Two web comments about J-schools (one an editor’s choice!)

I haven’t been blogging much on my own blog, but in the last few months, I’ve come across two articles/blog posts on other sites that got my dander up enough for me to comment.

Herewith, those two responses. First one was a response to an article on New York Magazine’s Daily Intel site. The article, by Erica Orden, is called “Columbia J-School’s Existential Crisis,” and dealt with Columbia’s integration of technology into their curriculum.

I can’t find a way to link directly to my response, so I’m copying and pasting it here:

…. I happen to be in the middle of week devoted to writing my doctoral qualifying exams: a 20-page paper devoted to the “profession” of journalism, and another 20-pager on the history of journalism education. (I’m also a Columbia J-School grad, and a former professor of one of The Local’s interns).

J-schools have long been too tied to the idea that they are training people for jobs in “the profession,” which was a slightly disingenuous premise anyway, since journalism has long been less of a profession and more of an industry. Reporters are, for the most part, employees, with a veneer of professionalism.

But what [previous commenter] TIFFANYB2 gets exactly right is that the core practices and premises of journalism are much more important than learning about the 21st-century equivalent of the typesetting and stenography courses that the first j-programs taught.

The industry seems to be collapsing, but the practice of journalism will survive, and delinking the practitioners from the industry will only be to the benefit of the former and of the public at large. This is a HUGE opportunity for leading J-schools like Columbia and CUNY and NYU to reopen the dialogue between people who actually DO journalism and the people who are paid to think about it. Yes, there are some drunk-with-Didion profs there, but there are also terrifically experienced working journalists (who STILL work) and first-rate scholars like Schudson and Gitlin and the late James Carey. Through conversation, they can help reshape the practice of journalism in the face of these generational changes.

And sure, they can Twitter about it as they do–if it helps the conversation; technology is a tool.

Read Pulitzer’s defense of the J-school in the 1904 North American Review. It’s actually quite noble.

BY KLERNER on 03/12/2009 at 2:02am

The second article came this morning, and riled me up enough to sign up for a Huffington Post username so that I could respond. That post was called “Close the J-Schools.” It rehashed all of the tired arguments against journalism school that I analyzed in a 40+ page paper that I finished recently. I had so much to say in response to it that I had to edit down to exactly the maximum word count for a HuffPo comment.

And I’m proud to say that of the 78 (and counting) comments on the original post, mine is the only “HuffPosts’s Pick” among them. You can link directly to my comment here or read it, pasted below.

This article–like dozens before it–is ill considered, reactionary, and intellectually lazy. But let me grant you a few points:

First, you’re right that business schools are more likely to come up with business models than j-schools. But shouldn’t that be? J-schools should be more interested in developing models for gathering and distributing information.

Second, you’re right that *most* j-schools now are overly focused on training students for the *trade* of journalism. If they continue to devote energy to rinkydink news services and classes on how to use current technologies, then they will always be training second-rate journalists and will always be a step behind.

But huge enrollments are an opportunity, not a reason to close schools and save ill-advised potential journalists from themselves. Journalism schools need to rethink their mission, which should be just what you dismiss out of hand as obviously useless: “mandatory classes in media history, communications theory or journalism philosophy.” These are not courses that justify journalism as an academic subject, but instead are the sort of courses that can turn the most promising aspiring journalists into critical and creative thinkers with an understanding of the foundations and principles of their calling–not just flinty, curmudgeonly cynics.

So delink journalism schools from the industry and use the best professors to guide the best students toward new solutions that will advance the cause of journalism without regard to the lumbering and dying industry that has supported it for 180 years.

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