Journalism and public relations announce department merge

The University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media recently announced that the majors of public relations and journalism will be undergoing a departmental merger, effective fall semester 2024.

The decision has resulted in confusion among students, as there is uncertainty over what will actually be merging within the departments, Ammina Kothari, the director of the Harrington School, said. Fortunately, faculty and staff are working to clarify this for students.

“We are trying to think about it creatively regarding how our students are going to be prepared for the jobs that are to come and are emerging,” Kothari said. “This is to allow them to think about how would you approach this problem from a public relations perspective, and how you would approach it as a journalist.”

Jason Jaacks, an assistant professor of journalism at URI, cited the departure of a key faculty member as an additional reason for the merger to happen.

Since longtime journalism department chair John Pantalone retired in spring of 2023, the position has been left unfilled. The merging of the two programs, along with the hiring of a new faculty member to chair the combined department, will help to streamline administrative burdens, Jaacks said.

As for the curricula themselves, there will be no change in the classes needed to graduate from the PR and journalism degrees, Kothari said.

“For students in terms of curriculum, there is no change,” Kothari said. “If you majored in

journalism, you’re going to get your journalism degree, and if you majored in public relations, you are still going to get a degree in public relations.”

As it turns out, the two departments share an interesting history, Kothari said. The public relations curriculum was created with help from URI journalism and communications faculty. Over time, the department would eventually become housed within the communication studies department, where it remained until the departmental merger with journalism was announced.

A unique trait of both departments is that their curricula complement one another, Kothari said. Public relations needs journalism to help get the word out about what they are doing, and journalism needs public relations to learn about the information that is often passed through press releases from companies and organizations.

“Both of the majors actually benefit from this,” Kothari said. “It’s also a nice way to hopefully have new synergies and opportunities for students to be able to take classes together.”

Overall, the merger is meant to remedy administrative issues while also giving students in both programs a unique opportunity to gain additional knowledge and skill sets that can be relevant to their career aspirations, Kothari said.