“To teach the craft of journalism is a worthy goal but clearly insufficient in this new world and within the setting of a great university,” Lee C. Bollinger, the new president of Columbia University wrote when he suspended the Graduate School of Journalism’s search for a dean last summer. He then appointed a 36-member task force to examine “what a preeminent school of journalism should look like in the contemporary world.”
While this task force was meeting, Nieman Reports invited some of the nation’s leading journalists and journalism professors to present thoughts about how journalism education can be improved and the training of journalists better connected with current practices and issues. Geneva Overholser, who teaches in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington bureau, contends that “journalism needs leadership from journalism schools” in coping with challenges posed by profit pressures and changing ownership. And as “an admirer of good solid craft training,” she writes that “For craft training to be accorded due respect does not mean all else must be shunned.”
Melvin Mencher, professor emeritus at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism where he taught for 28 years, observes that “Good journalism programs blend theory with practice, craft with substance … [and] teach the craft through content.” He quotes former editor Hoke M. Harris of the Winston-Salem Journal who said, “The major emphasis should not be on how to write but on what to write, lest the prospective reporter become an empty flask, all form and no content.” New Media Program Director Paul Grabowicz teaches journalism students at Berkeley how to use Weblogs to explore the debate over intellectual property. He writes that educators need to do a better job of “teaching the basics, while confronting new issues,” while also using new media technology so that students can “come to grips with what journalism is—as well as with what it could and should be.”
Stanford University journalism professor William Woo moves out of the classroom and the United States to reflect on what he thinks is a critical question in this debate: What is the purpose of journalism? “If you cannot answer that with some confidence,” he writes, “you can neither practice journalism with any direction nor teach it with any conviction.” Philip Meyer, the Knight Chair of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, observes that the journalism that once “worked fine as a craft,” is “being phased out.” He says, “It’s time to circle the wagons, redefine ourselves as a profession, and start protecting our values in an organized way.” In transforming journalism into a profession, Meyer envisions important roles for journalism educators to play.
Nancy Day, who directs Advanced Journalism Studies at Boston University, finds many essential lessons for journalists emerging from much-maligned “skills courses,” and notes that good journalists emerge from many different pathways. Columbia, she writes, should be wary of allowing its successful program to “… join the ranks of the inchoate maw of mass communications.” Dale Maharidge, a visiting professor at Columbia, observes that because “journalism defies rules that govern other disciplines … it’s dangerous to change the fundamental way journalism is taught ….” Journalism is, he writes, “as much an art form as a profession or trade and, as such, it should be treated differently within a university.”