By Karen Kelly

On Oct. 9, 1945, the first-ever class of Carleton journalism students gathered in a small room in downtown Ottawa.

Exactly 75 years later, on Oct. 9, 2020 at 10 a.m., Carleton’s journalism program marks that date in a way those original students could never have imagined—by streaming a virtual event on the school’s Instagram site amid a global pandemic.

“In the era of COVID, we had to put aside our original plans for a gala, a major keynote address and a reunion of thousands of graduates,” explains Allan Thompson, head of the journalism program and associate director of the School of Journalism and Communication.

“But we didn’t want that key date to go by, when that first class was held in a rented space in downtown Ottawa. Since then, we have become the largest and best-known journalism school in the country.”

Carleton Journalism Kicks Off Its 75th Year with a Nod to History

On Oct. 9, Thompson will be joined by Carleton President Benoit-Antoine Bacon and Brenda O’Neill, dean of the Faculty of Public Affairs, for a socially distanced event at Knox Presbyterian Church. Student representative Baneet Braich will speak remotely. The theme will be Carleton Journalism@75 – the Future of Journalism is Here.

A 1986 journalism graduate himself, Thompson and fellow alumnus Prof. Randy Boswell have collected numerous stories and photos from the journalism school’s history which will be shared at the event and on a dedicated page on the journalism website.

The site of the commemoration, Knox Presbyterian Church, plays an important part in Carleton’s history as the location of the journalism program’s early classes. Student Jim Coulter wrote a journal entry describing one of these classes, which included then Carleton President Henry Marshall Tory.

“It is perhaps significant that we occupy during the week the room in which the Sunday school kindergarten meets. Dr. Tory was on the job early, arranging the chairs and tables and generally floating around in the manner of a concerned hen with unruly chickens,” Coulter wrote on Oct. 22, 1945.

The journalism program moved to the current campus when it opened in 1959.

Allan Thompson

An Opportunity for Reflection

Thompson plans to mark the 75th anniversary over the course of the coming year, beginning with the Journalism in a Time of Crisis Symposium on Oct. 22 and 23. The program will also host its annual lectures, the Kesterton and the Stursberg, as well as a speakers series on the state of journalism in Canada.

The School of Journalism and Communication has also established the Future of Journalism Initiative (FJI). This initiative is a collaborative hub where journalists, academics and students work together and independently on innovative projects that further the collective knowledge and understanding of journalism practice. Thompson expects this will contribute to conversations taking place over the coming year as they discuss challenges facing the profession.

“We have to strike a balance between celebrating and confronting the challenges we face,” notes Thompson. “For one, the industry was already in a financial crisis. That is being compounded by the impact of COVID.”

Journalism in the Time of Crisis Symposium

Journalism in the Time of Crisis Symposium

In a letter to alumni, he also addressed the “rightful and well-grounded charges of systemic racism in Canadian media and in our program.”

“Carleton’s School of Journalism and Communication recently voted overwhelmingly in support of a number of commitments to address racism against black, Indigenous and people of colour, as well as intolerance based on ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and ability. These major steps have been in the works for some time, but also recognized a call to action from a group of BIPOC students, alumni and faculty members. As the head of Carleton’s journalism program, I’m deeply committed to the steps we are taking to foster greater diversity and inclusion as we tackle institutionalized racism.”

While the journalism program has to delay any large gatherings for the foreseeable future, Thompson is hopeful that journalism faculty, students and alumni will have a chance to celebrate the next milestone in person: the 75th anniversary of the first graduates in journalism is October 2021.

School of Journalism and Communication

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020 in
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