New School of Journalism core curriculum course debuts with a Strategic Communication spin

New School of Journalism core curriculum course debuts with a Strategic Communication spin

Associate Professor Holly Higginbotham leads her J2200 Audience & Persuasion class via Zoom on Feb. 24, 2021. The course is required of all current freshman and sophomore students as part of the school’s new curriculum.

By Zach Taylor

Columbia, Mo. (Feb. 25, 2020) – The Missouri School of Journalism prides itself on staying on top of the needs of its students and isn’t afraid to change with the times. As part of a revamp of its core curriculum, the School launched J2200 Audiences & Persuasion in fall 2020.

Three years ago, the Journalism School’s curriculum committee reimagined its core curriculum to accommodate a changing industry. Part of this process was to incorporate more elements of strategic communication into the required core classes all journalism freshmen and sophomore students take, and that’s where the development of J2200 began.

While J2200 is based on strategic communication concepts and is meant to broaden the scope of the School’s core curriculum, the concepts of persuasive communication and understanding audiences are critical elements in all professions. The class aims to provide students with valuable primary and secondary research skills they can use to better understand their audiences, no matter if they’re a journalism or a strategic communication professional.

“A lot of students come into college thinking they have instantaneous access to the answers to all of their research questions on Google, but that’s not the case,” said Associate Professor Holly Higginbotham, who chaired the committee to conceptualize J2200 and teaches it each semester. “Understanding your audience is crucial to persuasion – these things go hand in hand. If your understanding of your audience is based on bad research, then your communication strategy will be misguided as well, whether that’s news writing or PR writing.”

The class culminates in a group project where students work together to handle a communication problem with their newfound tools and skills.  During the spring 2021 semester, each group is challenged to design and execute audience research to inform the CDC’s effort to convince the public to get COVID-19 vaccines.

Alex Naughton, a sophomore who took J2200 in the fall of 2020, confirms the class’ relevance to journalism majors. “J2200 made me think like a pro,” he said. “I had to do scientifically-rigorous research, cooperate and communicate with a team, and meet hard deadlines. Even though the class wasn’t focused on my emphasis area, I feel like this class expanded my view of journalism and gave me valuable skills.”

Of course, the class is beneficial for strategic communication students, who will be conducting primary and secondary research throughout the rest of their time at Mizzou as they matriculate to the upper level strategic communication courses.

“This class helped me feel ready to take on the challenging upper-level coursework,” said sophomore Taylor Bunch, who also took the class in fall 2020. “I now have a solid foundation to grow upon during the rest of my time at the J-School, including my capstone.”

“All of our students need to be able to understand how the research process works, conducting research and vetting research findings, and then knowing how to use that information to tell a persuasive story, whether that’s in a pitch meeting, for an opinion piece or as part of a campaign pitch,” said Jon Stemmle, professor and faculty chair of Strategic Communication. Stemmle helped develop the class last summer and taught the first class offering in fall 2020.

“This class, just as our other new curricular offerings, are going to help our students be even stronger, more well-rounded and ready for the job market when they graduate,” said Stemmle.

Updated: February 25, 2021

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