Last fall, by a vote of 38 to 5, faculty at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism approved a doozy of a name-change. The board of trustees then lent its final imprimatur in March, and with that, one of America’s leading journalism schools was henceforth known as – take a deep breath – “The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’d first call your attention to the faculty’s apparent rejection of Associated Press-sanctioned grammatical norms. Given the industry’s longstanding reverence for the AP stylebook as a semi-divine standard of journalistic propriety, this has the makings of a landmark decision.
That aside, I’ve found that the most common reaction people had to the news was something along the lines of, “What the heck is Integrated Marketing Communications?” Northwestern’s website describes it as a “Medill-invented field,” which partially explains the widespread confusion. But even so, there seems something deliberately obfuscatory about the term; like it was “invented” in a boardroom by middle-aged white men desperately brainstorming ways to appear cutting-edge. Indeed, its function is ultimately reminiscent of those banal slogans often found in a college’s promotional material, like “Commitment to Excellence” or “Where Leaders Look Forward.”
An IMC “certificate” is available to Northwestern undergraduates who complete five credits of requisite coursework. The program, according to Medill’s website, prepares students for entry-level positions in fields like advertising, public relations, and “corporate communications.” Of course, there’s nothing especially new or surprising about the actual curricula – business students are taught similar stuff, and PR-training has been a feature of journalism departments for years. The real question is why one of the country’s leading journalism schools has elected to so fully integrate marketing into its identity. You need not be a stuck-up purist to prefer that the two be kept safely apart. Moreover, I think it’s fair to say that journalism and marketing are in fact profoundly antithetical enterprises.
As one would hope, the big name-change news was met with derision from just about everyone not associated with Medill. Mark Oppenheimer, director of the Yale Journalism Initiative, summed up the prevailing sentiment when he wrote “We should all be a little concerned that the same schools that teach people to see through bogus claims are also the same schools teaching students how to perpetuate bogus claims.”
Jeff Jarvis, a Medill alumnus and noted professor of journalism at the City University of New York, directed a less-than-equanimous tweet at his alma mater, calling integrated marketing “the kind of bullshit jargon your teachers should be editing out.” One of the few faculty who voted against the change, associate professor Doug Foster, told me the new name “fuzzes up the sense that this is an institution devoted, at its heart, to the essential values of journalistic practice.”