This just in! Journalism classes open doors for Mount Holyoke students.Morgan Turner ’20
When I was planning my fall 2019 classes, the first semester of my junior year, I found myself questioning my academic path. What did I want to do with the psychology major I had declared the semester prior? Why, when I looked at the potential classes, did I find myself wishing for different options? In order to feel more academically fulfilled, I realized that I needed to pursue another one of my interests.
I had previously taken classes in economics, politics and anthropology. So maybe a minor? Or what about the ethics class I had enjoyed my first year, maybe there was something there? Wait — maybe an English class? The creative writing class I dropped after the first three-hour session hadn’t been for me, but what about nonfiction writing? I had really enjoyed working as a staff writer for a local newspaper the summer before.
Morgan Turner (left) and Todd Brewster
And that is how I ended up in Visiting Senior Lecturer in English Todd Brewster’s Introduction to Journalism class. He was a new professor, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into, but the subject matter really appealed to me. The class would also qualify for the Nexus concentration in journalism, media and public discourse — one of nine professional concentrations offered by the program. I had previously considered pursuing a Nexus, which requires 16 credits of coursework and participation in the LEAP Symposium, but wasn’t ready to fully commit. I figured the class would be a great opportunity to further explore.
Was I intimidated by Brewster and his class that first day? Yes. He is a bestselling author who, before entering academia, had served as a senior editorial producer at ABC News. In a booming voice that quickly filled the small classroom in the library, he outlined his classroom expectations, which essentially required us novice students to produce the same quality of work that he would expect from experienced journalists.
I feared he would be tough, or even ruthless, in grading the quality of our fledgling work. I contemplated dropping the class the first week, but decided to give it the old college try.
The first few classes were filled with captivating readings on journalistic integrity and samples of professional journalists’ prized works. “Reading and understanding the mechanics of other journalists’ work is the best way to improve your own work,” Brewster told us. So we read, wrote and critiqued each other. And our work did get better. He was tough but fair, using his own experience not as a bragging point but as a resource for our learning.
The author (left) with Todd Brewster in Library 618
One month into classes, Brewster pulled off the single greatest academic trick that I have ever experienced, and probably will ever experience, at Mount Holyoke.
On that day, we first watched “Truth,” a 2015 film about Mary Mapes and Dan Rather’s navigation of the Killian documents controversy. These documents were at the center of a CBS 60 Minutes report in 2004 that investigated the military service of then-President George W. Bush. Brewster then asked us what questions we would ask Mapes, who is won a Peabody Award for exposing the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, if she were present.
After we discussed our questions as a class, Brewster sauntered over to his computer and said, with a knowing smile, said, “Let’s do it.” He Skyped Mapes into our class and gave us the opportunity to talk to one of the most famous journalists of the past 20 years! From that point on, I was hooked. My writing continued to grow and my journalistic instincts flourished.
The following spring, I applied for an MHConnect internship at Sports Illustrated magazine. My application included a robust profile of sports writing, specifically on college athletics, since Brewster had encouraged us to fully explore our own unique interests in assignments. Had it not been for this class, I would never have had the confidence or body of work to apply for — and secure — such a prestigious internship. And then to excel in the position!
Williston Library at night, as seen from College Street
This past semester I officially finished my Nexus concentration in journalism, media and public discourse. In fitting fashion, the last course that I took to meet my requirements was Brewster’s 300-level Magazine Writing class. The course expanded upon what I had learned in practice over the summer while still providing a reasonable challenge. Now in my last semester at Mount Holyoke, I am confident that I want to pursue a career in journalism, thanks heavily in part to what I have learned from Brewster.
Although I have finished all my required journalism classes, I’ll be back in Library 618 to take one last course in journalism with Brewster. Because there’s still so much to learn.