We do not master languages by hard study and memorization, or by producing it. Rather, we acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read, when we get “comprehensible input.” As we get comprehensible input through listening and reading, we acquire (or “absorb”) the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

The international profile of the university qualifications delivered at UC3M is fostering an increasingly large range of bilingual-studies options that allow Spanish students with a high level in English who have chosen this path of study to continue to assimilate the English language within an academic context. The teaching of SOCIAL ISSUES IN JOURNALISM in English aims, among other objectives, to integrate language into the subject’s content through learning that combines language with practice and theoretical foundations. Moreover, delivery of the course in English facilitates international students’ access to the course. This group of students continues to grow at UC3M as a result of different exchange and international-mobility schemes.

Social issues in journalism and the Bachelor’s Bilingual Degree in Journalism: Distinctive features

Within the set of courses that make up the curriculum for bilingual studies in journalism, the SOCIAL ISSUES IN JOURNALISM course provides the foundations and skills peculiar to a form of journalism that is oriented toward specialization in social matters.

The course unit complements other obligatory subjects from the degree, in particular “Journalism and News,” “Interpretative Journalism” and “In-Depth Reporting.”

The course provides knowledge and skills for identifying and recounting relevant society-related stories through the genres and styles particular to journalistic information and interpretation.

The course content has been carefully devised so that it is distinct from rather than overlapping with other obligatory course units in specialist forms of journalism that are delivered within the degree, such as “Scientific and Technical Journalism” or “News and Conflict,” as well as optional course units such as “Policing and Court News.”

Key facts and reflections on the subject

SOCIAL ISSUES IN JOURNALISM was first taught in the 1996-1997 academic year, when undergraduate and master’s-level studies in Journalism began at UC3M.

The course unit was designed by María Pilar Diezhandino Nieto, Professor of Journalism, who took the novel step of linking the concept of socially focused journalism to service journalism.

Diezhandino sought to emphasize the added value of professional knowhow that makes citizens the focus of journalism activities, providing them with useful information.

From its beginnings, the course unit was integrated into the programme as a field belonging to the core subjects of Specialist Journalism, and it was designed as a first-order core course unit.

The creation of this course unit and its permanent position as an obligatory subject area are based on a balance between technology and journalism; technique and praxis; and technological proficiency and reflexivity that brings meaning to training in technology.

Social issues in journalism provides a vital tension between the arguably necessary technological requirements that the curriculum has taken on and the internal mediation and assimilation of journalistic codes that make it possible to go beyond technical skills, in order to link professional practice with civic and democratic ideals such as solidarity, equality, freedom, inclusion and respect for difference.

One of today’s main challenges for the profession is how to discover and tell stories that are not typically told, or ones that are told only superficially, and in the case of Social issues in journalism, stories that place emphasis on people and that are situated outside networks of political and economic power. This journalistic (and social) challenge is the convergence point for the profession’s democratic ideals, the general objectives of the degree in Journalism and the specific goals of this course unit.

By the end of the course a student should be able to:

a) Knowledge:

  • Engage with journalism that specializes in social issues and environments in terms of information, themes, sources and primary actors.
  • Have familiarity with basic sociological concepts in order to understand the implications and scope of covering as a journalist the realities of civil society and its social movements.
  • Understand the dynamics underpinning the construction of identity and difference in complex societies, and the way in which journalistic discourses activate mechanisms of social exclusion/inclusion in relation to social groups.
  • Understand the main professional codes that regulate news coverage of social themes (migration, ethnicity, religion, gender, poverty, disability or the environment).

b) Intellectual and practical skills:

  • Develop the analytical capacity to identify and describe the relations that journalists establish with the different agents that interact within civil society.
  • Be able to apply the standards of journalistic conduct and techniques required to informatively address the main themes related to the social sphere.
  • Exhibit journalistic inquisitiveness in order to discover new themes and detect emerging social trends.
  • Develop planning, organizational and teamworking techniques geared toward the production of journalism on social matters that conforms to high quality standards.
  • Deploy journalistic creativity to identify and tell relevant and original stories from this field.

c) Learning outcomes

The ability to:

  • Clearly state the trends and good practices involved in reporting on social problems.
  • Analyse and assess news content on social issues from different media channels: Radio, TV, the Internet, print and digital newspapers, etc.
  • Work proficiently with the key elements for discovering significant stories on social issues and interpreting and narrating them in different journalistic forms and genres.

Create stories in the context of a socially focused journalism that is in competition with the various innovative initiatives that are spearheading the digital transformation of journalism as a profession today.

  1. Introduction to social issues in journalism
  • Elements and features of socially focused journalism
  • The sources: Their peculiarities in the context of reporting on social themes
  • Socially focused journalism, civically focused journalism and service journalism
  • Social journalism in different media: press, TV, radio, internet
  1. Historical approaches to socially focused journalism
  • The emergence of social themes and perspectives in journalism
  • The evolution of social issues remit in Spanish journalism
  • Socially focused journalism in other countries
  1. Sociological principles
  • The reconfiguration of the private and public spheres and its implication for journalistic practice
  • Civil society: The cultural dynamics of including and excluding groups
  • Social movements: Media, identity and difference
  • Anonymous individuals: The social background of sensational “events”
  1. The techniques of socially focused journalism
  • Journalists and data: The journalistic treatment of social data
  • Interviews focused on social themes
  • Human interest stories and features
  1. Service journalism
  • From “what” towards “for whom” of the news
  • Service journalism and digital journalism
  • Types and formats of service journalism
  1. News on migration, race and religion
  • Context: Migrants, borders, natives, politics, the law
  • Sources
  • Language
  • Guidelines for reporting on migration
  1. Media and gender
  • Context: Women, social scenarios, society, politics, the law
  • Sources
  • Language
  • Guidelines for reporting on gender and violence
  1. Media representations of disabled people
  • Context: Disabled people, politics, the law
  • Sources
  • Language
  • Guidelines for reporting on disability
  1. Reporting on the environment
  • Context: Activists, social scenarios, political acts, the law
  • Sources
  • Language
  • Guidelines of environmental journalism
  1. Civil codes versus the faults and excesses of socially focused journalism
  • Sensationalism, over-simplification and trivialization
  • The reduction of the person to stereotypes
  • The ideological pollution of social issues

Guidelines for identifying, differentiating and including vulnerable communities and individuals

The module will be delivered through lectures and seminars.

Lectures focus on conceptual development and critical reflection on the programme’s content.

Assessment consists of:

  • Analysis of case studies based on journalistic publications and content related to the course unit’s themes
  • Production of stories that provide information on and interpret social matters

Over the semester, students will be required to carry out the following projects that will cumulatively contribute to their final grades:

  • Research report
  • A socially focused interview
  • A human-interest feature

These activities will be undertaken by students either individually or in groups of three, and they will revolve around a research project on socially focused journalism. This project will include all students on the course.

In addition to making an active contribution in classes, students will be required to undertake various exercises that focus on the analysis and production of journalistic materials. These will be set over the course of the practical classes.

Students will also receive individual attention from the professor in the form of tutorials. As a six-credit course, there will be at least two hours of weekly, in-person sessions, in accordance with UC3M’s regulations.

Students are required to take part in workshops on socially focused journalism with journalists who specialize in the environment, disability, gender, migration and other subjects.

These workshops are included within the weekly schedule of learning activities. The journalists invited to take part may vary according to the academic session, the current agenda related to social themes or other logistical factors such as the availability of speakers.


This collective project seeks to research similar cases and reconstruct journalistically exemplary stories of solidarity with migrants and with activists whose humanitarian actions make the established powers feel uncomfortable. As an opinion article by Lorena Gazotti, an academic at Cambridge University who specializes in migration studies, pointed out in The Guardian (20/12/2017), “The criminalization of activists and solidarity networks reduces and discourages the ability of independent actors to monitor and criticize the conduct of state authorities, which is a principle of the democratic process.” The activities carried out by Caminando Fronteras include the denunciation of violent acts against migrants and of unjust deportation from Spain.

Through work focused on documentary sources, interviews and videos involving NGO representatives and civic actors, the objective is to recount stories that reveal solidarity with migrants and, in doing so, to contribute via journalism to the initiation of collective processes for solidarity, inclusion and civil repair.

Group work will be undertaken to a modest though nevertheless important degree (the outcome will depend on the different doors opened up to students on the degree by the sources) on an international research project entitled “Civil Repair through Narrative Intervention: The Righteous in International Migration,” in which the course professor, María Luengo Cruz, is a participant alongside academics based at Yale, the National University of Colombia and Masaryk University in the Czech Republic.

Continuous evaluation – 60%

  • Grades from continuous evaluation will be calculated on the basis of weekly practical exercises, participation and a group project.

Final exam – 40%