LET THERE BE SIGHT:  A Journalism Course about ‘Seeing’
— By Students, for Students

"Looking Through An Object..." Illustration from Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift, 1726
Political cartoon by James Gillray, 1803, of George III peering through a telescope at a miniature Napoleon, after the King of Brobdingnag and Gulliver

Students in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, in coordination with the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) created a website to give journalism students worldwide a deeper understanding of the power of visual media.  The site is intended to serve as a model curriculum for a course on “Seeing.”

The website (linked here) is the backbone of a prospective course to help students consider how essential “seeing” is to the way we understand our world, the news and even ourselves.  It is written by students, for students.

“Seeing” matters.

The course is an investigation into “seeing.” In topic pages and via assignments, the course considers how we physically “see,” how we employ the concept of “seeing” as a metaphor, and how the technology of our world both enables and sometimes obscures our ability to “see.”

“Thought is impossible without an image.”  — Aristotle

This course is directed to journalism students at all levels. As journalists in training, it is our responsibility to be aware of how images and words are received by our audiences. The stories we tell, as well as the way we tell our stories, can elicit different emotional responses and levels of understanding. Journalists have to be thoughtful, deliberate and innovative in how they “see” their stories and how they help their audiences “see” the events, people and issues they are covering. Our goal is to become fair and ethical storytellers.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” Jonathan Swift, 1711-1726

On the home page of the curriculum’s site, you will find the links to the topics that this course will cover over a semester. Each individual topic page includes an in-depth analysis of a “way” of seeing. Those pages list discussion questions and books relevant to each topic in case you would like more resources. The individual pages also suggest related topic pages on the “Seeing” site. We encourage you to explore those.

“The future of media is visual.”  — Mark Thompson, CEO, The New York Times, May 2, 2016

Below is a sample introduction to one topic in the curriculum.

Seeing is Believing

Doubting Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds [1].
According to the Gospels, St. Thomas had to see the crucified Jesus’ wounds in person to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. Visual evidence, whether seen in person or via a photographic method, has long been taken as essential to belief.  Some Americans have to see evidence of severe war and devastation in foreign countries before they feel obligated to intervene. Some families of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 felt they had to see the crashed plane before they believed that their loved ones were dead.

In the realm of studies concerning seeing, it is important to explore the concept of seeing is believing. The phrase “Seeing Is Believing” implies that it is hard to believe something that one has not seen — that physical or concrete evidence is required to make an individual believe in the existence of something [1].

The concept of “Seeing Is Believing” can be understood to be the converse of the question: “Do you need to see to believe?” Because it is difficult to believe certain things unless they are seen, those things are considered surprising, strange, or seemingly impossible when presented without proof of existence. Individuals have to ask themselves what they can trust or believe in without seeing.  What evidence is essential for something to be “known?”  Professions such as law and media, and fields such as religion, history and the supernatural have answered these questions differently.

A journalism student should take time to pay attention to this topic because working in the news industry is largely about making important decisions with the information that is given to you. What information is definitely credible and does not need a second look? What information requires you to do further research? What information do you need to see for yourself before you would find it okay to take as fact and publicize? What do you need to see to believe? These questions are important because if you believe and report something that you did not see, and it turns out that that information was false, then your credibility is compromised as a journalist. Sometimes it only takes one mistake to ruin an entire career. People besides those studying journalism should care as well. When you are consuming media, you need to decide what information you need to see to believe and what information you are okay with taking someone’s word for. Your ability to make good decisions matters because if you are just believing everything you don’t see or always asking to see before believing anything, then you are doing a disservice to yourself. You need to find a good medium.

(to read more on this topic, click here)