Sunday, September 9, 2012

Journalism Education is Going to Hell

Journalism education is going to hell.

I'm not sure where this idea began, but you have to start with Eric Newton.  Here's one speech that opened the floodgates that continued through summer.  And there was this post by Jerry Ceppos of LSU,   Finally, a more recent blog, and subsequent comments, elaborated on this point.

This is a multi-pronged attack, and it was the talk of AEJMC, the major academic organization in journalism and mass comm that meets every August.  The main arguments appear to be:
  •  Universities do not respect professional faculty.  Or as Newton put it, "The degree is primary, competence is an also-ran."  
  • Journalism education is slow to adopt to changes in the real world.
  • Journalism and mass comm research is of low quality and has little relevance or impact on the professional world.
There's probably more, but those three appear to offer a stinging indictment of academic journalism.  But as any cop/courts reporter knows, getting an indictment is easy.  Proving your case in court is another matter.  And the evidence offered in the links above is weak, so weak as to get the case tossed out of court before ever reaching a jury.

Let's take 'em one at a time.

Universities do not respect professional faculty.  From my own limited experience of 21 years teaching, this is bullshit.  What Ceppos and Newton appear to want is a pass for anyone with experience to walk into the classroom of a major research university.  First off, most good schools have a mix of "academic" and "professional" faculty.  Hell, in my own department, even the "academic" types (including me) spent years in the newsroom.  Yeah, I'm a PhDweeb.  Damn proud of it.  I struggled through five years of graduate school making about 10 grand a year to earn my doctorate.  You a pro?  Do the same, dammit, or shut the hell up.  But departments around the country have professional faculty, lots of 'em.  My own has several.  Damn good ones, too.  Our own late Conrad Fink was a god.

Even Ceppos makes this point, noting the number of "professionals" (what the hell are the rest of us, friggin amateurs?) hired recently as deans at major schools.   As he wrote:
I’ll concede that, ironically, it sometimes is easier to be hired as a dean rather than a professor. But many schools offer professional tracks, professional-in-residence jobs and other positions that don’t require advanced degrees.
And the false binary above, that two choices exist -- a degree, or competence, is just plain insulting.  Are there people in the classroom who shouldn't be?  Yup.  And I remember a few of those in the newsroom as well.  At least one of 'em was just made dean at a major journalism school.

Journalism education is slow to change.  I halfway agree with this.  I've seen it in my own department, I've heard about it from others.  Universities are slow to change and lots of faculty want to preserve their little bit of turf when it comes time to change the curriculum.  Yes, we need to update things -- just not my things, not my major, not my class that I like to teach only on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I can have a long weekend where I "work at home."  We struggle with this.  Everyone does.

To be fair, the professionals have been even slower to change.  Remember that Internet thing?  Academics were there first.  Social media?  There years before you even knew what Facebook was.  And the professionals have been sending us mixed messages for decades.  "We want critical thinkers," they'd say, while advertising for specific skills identified by software, such as InDesign.  But yes, we all need to change.  The problem is the professions, and many academics, are too quick to chase the latest fad.  That helps no one.  We still focus hard on basic and advanced writing skills while integrating multimedia, social media, and computer-assisted reporting into our curriculum.

Journalism research sucks.  Okay, mine may suck, and it's easy to make fun of some of the titles and research you see out there.  Newton's blog post above, though, is so full of logical holes as to be laughable.  For example, he uses citation analysis to say journalism research doesn't matter while at the same time saying we need more research that helps the profession (which would hardly generate more citations).  He names three journals that have "journalism" in the title but skips a vital one -- Newspaper Research Journal -- that focuses on bridging the academic-professional divide.  His essay is flawed and unprofessional -- kinda the same thing he bitches about, except with no real understanding of how social science is done, how it is written, and a key point -- scholarly research is not about helping journalism, it's about asking interesting questions to the scholar, not something determined by industry.  You want industrial research?  Pay for it.  We work for the people, not you.

But here's a hint.  Just because you can't understand a piece of research, that doesn't make it bad research. 

I'd go on, but it's a Sunday night and I still have more papers to grade.  You know, that journalism stuff.

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