Reform journalism school. Or torch it?

Media criticism.
Oct. 7 2002 7:39 AM

Can J-School Be Saved?

Professional advice for Columbia University.

(Continued from Page 2)

Many J-school courses border on the remedial. Easterbrook remembers his one year at Medill as "one year of practice in writing simple declarative sentences." Beyond the remedial, all journalists should familiarize themselves with media ethics, the philosophy of journalism, and the history of journalism, but what say the professors to my observation that the very best, most ethical, most philosophically and historically minded journalists I know have no formal training in these subjects? You become a journalist the same way you become a surgeon—you probe, you extemporize, you cut, and you paste.

Advertisement

I'd core the core curriculum, such as the Missouri Schools', reducing it to the most basic of basics and fire (or reassign to the student publication) most of the faculty. Invite students to take ethics courses in the philosophy department, rather than take the Philosophy of Journalism gut in the J-school, and to bone up on their writing skills in undergraduate composition classes if they must. Better that a J-school student take a demanding history of science class or audit a French class or take an Econ class in the economics department. In fact, I'd encourage J-school students to overload with courses outside their department, partly because those classes are more demanding, but mostly because it builds a journalist's character to skip classes and work on the school publication instead.

The greatest danger posed by Bollinger's Columbia rejigging is not that it might fail but that it might succeed. I fear that his New Improved Columbia Graduate School of Journalism will be an overly academic program, and that other schools, ever impressed by the Ivys, might imitate it. I fear the day that the J-school credential assumes such an aura that it becomes a prerequisite for a newspaper job, the way the B.A. credential has. Journalism depends on uncredentialed losers, outsiders, dilettantes, frustrated lawyers, unabashed alcoholics—and, yes, creative psychopaths—to keep its blood red. So, I wish Bollinger success. But not too much.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.