Toward The Future: Looking at J-Schools  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns :    TOP OF THE REVIEW    
From AJR,   October 1994

Toward The Future: Looking at J-Schools   

If you don't have one, maybe you should adopt.

By Reese Cleghorn
Reese Cleghorn is former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland.     


A Short User's Manual For Journalism Schools

(Part II)

More than 80 percent of daily newspapers' hires from college campuses are still journalism graduates. And these schools provide a smaller but growing percentage of people going into broadcast news, public relations, magazines, newsletters and advertising.

So, as noted in Part I of the User's Manual (which appeared in this valuable space last month), everybody should have one. They can be adopted.

Some observations about the best, from a biased observer:

They are the ones that are truly serious about their professional missions, believe in scholarly work related to professional practice and require (at the undergraduate level) a broad range of liberal arts courses. Most of the best are decidedly better than they were two decades ago. All of them use the word "Journalism" in their names. (Many add the words "and Mass Communication.")

Almost all are autono-mous academic units and are called "schools" or "colleges." After a century of evolution, it seems clear that a journalism program may be good without this status but it is very unlikely to be among the best.

(The User's Manual does not deal with nonprofessional schools in our field, including many that give short shrift to professional practice while claiming to be serious about it.

(Communications majors have proliferated since the 1970s. Universities encouraged this growth because communications was a popular choice among prospective students. It also was cost-efficient, bringing in a lot of tuition and requiring relatively little money to deliver the courses, often huge.

(Many departments played the numbers game and lost. They delivered the money their universities wanted. But by the 1990s they had cheapened the currency so much that they had lost respect within the universities as well as in the field.)

In looking at the professionally oriented schools, be on guard against:

l Universities that fake it rather than provide sophisticated teaching in their professional courses. Sometimes the courses are taught by people whose experience is below even the journeyman level. Another sign: People who teach these courses may have lower status on the faculty.

Many universities don't "get it" about this, though they may provide tenure and appropriate rank for artists who teach art, musicians who teach music, architects who teach architecture and clinical professors who teach surgery.

l Universities that don't get much beyond a "trade school" approach, neglecting scholarship and research. Compared with two decades ago, we have much richer literature and theoretical frameworks – crossing various methodologies. If the scholars are mediocre or disinterested in professional practice (current, past or future), the school might as well not be at a university.

And check on:

l Class sizes: 18 or fewer for most classes including ALL the professional courses.

l Internships and jobs placement. Who's hiring the grads and for what kind of work? Is the school making a difference in the field?

l Accreditation. Four out of five don't have it. If not, are you convinced of a good reason? l

###