Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

How far should journalism education reform go?

Aug. 7, 2012, 9:17 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton

degree

A new proposed degree structure for journalism education

This week, journalism educators meet in Chicago. I hope they think about how far reform should go to catch up with digital age realities and how funders see their progress so far.

We’ve been talking about defining “better” universities not as the biggest but as those able to do certain things better than most. Things like treating top professionals and scholars equally. Or whether they are part of these transformational trends: 1. connect with the whole university, 2. innovate using digital tools and techniques, 3. teach open collaborative methods and, 4. through the “teaching hospital” method, become or increase their role as content providers who not only inform but engage communities.

To say journalism education reform is controversial would be an understatement. Bob Stepno, assistant professor at Radford University in Virginia, kept track of the debate this summer by reposting the “Newspaper & Online News Division” listserv. He says comments amounted to more than 600 pages of text, the largest discussion since 2008, when educators argued about adding “and online” to the listserv name. Poynter’s Howard Finberg, who presented an excellent speech of his own this summer on the future of journalism education, summed things up. Jeff Jarvis jumped in from CUNY, where they have the nation’s first entrepreneurial journalism degree.

Here’s a slice of the discussion:

In favor of more top professionals in journalism academia:

“If you accept that professional practice is essential for journalism professors, which I do, we still have a huge problem. There simply aren’t many people with deep experience in the new world order of journalism. We need instructors who can teach our students how to multi-task, freelance, nurture and harvest social media and hustle, hustle, hustle.”  -Kelly Toughill, associate professor, University of King’s College, Halifax, Canada

Standing up for the research PhD:

“It’s worth adding that many Ph.D.-holding journalism researchers started out as journalists. This is ignored in complaints such as that of the Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton about “the slow rate of change in journalism education, including how exceptional professionals (without advanced degrees) are being treated …”  He is correct that degrees are not more important than competence. But the Ph.D. should not be regarded as “disabling,” as if people who spend five or six years to earn a Ph.D. and launch a research trajectory suddenly forget everything they learned while in the newsroom, and become, as professionals suggest, uniformly unable to teach professional courses, serve as deans, apply accreditation standards – only able to write “unreadable articles for journals no one quotes, achieving nothing.” -Linda Steiner, professor and director of research and doctoral studies, University of Maryland, 93rd President of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communicationin her posted response.

Other voices: 

“Does anyone read the scholarship in our fields? Promotion-and-tenure committees should measure impact, through citation analysis or other reliable methods.” -Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, in his blog

 “At the School of Journalism, some faculty members have Ph.D. degrees in traditional academic disciplines and their work can be judged by the university’s usual standards. More, however, are outstanding journalists. The university has made the judgment that published journalism of the highest quality can qualify a professor for tenure in journalism.” -Tenure standards, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

“One reality is that many of the faculty I’ve worked with – Ph.D. or no – in fact can be both researcher and professional.” -Deborah Gump, most recently John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University

“The faculty and degree proposals are precisely the kind of straightforward talk needed to catalyze important discussion.” -Tim McGuire, Frank Russell Chair of Journalism, Arizona State University

“I think that the digital revolution is pretty much collapsing the borders between academia and the rest of the world and that this could be a really exciting thing, if we prepare for it.” -Timothy Francisco, professor, Youngstown State University, Ohio

Stories about the open letter for journalism reform have appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Boulder Colorado Daily Camera, and elsewhere.

By Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation