Why journalism belongs in the university (part I): Journalism is the public analogue of academic research

Journalism belongs in the university.

I believe this deeply, almost like a religion, and not just because I am a professor of journalism, a doctoral student in journalism, and a graduate of a journalism school. In fact, as much as I value my education, I actually came out of J-school disillusioned with journalism education, though that’s a story for another day.

I have a multi-part argument to make about why journalism should be an integral part of at least some universities. I write today in response to the news that the move to eliminate the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication took a big leap forward, with a panel recommending to discontinue the standalone journalism degree. This is part one of that argument.

Colorado’s journalism program resides in a college of journalism and mass communication, which is a fairly common place for journalism to live on campus. But there are also journalism programs in English departments, or paired with drama programs, or even with the library school (and of course, many many institutions don’t even offer journalism courses, including my own undergraduate alma mater). Colleges and universities just don’t know what to do with journalism, which is as much a problem of history and of journalism’s push toward professionalism in the first half of the 20th Century as it is a problem of comprehension of the role of journalism (and I would like to address the historical problem in a separate post).

But rather than address the historical and structural reasons why journalism landed where it did, I wanted to start with a big picture argument. My thesis is this:

The practice of journalism is the real-world analogue to the process of knowledge creation and dissemination that research universities hold central to their own missions.

If a university really holds dear the idea that knowledge discovery and the spread of that knowledge to the public are virtues, then it should champion excellence and responsibility in reporting. Reporting is research with broader scope, a layperson audience, and its own set of research methods. Institutions of higher education should jump at the chance to extend their reach into communities by training their students as agents.

Colleges and universities must recognize that journalism is not merely a career, not just a vocation that it can train students to practice, but instead educate them to be critical thinkers like the best researchers.

There is much more to say on this topic, but, I wanted to leave these thoughts in isolation. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic in the future.

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