“It’s not our job as a liberal arts college to simply train people to be professional journalists,” Emory Arts & Science Dean Robin Forman said.
He’s right about abolition. But the biggest problem is that major J schools are hag-ridden with PhDs, scholars and theorists. They teach “coding,” “aggregated content” and social media networking. They create “apps” and computer games.
A PhD journalism professor just a wrote book discussing “ethnographic field work,” “ontological bedrock,” “epistemology,” “isomorphism,” “situated learning,” “constitutive rule,” “high modern phase of journalism” and “the theory of journalism.”
To PhDs, newspaper reporting and writing are afterthoughts. But this is hardly new. It has just gotten worse.
The Association for Education in Journalism at its annual convention in 1965 had divisions of theory and methodology, public relations, radio-TV, magazine and international relations. It had no newspaper division.
At the AEJ convention a year earlier, a professor said he believed the Freedom of Information bill had been passed recently by the Senate. It had been enacted by Congress and signed by the president two months earlier. Apparently reading a newspaper is unacademic.
Dickens in the Pickwick Papers satirized such academic folderol with the Pickwickians accepting a paper on “Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds with some Observations on the Theory of the Tittlebats.”
Academe magazine (May-June 2011) cited the anti-intellectualism prevailing in J schools. It noted that academic disciplines like media history and public affairs reporting have been eliminated, replaced by sports writing, sports public relations and sports marketing, ecommerce, web design and animation.
Blame it on the PhDs. Communicology has ruined J schools.
When Joseph Pulitzer founded the journalism school at Columbia he declared: “It will be the object of the school to make better journalists, who will make better newspapers, which will better serve the public.”
Fine aim. But Columbia succumbed to the chi-squares (PhD’s). A devastating article in the New Republic in 1993 quoted a Columbia professor as constantly asking what was “the null hypothesis” of stories students wrote. One exasperated student finally blurted out: “My null hypothesis is that the Columbia Journalism School is all bullshit!”
People who want to be journalists certainly need a college education, just not a journalism degree. They need a much wider range of knowledge. They need literature, prose and poetry. They need knowledge of movies, history, art and classical music and opera. They need to be abreast of the politics and news of America and the world.
Most journalism professors are mediocre. They have no passion except for the views of the reigning Establishment and corporate media.
Advertising? It’s a craft, a skill — but it is the art of selling which should not be taught in J schools. Public relations? It is ‘spinmeistering.’ It is flackery which has no place in J schools.
Moreover, J school professors are softies, giving out far too many good grades to average students. A study of the 2008-2009 school year at the University of Nevada, Reno J school showed 76 percent of the students got A’s or B’s (33 percent A’s and 43 percent B’s).
Finally, the learned professors know nothing about writing and can’t teach it. They make a mockery of journalism education.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.