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Troubled program will get fresh start in 2015, two years after admission freeze

After nearly a year of uncertainty, the University of Ottawa’s suspended journalism program will return next year following a significant makeover.

The university says its new digital journalism program will teach students the skills they need to break into a media industry that’s doing more and more of its work online.

Headed by professors Evan Potter and Marc-François Bernier, the program will use hands-on and theoretical teaching in order to train students in computer-assisted reporting and quantitative data mining, along with traditional journalism skills, according to a media release.

“It’s a significant overhaul,” Potter told the Fulcrum.

Students will work with database software and study writing, graphics, and coding practices on various digital platforms, including mobile, tablet, and computers. Courses will also teach students to engage with audiences online using social media and content embedding.

Like its predecessor, the bilingual digital journalism program will be offered jointly with Algonquin College and La Cité collégiale — two years at university, and two at college.

This time around, the U of O stint will include two new courses in digital journalism, another two in writing for digital platforms, and one each in journalism history and the sociology of journalism.

Another addition is a mandatory apprenticeship course that will have students work for student and community media organizations for course credit.

Potter said it’s good news for future students, because now they get to practice journalism while at the U of O, not just at college.

“Now you will actually be having hands-on experience in journalism before you show up at Algonquin or La Cité,” he said.

The university will also hire an experienced journalist as the new program coordinator, partly to bridge the gap between the three schools involved.

“It’s the logistics of the program, ensuring people have their internships, and it’s to smooth transitions between and among the three institutions,” said Potter.

Current students will still complete their degrees under the current configuration, and the new program will start in the fall of 2015.

That’s two years after the university halted admission to the original program last summer, following a 2012 report to the university senate that called the program “deeply troubled.” Things weren’t looking much better by the winter semester, when the program was frozen for yet another year.

The program’s time in limbo had even left university president Allan Rock pondering whether it was worth continuing.

While discussing the Ontario government’s push for greater differentiation among the province’s universities, Rock told the Fulcrum in November that “maybe some things have to fall away while we focus on the things we do best.”

He noted that Carleton University offers a highly regarded journalism program that the U of O can’t compete with. It was a sentiment not far off from the comments found in the report that prompted the program’s overhaul.

“If somebody else does journalism best, maybe they should be left to do journalism,” Rock said then.

But with the U of O’s program now being revived, Rock said in a brief statement this week that he’s pleased the university will be able to continue to offer training in both official languages, and to “provide students with unique skills that other journalism programs are not offering.”

Potter said the most unique aspect of the U of O’s program is that it’s bilingual. Also, with its new digital focus, it’s not competing with Carleton.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” he said. “They’re two different programs.”