Monday, March 12, 2012

Academics and journalism

Having spent 15 years in and around US universities where journalism is taught I have some thoughts on the so-called split between academic training and in-j-house training. (This follows my blog March 12 about News Corporation's opposition to the recommendation of the Australian Media Inquiry, aka Finkelstein Inquiry for a News Media Council and News's arguments that there is a split between media studies academics and working journalists. The writer stifles a yawn, then perks up on realizing that this is serious stuff! After all I am Head of School that includes a successful journalism program.

My experience in the academy from the US perspective is geographically grounded: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication was across the quadrangle from my office at UNC, the JSchool at Northeastern University in Boston was in the same building I was in in Communication Studies.

1. US journalists are better educated than Australian and UK journalists. This is surprising to me. After 20-30 years of university level education in journalism in Australia, News Corporation journalists still wheel out the old claim that education generates ignorance about how to do journalism. Only journalists educated on the job are to be either trusted or considered capable of real journalism. (How about another beer then?)

As a graduate of the University of Queensland Journalism program (1979 no less) this is a spurious claim by the uneducated intentionally slanted towards an ideological perspective.

Journalism education needs to be taught in the broadest possible terms, not only as technical craft. It needs to incorporate all the nuances, challenges and variety of a top quality liberal arts education so that its practitioners practice the investigation of the range of human experience. This approach will also incorporate the key concerns of critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Furthermore, journalism education needs to be incorporated into progressive institutional contexts, because journalism is probably one of the bastions of progressivism  - the perspective that includes the values of equity, tolerance and fraternity, liberalism by any other name - and involves a forward thinking commitment. The antonym is backwards looking ill-liberalism. 

Both the US institutions I taught at expected their students to embody these kinds of values and approaches. To argue that there is a split between the academy and journalism is to argue for the wrong thing.

2. On the question of journalism education and politics I have some comments.

The sense that education incorporates left or progressive politics should be neither here or there. In liberal democracies, social democracies or their derivations the purpose opf the media is to reflect on and influence the democratic opportunities available to citizens. This should be an open ended commitment, reflected through the lens of journalists educated to make decisions and judgements about what is socially good in civil society. It may be a surprise for some journalists to realize that educated people do not think of money and wealth as an end in itself.