Why everyone should take 'The News Media' with Wyatt Andrews

Media Studies course teaches students how to carefully analyze the news they consume

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I thoroughly enjoy going to class Friday morning. It sounds absurd, yes. I never thought I would say such a thing until this semester, and it is because of one course — “The News Media” with Wyatt Andrews.

Picture this — it’s 11 a.m. on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. You walk into your tech-savvy lecture room filled with 80 students — not too big, not too small. There are three projector screens — one is on the left wall, one on the right and one in the middle behind the podium. As everyone sifts through their notebooks to find the “Random Reading” they completed for the day’s lecture, in walks Andrews. He enters through the door directly behind the podium, immediately connects his laptop to the projector cable and clips his wireless microphone onto his button-down shirt. The second he begins to speak, you understand why he was one of CBS’s most beloved Washington, D.C.-based correspondents for 34 years.

You can Google Andrews to read about his wildly successful career after graduating from the University of Virginia with honors in 1974. Spoiler alert — he won three Emmys for his coverage of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavík and the D.C. sniper in 2002. My argument in this article is not that Andrews is great. My argument is that all students at the University need to — I’d even say should be required to — take his outstanding course, “The News Media.”

I learn a lot in all of my courses, but I never walk out of another class feeling as knowledgeable as I do walking out of “The News Media” three days a week. In order to be an informed citizen, everyone must consume news of some kind. It is getting easier and easier in today’s world — especially with such polarized politics — to choose news sources that create an echo chamber of one’s own point of view. It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to find news sources that are completely fact-based and trustworthy.

In “The News Media,” Andrews teaches his students how to understand, analyze and carefully select the news they consume in order to be the most informed citizens possible. He provides an insider’s perspective on how the news media operates, where it succeeds, where it fails and why. His lectures cover topics such as the shift from legacy news to online news, TV and its various news networks and original reporting versus derived reporting. Additionally, Andrews discusses mainstream media news ethics, the revolution of social media as a news source, the popularization of fake news, President Donald Trump’s relationship with the White House press corp, satirical news and bias and so much more.

The class also functions as a real-time history course, as Andrews constantly changes his syllabus to reflect the most current news stories and world events. This creates a unique bridge between the classroom and the rapidly changing world outside of it. Whereas I used to shy away from conversations about politics out of the fear of ignorance, by the time I emerge from class at 11:50 a.m., I already know more about what’s happening in the news that day than most of my peers, and I engage excitedly in complex conversations.

Just as Andrews is highly esteemed himself, he has many highly-esteemed connections as well. Throughout the course of the semester, our class has had the opportunity to Skype so many fantastic figures in the news media business. For example, one day, Andrews was playing the footage of Trump’s “fake news” showdown with Jim Acosta, CNN’s senior White House correspondent, at a White House press conference. The next week, Acosta was on our projector screen hosting a Q&A session about his experiences in the press corps. Similarly, last week, we had our lectures on satirical news and watched multiple segments of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Then, Wyatt Andrews announced that the next Friday, the executive producer of the show, Chris Licht, was flying into Charlottesville to host a special, off-the-record, guest lecture and Q&A session with us. If that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.

However, Andrews is not an easy professor. This is not to say that he is ridiculously hard — he’s quite the opposite. He is effectively challenging and fair. He forces you to always exercise a critical eye in order to best evaluate the news. He requires “Random Readings” on various news topics for each lecture, then randomly calls on students to share what they brought to class and asks them to judge the news source. He tells us to write our papers with “blunt force clarity,” and he once said to the class, “I want you to punch me in the face with your arguments.” Andrews always keeps us on our toes in the absolute best way possible.

All students should take “The News Media” at one point during their time at the University. Even if it doesn’t count towards your major, take it because you are a news-consuming citizen, who wants the tools all people need to better evaluate the news. Take it because it is taught by a wildly successful professor of practice. Take it because you will never find yourself bored during lecture — not even for a moment. Take it because you will get invaluable face time with prominent figures in the business. Take it because you will laugh, you will be shocked and you will connect the dots. Lastly, take it because, if you don’t, you will have passed up one of the best courses the University has to offer, and nobody would want that.

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