Friday, June 17, 2005


Teaching and journalism seen as crucial professions for democracy


"We're at time when at least a handful of educated, cultured journalists
are needed," said Carnegie's Vartan. "I believe there are two professions
that are the most crucial for democracy, and are needed to make it safe:
teaching and journalism."

Journalism Drowning

By Rory O'Connor, AlterNet. Posted June 1, 2005.

Five out of five heads of prestigious J-schools agree: journalism is in
need of a fix.

Why did Vartan Gregorian round up millions of dollars to help educate
journalists? "When you're in the middle of the ocean, you start swimming,"
explained the president of the Carnegie Corporation. "Either that, or you

Gregorian's harsh assessment of the current state of American journalism
led him and his foundation, along with the leaders of John S. and James L.
Knight Foundation and five universities, to commit more than six million
dollars -- with millions more to follow -- to a nascent effort to improve
the quality of journalism education in America.

Speaking last week at press conference announcing the multi-year,
multi-million dollar effort, Knight Foundation president Hodding Carter
III agreed with Gregorian, saying "We're in the midst of a revolution with
no end in sight," and adding "Things aren't changing -- they're

The leaders of five of the nation's most prominent journalism programs
echoed those remarks. Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of
Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley was particularly
outspoken, decrying "the parlous state of our media," which he said "lies
close to the heart of the question over whether our system of governance
will succeed." But a chorus comprised of Loren Ghiglione, dean of the
Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Geoffrey Cowan,
dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of
Southern California and Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein
Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University lent
amens to Schell's analysis, while Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate
School of Journalism at Columbia University asked via videotape, "What can
we do that news organizations can't themselves do?"

One answer may be simply this: educate journalists! After all, according
to Knight president Carter, "the Great Dirty Secret" of the journalism
profession is that "The industry pays for nothing when it comes to
training. Instead these companies depend entirely on the kindness of

The goal of the ambitious program unveiled last week is in fact to
revitalize journalism education -- and eventually journalism itself. By
creating joint national investigative reporting projects, integrating
journalism programs more deeply into their respective universities and
providing a mechanism of influence for what Gregorian called "a coterie of
journalism schools," the hope is that they will be able to play a larger
role in the ongoing media reform debate raging in this country.

That American journalism is in deep crisis was not even questioned by the
white middle-aged men who run our leading journalism programs. This in
itself is exceptional since, as Carter noted, "J schools for most part are
chickens." Why? "Because they need dollars," he explained. "Standing
together will be better for them."

"That's why we're circling the wagons," agreed Schell. "The object of this
exercise is to be courageous and to try to use this opportunity. Frankly,
we don't see enough of that. This is a time not only to try and make
journalism schools as relevant as possible to the evolving profession, but
also to have universities begin to weigh in on the debate about what
happens in the media."

Although journalism schools are doing their best, Gregorian said, "their
best is not good enough in this complex day and age."

Here's another professional secret: most journalists didn't attend
journalism schools, and many question their value entirely. So why bother
even to have them? Schell, who (like this reporter) never attended a
journalism program, thinks such institutions are more vital now than they
were in the past.

"Things have changed substantially since we came up the journalistic food
chain," he said. "As news cycles have gotten faster and more bottom-line
driven, there has been less inclination and capacity in media outlets to
train, mentor and guide upcoming generations."

"Virtually everything in journalism is, at the moment, insufficient and in
a state of flux," Hodding Carter added. "Basic principles do not change,
but the environment in which they must be applied is changing radically.
So should the education of those who must work within that environment."

"We're at time when at least a handful of educated, cultured journalists
are needed," said Carnegie's Vartan. "I believe there are two professions
that are the most crucial for democracy, and are needed to make it safe:
teaching and journalism."

Besides, as Vartan concluded, journalism schools are here to stay -- there
are more than four hundred of them in the US now. "So we may as well take
them seriously. This is just the first salvo!"

So there you have it, Columbia J-School Young'uns: You better start
swimming or you'll sink like a stone, for the Times...and Newsweek...and
CBS News....and the rest of their ilk -- they are a -- changing.

This and other articles by Rory O'Connor are available on his blog.

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