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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Are Journalism Schools Bad for the News Business?

A friend and colleague, William Drummond teaches journalism at UC Berkeley. He has had a distinguished journalistic career before teaching. Our paths have crossed over the years and I have known him to be a solid public radio veteran and a thoughtful observer of the scene.

So I was surprised when I noted a comment from Bill on Facebook (an increasingly interesting source of town hall pronouncements) referring to a call for suggestions from the Nieman Lab on what should journalism schools be teaching these days.

Bill remarked: "Sorry to say this, but if bullsh*t were asphalt, these guys would be I-95. I go back to the premise that tenured j-school faculty were complicit in the collapse of the news business. They have no more of a clue than the person who launders my shirts."

Thinking this was unfair to dry cleaners everywhere, I asked him to expand.

His response: 

"Many journalists hired on to journalism school faculties taught according to the prevailing regime under which they were trained. For the most part, this was under the "legacy media," (calling it "old media" is really  harsh). Once the old system began to collapse, tenured faculty with few exceptions, continued to teach those same skills, among them, long-form magazine writing, long-form newspaper stories and even book-length projects. They did so long after it was clear students would not find employment in these areas. Most teach in the same fashion to this very day. And what is most baffling to me is that the students here at UC enroll in these long-form classes in great numbers!

"It's the equivalent of a bi-polar disorder: Students load up on web design, multimedia, internet courses and simultaneously flock to long-form profile courses and long-form documentary (production). If you ask them why, they'll say - 'This is the last time I'll get a chance to do this form of journalism.' Go figure. The situation is hopeless, but not serious."

Bill raises an interesting point: are j-schools in the business of teaching 20 year olds skills that had real value in the 1970s and 80s, but are now less useful?

One recent comment from a Ryerson grad was also to complain about the over-emphasis on public-radio style long-form radio documentaries: "That's only good for working at CBC Radio and even they aren't that interested," said she. "Why aren't you teaching us how do to quick turn-around multi-media reporting?"


  1. Ryerson, at least, could be nothing but the opposite. Online journalism teaches us to say it in 200 words. And to do it quick and messy.

  2. I think Ryerson benefits from its polytechnic past which stresses the relationships with the practitioners. Not a bad place to be...