The Medill National Security Journalism Initiative grew out of a Robert R. McCormick Foundation-funded class created as the United States went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the issues around national security have grown more complex since that initial “Covering Conflicts, Terrorism and National Security class in 2003. With increased funding during the last six years, the National Security Journalism Initiative addressed those complexities by adding more classes for students as well as providing learning opportunities and resources for working journalists.

Just as conflict will remain with us for the foreseeable future, new national security issues will confront the U.S., and require even more skill from the journalists trying to ensure that citizens understand the complex facts and problems.

With continued generous support from the McCormick Foundation, Medill is focusing even more attention on educating the next generation of national security reporters. The emphasis began two years ago with the creation of a National Security Journalism track, including new classes in homeland security and Pentagon reporting, global security issues and collaborative investigative projects with major media partners through our successful annual National Security Reporting Project.   

The Initiative’s reach, online and in traditional media, is recognized among journalism professionals and by Northwestern University and other schools for the unique opportunities it presents to our students.

Experiences such as briefings at the National War College and participating in Hostile Environment Training exercises are just the beginning of what attracts students. As part of our National Security Reporting Project, the students have seen their work published by The Washington Post, USA Today, GlobalPost and the McClatchy newspapers. They have received plaudits from organizations and individuals for their projects, including the most recent on landmines and other ordnance titled “Deadly Debris: the U.S. Legacy of Unexploded Remnants of War.” They have also specialized in using interactive websites, videos, photo slideshows, audio and other media.

Whether donning body armor and helmets to observe desert training close-up at the largest Marine base in Twenty-nine Palms, California or having conversations with members of the Presidents’ Commission on National Security and government leaders in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center, the students explore firsthand the issues that face this nation, from returning veterans of two wars to the danger of leaks of government secrets.

They have also explored topics by reporting from places as far afield as Kurdistan and the Artic Circle, and traveled for stories from U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf to the American base at Guantanamo Bay. Their experiences also include in-depth sessions with journalists at the top of their careers, such as James Risen of The New York Times and David Shipler, author of acclaimed books on civil liberties. Each student is connected to a professional mentor in print or video either in Chicago or Washington who helps him/her prepare for future work in the field of journalism and national security.

Forty students have graduated from the national security track. We now intend to go even deeper by accepting 15 journalists in the first year and more in the second year into the  National Security Journalism Specialization in which most of the courses relate to national security and politics. Meanwhile we will continue to offer classes to other students – about 35 to 40 — who want a less intensive exposure to national security.

The new specialization will train and educate future journalists who want careers reporting as foreign correspondents or working as journalists focusing on military, global or homeland security, intelligence, or defense issues.