and editing classes, and now it is among the first to create totally digital classroom and laboratory systems.

The journalism curriculum itself undergoes continual adjustments, as the department faculty respond to changes in the profession. A few years ago, the department's print and broadcast sequences were separate. Today, those two sequences are merged into a single Journalism major. Students in reporting and producing classes plan news coverage together, and regularly work together in the labs on stories for print, electronic media and the Internet. Their work appears on The Rockbridge Report's television newscast and converged website.

In fall 2014, the department introduced a second major:  Strategic Communication.  Students selecting this major will be prepared to work in non-journalistic communication fields in business, government, or non-profit organizations. Like students majoring in Journalism, Strategic Communication majors are introduced to the latest technological tools and platforms, within the context of a liberal arts education .

A Focus on Fundamentals

It is important to remember that, as dramatic as they are, these technological changes are not the focus of our program. The most distinguishing aspect of Washington and Lee's journalism program is its focus on fundamentals, on the concepts and concerns that remain constant regardless of how information is transmitted.

Students begin their journalism education by learning the roles that an independent press plays in a free society and by confronting the ethical component that exists in virtually every professional decision that journalists make. With this grounding, journalism students are prepared to make good news judgments.

The Liberal Arts Tradition

Because journalism at Washington and Lee is deeply imbued with the spirit of a broad, comprehensive education, it is an ideal liberal arts major. To make sure that journalism majors will be well grounded in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, they may take only about one-third of their courses in journalism.

Today, when we are constantly reminded that we live in the Information Age, it is important to understand how the mass media influence societies. It is perhaps even more crucial for young people beginning their careers in the Information Age to be able researchers and clear writers.

A Professional Perspective

Combined with this grounding in the liberal arts is a highly professional perspective.

While some communications programs focus on popular culture and communications theory, the W&L journalism department emphasizes the professional competencies of information gathering, analysis and writing.

The department's demanding professional courses are taught by faculty who have substantial experience in the newsroom and regularly return to it, and they are active members of professional organizations. One is a multiple Pulitzer Prize-winner.

The reporting students use the community as their primary source of news, and the labs receive feeds from the Associated Press and CNN. All students in the professional sequences are required to take a capstone in-depth reporting course in which they research and produce projects for broadcast, print and the web. Their work involves interviewing local officials and inspecting official records, searching on the Internet, researching with such sources as Lexis-Nexis, performing statistical analysis with spreadsheets and databases, and producing graphics with the aid of satellite mapping.

The campus publications and WLUR-FM are extracurricular activities that have no formal relationship with the department. But the many journalism majors who work on them regularly seek out the department faculty for advice and comments. Students find that the solid professional habits and perspectives they develop as reporters and editors are quite valuable when they compete for internships and jobs.

An Emphasis on Ethics

The University received an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 1996 to establish a substantial program in journalism ethics. Long a major emphasis in the  department, ethics has become a primary focus.

The department curriculum now includes  courses in journalism ethics and media ethics, open to all university students, and both journalism and strategic communication majors are required to take an ethics course. Professionals regularly visit campus to "do ethics" with the undergraduates.

The Knight Chair holder, who is widely respected in the field of journalism ethics, frequently participates in professional workshops and national conventions.

A Program in Business Journalism

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation gave the University a $1.5 million endowment in 1999 to create a program in reporting on business and economics and to establish a chair in business journalism.

Students in the Business Journalism sequence take specialized courses in the department and at least six courses in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics.

This highly innovative program responds to an increasing need in the industry and society for knowledgeable, skilled journalists who can report clearly and with authority in this vital area. 

An International Perspective

Many journalism students develop an international perspective, an increasingly valuable orientation. Several have a second major in a foreign language, and this often includes a term abroad.

The department has three scholarships, the Todd Smith Memorial Fund, the Edward Jackson International Reporting Fund, and the Allen Schanck Roberts '85 Scholarship Fund, that provide support for majors to undertake projects in foreign reporting. Students on those fellowships have reported from Australia, Germany, India, Kenya, Korea, Latin America, Russia, Spain and Tibet. Some journalism majors take internships abroad, sometimes with W&L graduates as their mentors. The department offers courses in international press systems.

An Outstanding Reputation

Washington and Lee's Department of Journalism and Mass Communications is highly regarded both on campus and in the profession.

The faculty regularly return to the industry to maintain their skills and act as consultants. They advise journalism programs at universities throughout the world, and they hold positions of responsibility in academic, professional and accreditation organizations.

Similarly,our students are eagerly sought after for entry-level positions and are accepted at prestigious law and graduate schools. Many are double majors, and they are deeply involved in campus life as newspaper reporters and editors, fraternity and sorority leaders, dorm counselors, intercollegiate athletes and members of service organizations. 

As graduates, they have been highly successful professionally as journalists, in public relations and marketing, and in a wide variety of other communications-related fields. They are valued in virtually any field for their ability to gather information and present it compellingly, with precision and clarity, in any medium.

Their reputations, and their devotion to W&L and the journalism department, strengthen the competitive position of those who follow them.

More information

The department's web site includes information about the curriculum, scholarships and faculty. The department head, Prof. Dayo Abah, can be reached at abahd@wlu.edu or 540-458-8077.