Special Ed for Journalists

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

If medical schools matched up with the practice of medicine in the way in which journalistic training preps reporters for careers in journalism, patients would be dropping like flies. In the last election, more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed thought that the national news media supported the ultimately victorious Democratic presidential candidate—Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.—at the expense of the Republican standard bearer—Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.—the Pew Research Center found.

The Pew Foundation, we should note, has never been known to be particularly conservative in its outlook. Nevertheless, the gap between the public perception of the media and the self-awareness of journalists is startling.

“According to a 2007 Pew Research Center poll, six in ten of America’s journalists believe that the news is going ‘in the wrong direction’ and half say their organization’s top managers place more emphasis on financial performance than on the public interest,” Wolfgang Donsbach and Tom Fiedler wrote in a study published by Harvard last month. In other words, the answer is greedy capitalists, what is the question?

This at a time when most newspapers’ circulation is dropping into the basement and the old-time news networks cling tenaciously to an audience that has shrunk to record lows. Not too surprisingly, Donsbach and Fiedler pin the news industry’s declining fortunes down to the one group of people who have given it new life—bloggers.

“New forms of information delivery are also eroding the integrity of news and even what it means to be a journalist,” they write. “According to a Harvard study, the audience of the websites of non-traditional news disseminators—such as news aggregators, bloggers, search engines, social-networking sites and service providers—is growing faster than the audience of the websites of traditional news outlets.”

“Bloggers and public-relations specialists posing as objective sources of information have contributed to public confusion about what the news is and who the journalists are.” Be it noted, bloggers fact-checking a bogus story by Dan Rather precipitated the veteran newsman’s exit from CBS.

In the more recent election cycle, Michelle Malkin, who makes no secret of her philosophy, delivered more comprehensive and accurate information on the campaign than The Washington Post did. In fact, a reporter for The Post admitted that the paper’s stories favored Obama but this admission did not come until the vote was in.

Correlation is not causation, of course, but the deterioration in journalistic objectivity tracks nicely with the growth in journalism schools. Among other things, Donsbach and Fiedler found out that “Even as late as 2000, more than half of America’s practicing journalists had either no college degree or a degree in a field other than journalism.” The sad thing is, this might be the half that did a better job of delivering the news.

Concurrently, “Between 1971 and 2002, the number of practicing journalists with a journalism degree rose from 30 percent to 45 percent,” Donsbach and Fiedler report. Overlapping this period, surveys over time such as Lichter-Rothman’s through 2004 and the aforementioned Pew poll this year show that media bias has become more prevalent in every presidential election contest.

“Today upwards of 80 percent of all first jobs in journalism are awarded to journalism school graduates,” Donsbach and Fiedler write. What type of training they get concerns the authors, who titled their report “Journalism School Curriculum Enrichment,” and well it might.

A dozen journalism schools signed off on the report, including Columbia’s. Although some of their recommendations actually involve instruction in the gathering of evidence, more often than not, they lean towards the type of instruction that has produced the journalists whom we already have.

For example, Berkeley features “a Key Issues class split into five topics, each taught by a specialist.” These “specialists” are “experts, including Laura Tyson and Robert Reich.”

If these names sound familiar to anyone over 30, it might be because they were they were both Clinton Administration appointees. Such an education is not likely to make media work less partisan, or adequately inform the voting public.

A video making the rounds on YouTube shows young Obama supporters unable to identify which party controls Congress but familiar with the amount of money that the Republican National Committee spent on Sarah Palin’s wardrobe, which she says she never requested. A Zogby poll shows similar findings.

As an alternative to this dismal bill of fare, Accuracy in Academia is publishing a textbook with the working title Voodoo Anyone? How to understand economics without really trying by Troy University journalism professor Chris Warden. The former editorial-page editor of Investor’s Business Daily shows students how to apply actual critical thinking skills.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.