Editor And Music Critic Maura Johnston Appointed First Journalism Fellow
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 00:09
This year, Boston College’s Institute for the Liberal Arts (ILA) appointed its first ever Journalism Fellow. Into this role has stepped Maura Johnston. Johnston, a writer, editor, and music critic, is well known as a founding editor of Gawker Media’s Idolator, a music blog.
More recently, Johnston, whose sister is a BC Law alumna, was music editor for Village Voice, and has contributed to The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Spin. From 2010-13, Johnson taught a course, Writing About Popular Music, at New York University, and just last year she launched Maura Magazine.
Johnston was first contacted about the possibility of filling the role of Journalism Fellow by Carlo Rotello, director of the America Studies program, in May. As a member of the ILA’s seminar on academia and public life, Johnston will carry out her role as chair by visiting a number of writing and journalism classes, as well as leading an undergraduate course of her own each semester. This semester, she is teaching Journalism and New Media, and second semester she will be teaching Writing About Popular Music.
While Writing About Popular Music is a modified version of the class Johnston taught at NYU, this is her first time teaching Journalism and New Media. The class is a survey of the online publishing world, with Johnston giving lessons on specific production techniques and leading examinations of the way news is handled and disseminated. Writing About Popular Music “is a survey of topics in current popular music that also looks at ways to write about them,” Johnston said. “I’m hoping to bring in colleagues of mine from not just Boston, but all over the country.”
So far, Johnston has enjoyed her time on the Heights. “I’m very impressed by the students’ rigor and the number of publications on campus,” she said. “It’s also nice to be in a more traditional campus environment. I loved NYU, but it’s very integrated into New York City’s fabric and as such feels more an extension of urban life than something separate.”
Beyond just the beauty of the campus, however, Johnston said she’s hoping to help students interested in music writing and new media gain a better understanding of these constantly changing industries. “And along the way I’d like to instill a sense of critical thinking about media in each of them—asking ‘why,’ particularly in environments that change so quickly, is as crucial as learning ‘how.’”
Johnston herself majored in communications as an undergraduate. Though initially a journalism major, she chose to switch because of her interest in “online culture and its ramifications.” Her appointment comes in the midst of a wider movement to have journalism play a larger role at BC. Notably, the American Studies Program now includes a journalism concentration, there is an expanded offering of journalism courses to students at BC, and the ILA is now offering a seminar for faculty interested in journalism.
Johnston’s appointment comes at a time of tremendous change in the news industry. Among the changes brought on by the Internet, the need for writers to market themselves and their own work is striking.
“I think writers across the board are much more aware of that now,” Johnston said. “Just look at the buttons for likes and tweets affixed to so many news stories now. Whether the shift toward reader-directed consumption is a good thing, however, is another story entirely. I think it encourages pieces that either lull the reader into a narcotized state (‘87 Photos of Cats Who Remind You of Yourself!’) or ferment anger (‘You Won’t Believe The Racist We Found on Twitter!’), neither of which is very healthy as far as helping develop a sense of your fellow man.”
As far as the future of media is concerned, Johnston admits that it remains difficult to predict whether low-effort journalism will become the norm. “I want to be optimistic, but prognostication is always tough, especially for an optimist who doesn’t want to seem completely empty-headed.”