Journalism – do we need training, education, or scholarship

As usual there’s an interesting thread developing on Mindy McAdams blog, Teaching Online Journalism.

This one’s about where journalists should be trained, for how long and what the content of their training should be. An oldie, but a goodie.

Mindy’s post also references this one from Pat Thornton’s the Journalism Iconoclast.

Pat’s usually pretty provocative, as you’d expect an iconoclast to be:

…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?

This is a constant theme in journalism education and has been for the past 20 years or so. In Australia our fight was initially with cultural studies and media studies academics who didn’t see journalism having a place in their academy. But I think we do deserve a seat at the scholarly table.

In fact I argue for journalism scholarship, not training and not just education.

Pat Thornton describes journalism courses as essentially “job training” progammes

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.

It has been that way in the past definitely, and in some places it still is, but it’s not good enough. It never really was. But Pat’s argument, which he admits is really jut an idea and not something he’s got his heart set on, is that perhaps then, journalism education belongs in a trade school.

We already have a two-tier system in New Zealand, but I think that a broader degree-style education is better for students and better for journalism.

But what type of degree should a journalism major take? I agree with Pat that there should be a second, non- media major involved. But I also think that we need to inject some journalism scholarship into our programmes. We need to be teaching more about the history and politics of journalism and perhaps some sociology and political economy too.

Journalism has to be put into its intellectual context, not just stuck on the end of a liberal arts degree so that someone can go and “be” a journalist. There are traditions, debates and research questions in journalism that require it to be seen as an academic discipline in its own right.

That’s why we need to increase the number of postgraduates who are taking journalism after completing another degree. I don’t care if they come initially to get some “training”, because they also (at AUT University at least) take a theory paper, and from next year it will be two (one of them is Law and Ethics).

It is this group that seems to me to be most interested in the intellectual debates around journalism at the moment and also the group from which the next cohort of journalism PhDs and professors will come from. We have to have a broader approach than just training and education.

We have to focus on scholarship and research too. The future of journalism and the future of the discipline demands it.

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