The great journalism education debate

What is the future of journalism education?

Many people have taken issue with journalism education, especially in the U.S. One major concern is that journalism education appears to be behind the industry and rarely out in front, innovating. Many people even advise against majoring in journalism.

But let’s step back from the criticisms of journalism education and ask, what should journalism education be like? Forget the tenured has-beens and the slow moving deans, what would an ideal journalism program look like in 2008?

Would it even be four years? Would it be a certificate program? Would it be a major that required another major?

Would it be a minor? Would it be heavily cross discipline, relying on other majors and departments for core courses?

Before I get to far into this post, I want to caution that these are just ideas that I’m throwing around. I don’t agree with all of them, but I am hoping to get a conversation started. Honestly, I’m making this post because I don’t really know what the future of journalism education should be.

First, we must admit that a journalism major or certificate will never be required to be a journalist. In fact, a four-year degree used to not be a requirement at most news organizations. Now it is, but you’ll still find a lot of journalists without journalism degrees, even in top posts.

Then we must admit that journalism education at the undergraduate level is much more akin to technical training than higher education. I majored in political science and journalism. Poly sci was very academic and theory based. Journalism was very hands on and job oriented — like technical school.

If most journalism programs are essentially job training programs, then why are they four-year programs? Why do many employers want someone with a BA, when a journalism certificate would probably suffice? Most journalism is learned on the job. Wouldn’t it make more sense for perspective journalists to take a one to two year certificate program, while getting more professional experience, instead of spending four years studying journalism?

There are several ways to handle a certificate program. It could be something that people do instead of a four-year degree or it could be something that people do in addition to a four-year degree (nursing is similar to this, but it pays a lot better). Imagine a perspective science reporter majoring in biology and receiving a journalism certificate.

Wouldn’t that better prepare someone to be a science reporter than a four-year degree in journalism? Double majoring isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world, especially across departments and colleges. And frankly, does a science reporter really need four years of journalism education?

Some schools only offer a journalism minor, which requires a student to have a major in another subject. A minor could offer the same training as a journalism certificate program. Maybe it makes sense for colleges and universities to require that journalism minors and majors have another major (and I’m thinking more along the lines of economics, poly sci, a science than something like English).

Then there is a cross discipline approach. For instance, let’s say a school offered an entrepreneurial journalism program. Wouldn’t it make sense for students to be required to take courses such as economics, marketing and business management?

And I can’t imagine having an entrepreneurial journalism program that doesn’t require some Web development and computer science courses. These computer and business classes would be core requirements for the major.

By cross discipline, I don’t mean just taking a bunch of random Arts and Sciences classes, like many journalism majors are required to take. I mean requiring specific courses, particularly in areas that could help make someone a better journalist. Most journalists are lacking when it comes to computer and business.

Frankly, I don’t think courses on how to blog or use Twitter are appropriate for four-year colleges and universities. Those sound like something straight out of adult education. Today’s 18-21 year olds don’t need help learning to blog or how to use social networking.

Usually, its their professors who do. And the students who don’t use or understand social networking are probably not the kinds of people news organizations are looking to hire. What young, inquisitive college student needs to be shown how to use social networking and blogging?

It would be a very poor sign for journalism and journalism education if the kinds of students that j-schools attract are technologically deficient in comparison to their peers. Journalism has become a field that requires people to have a strong grasp of technology. J-schools needs to be attracting students who embrace technology, not trying to teach basic Web technology to uninquisitive students.

Nobody taught me how to blog, and, fittingly enough, the best resources about how to blog are found on blogs. Twitter is one of those things that the only way to understand how to use it and its usefulness is to dive right in. Nobody can teach you the value of Twitter; you have to experience it.

And what college student hasn’t at least played around with Facebook and MySpace? Those are not the kinds of students j-schools and certificate programs need.

What do you think journalism education? Should be a four-year program? Certificate? What would it teach?

What are the course courses of a journalism program (college and certificate)?

Here are some thoughts from people on Twitter:

kev097 Definitely. I think the journalism major is, prima facie, an antiquated concept.

