Journalism School Discovers News

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The Columbia Journalism School has discovered something newspaper readers and television viewers have long been seeking—facts. “Journalism education can never be fully successful unless it succeeds in  both the academic and professional realms,” NicholasLemann, former dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, said recently. “It must produce significant research and have curriculum with intellectual content, as well as training its students in the latest skills  demanded by the job market.”

Lemann and two other former journalism school deans completed a report for the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia entitled Educating Journalists: A New Plea for the University Tradition. At the outset they were haunted by a series of questions:

  • “How should a university endeavor to teach someone how to be a journalist?”
  • “How academic should journalism education be, and how much like professional practice?”
  • “How much should it focus on the skills and modes of presentation associated with journalism, and how much on understanding the subjects journalists cover?”
  • “Who should teach in journalism schools?”

“These questions were being debated even before Washington College in Virginia, now Washington and Lee, began eaching journalism to undergraduates in the late 1860s, and before the University of Missouri opened the country’s first separate school of journalism in 1908,” Lemann and his co-authors point out.

Lemann’s co-authors, also former journalism school deans, are:

  • Jean Folkerts of the University of North Carolina; and
  • John Maxwell Hamilton of Louisiana State University.

All three have also been working journalists: Lemann still writes for The New Yorker; Folkerts edited the Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly; and Hamilton reported for ABC radio.

Lemann, Folkerts and Hamilton argue that:

  •  “Journalism schools must orient themselves toward both the university and the profession;”
  • “Research is crucial;” and
  • “Understanding is as important as presentation.”

They quote approvingly, or at least not disapprovingly, the verdict on j-schools that Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian delivered to The New York Times back in 1997: “Journalism schools are teaching journalistic techniques rather than subject matter. Journalists should be cultured people who know about history, economics, science.  Instead they are learning what is called nuts and bolts. Like schools of education, journalism schools should either be reintegrated intellectually into the university or they should be abolished.”

One wonders why these epiphanies never struck the trio of retired journalism school deans during their working lifetimes. Nevertheless, you’ve got to give them credit: At least in their report, they didn’t bury the lede.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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