AllieHull , Mizzou strongly recommends picking up another major, or a minor.

johnrobinson Uh, I didn’t take a single journalism course in college. Learned all on job. Turned out OK.

gmarkham we offer a two-year diploma and a four-year degree. most of the newspaper-ready students leave after two.

cnewvine I hypothesize that requiring a 4-year degree is one of the ways newsrooms get out of touch with their communities.

eyeseast My journalism program was a minor, which I liked.

ehelm I liked the way Medill’s journalism major required so many non-journalism classes, including 2 concentrations outside J-school.

coolgates learning how to leverage technology should be a big part of the puzzle, too.

AllieG By far the most interesting and useful class I’ve taken so far was Ethics of Journalism.

mthilmony Didn’t have 2nd mjr. but I knew time in school was wasted – finished in 3 yrs. in journ. so i could get it done and get a job.

howardowens The best bloggers not only have degrees, they have experience, so maybe to cover courts, law degree and two years practice exp. Journalism degree, optional.

  • Comment From Journalism Iconoclast:

    Patrick Yen Says:
    April 7th, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Here are the requirements for the Photojournalism tracks at Western Kentucky University, where I attended:

    They have two photo tracks, “newspaper” print photojournalism and new media publishing. You’ll want to scroll down to the bottom of the aforementioned link to view the new media track requirements. I took the new media publishing route.

    The options in the new media route allowed me to study and prepare for print, radio, broadcasting, and web journalism all in one degree. I think this is essential, to prepare for any kind of media route. Media is converging.

    I also minored in Entrepreneurship because I anticipated the collapse of the industry. Business classes I took that I think should be incorporated into journo programs include:

    Entrepreneurial Business Management
    Personal Finance
    Business and Professional Speaking
    Business Law

    For my New Media Publishing/Photojournalism Major, I took these classes which I would suggest for others:

    Introduction to Digital Video
    News Videography and Editing
    Broadcasting Mass/Comm Law & Ethics
    Web Publishing
    Writing for TV and Radio
    Public Affairs Reporting
    Intro to New Media
    American National Government
    State and Local Government
    Literary Journalism
    Documentary Film/Cinema

    Also outside of the Major/Minor I would suggest:

    Social Work/Statistics
    US History
    Western Civilization
    Environmental Science

    Disclaimer: These are what I call these classes,
    not necessarily their “official” names.

    Update: I would also suggest a “Media & Society” course if available.


    Also, please see “Multimedia Multiversity”:

    Here is an excerpt from a related, parallel post/thread:

    Journalism and education are inherently related.

    Us journalists have a duty to deliver integration and diversity
    through the media regardless of whether or not it’s delivered in
    schools, but especially if it’s not.

    The following is a poem I wrote in response to yesterday’s Supreme
    Court ruling. I’m sure the wording is poor, for I have no formal
    education in education. I wrote it very quick with little editing so
    it isn’t nearly as good as it could be.

    Perhaps I should preface it by stating that I attended a place called
    the J. Graham Brown [Public] School in Louisville for high school
    which is 50% white and 50% minority.

    If I’m not mistaken,
    I believe it was the first school to integrate in Kentucky.

    I’m sure many of you could articulate what I am trying to say
    better than I can but I just felt like sharing.

    It is pretty short and I hope at least some of you find it stimulating
    or inspirational if you have time to read it.


    Two Kinds of Classrooms?


    The political nature of a society is,
    to some degree,
    reflected by how it chooses to educate its citizenry.

    How the classroom is constructed,
    to some degree,
    reflects the nature of a society.

    Is the classroom arranged in a circle,
    or do all the chairs face one direction?

    Allow me to attempt to diagram the difference
    between a decentralized Socratic classroom
    and a centralized autocratic classroom..


    In a traditional autocratic classroom,
    all students face the teacher,
    who is the center of attention.

    The teacher generally dictates
    what is to be perceived or accepted as true,
    and the student must be granted permission to speak
    by the authority or hierarchy of the classroom
    who is typically the teacher.

    The student plays a subordinate role to the teacher,
    even if the student knows as much or more as the teacher.

    In this method,
    the student is indoctrinated
    by a strong centralized system of education.

    The flow of information travels
    more from the top-down unidirectionally (one-way)
    similar to the flow of information through television.

    In this method,
    the student is socialized to do and conform.

    Group think.
    Herd mentality.
    Homogeneous uniformity.

    Extremes of this form of classroom
    may incorporate a uniform dress code
    in which personal expression
    through appearance and individuality is either eliminated,
    suppressed, or regarded as a threat to the herd or the team.

    The banishment of books and censorship of speech
    is almost always to be expected within this system.


    In the decentralized Socratic circular classroom,
    the teacher asks questions instead of making statements.

    The role of the teacher is to direct the flow of question
    as well as mediate debate between the students.

    All participants can view each other,
    effectively dividing everyone’s field of view and attention
    more equally and democratically between the participants.

    The flow of information travels
    more from the bottom-up omni-directionally (two-way)
    similar to the flow of information through the internet.

    Critical analysis, debate, and question
    is actively pursued and rewarded
    rather than avoided and punished.

    In this method,
    the student is socialized to think independently and to defy.


    Extremes of this form of classroom may eliminate
    the practice of addressing the teacher formally by their last name.
    In rare instances this can also result in various forms of anomie
    like sexual relations between student and teacher.


    To some degree,
    the difference in these models parallel
    the difference between democracy and totalitarianism.
    One could even argue a parallel between
    the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta.

    Americans are often stereotyped internationally as being
    “doers” and not “thinkers.”

    The next time you are flabbergasted at how people are complacent to
    and disaffected by the systematic elimination
    of their individual freedom, rights, and political power,
    just contemplate how they where educated or socialized
    to behave within the classroom.

  • I think that the concept of a journalism major is outdated. I think that someone who wants to pursue a “journalism” career – if that will even exist much longer – should pursue a cross discipline studies route.

    I’d recommend graphic design classes to teach layout across platforms, photography, video or film composition, video or film editing, a web design course, economics classes, marketing and business classes, government and poly sci classes and of course several classes in writing. This would be a good foundation for the first three years and then they can take a few more in depth classes in one or two specialized areas senior year.

    This multimedia approach would also leave them prepared for much more than just a career in journalism.

  • I think this is an important topic to explore. It took m 2 years of college to find journalism in the first place, then 2 years to finish my degree. Looking back, I wish I had taken more time to get really good at a specific skill, instead of spreading myself thin over many different areas.

  • I don’t like the idea of making journalism a certification program. My reason for that has nothing to do with the nature of the journalism education, but rather this: If you make it a certification program instead of a 4-year degree, then whoever gets that certification would be basically qualified to do just one thing — journalism. Try to get a job in other fields with a two-year certification program in this day and age? Forget it. If you make it a certification program in addition to a four-year degree, you’re adding to the students’ educational expense, and journalism doesn’t pay anywhere near well enough to justify the additional expense. I think those factors will discourage people from pursuing journalism education as a certification program.

    While I agree that things like blogging or twittering shouldn’t constitute a course unto themselves, I disagree with the notion that we shouldn’t offer such instructions because people who don’t know how to do those things are naturally uninquisitive and therefore not the students we want. That’s a very arrogant and exclusive attitude, not to mention it jumps to the conclusion that if someone isn’t familiar with those technologies, they are naturally uninquisitive. Imagine if someone said colleges shouldn’t be teaching basic composition courses since, if you don’t know how to write well when you get out of high school, you don’t belong at a university. Blogging and twittering are just skills that, like any other skill, can be learned. I would propose having a course that includes one or two such “introductory” lessons, but spends most of its time focusing on best practices for using such skills for journalism, since just because you know how to blog or twitter, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you know how to use them for journalism.

    One thing I would really like to see more of in journalism education is business courses. One big problem I see in the industry is too many journalists with no business acumen and too many business types with no journalistic sense. Your organization can’t move forward if one hand doesn’t understand what the other is doing.

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  • Good post, Pat. I have responded in my blog, here —

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  • Yes, Pat, iconoclastic and provocative.
    My thoughts here:

    A quick summary. Journalism belongs in universities because it should have (and needs) the status of a dsicipline. we need to think not just about training and/or education but also about journalism research and scholarship.
    I define this as the ability to intervene in public debates about the future of the news media with something meaningful to say.

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  • While a certificate seems appropriate at first — simple training on the job — it would seem that a four-year liberal arts degree would promote thinking beyond writing an inverted pyramid every day.

    Perhaps a four-year degree allows for the kind of development or expansion of mature thought required to write beyond a daily crime story and instead an in-depth investigative or feature story.

    This doesn’t apply to every student, of course, but again, we’re talking about teenagers and early twentysomethings here. Perhaps that kind of inquiry and interest in other topics is necessary.

    (I wrote a related post about this topic: )

    All the best,
    The Editorialiste.

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