Accredited and Nonaccredited Media Writing Programs Are Stagnant, Resistant to Curricular Reform, and Similar

Article excerpt

A journalism program's accreditation status is arguably a factor in institutional reputation and student recruitment. Researchers were interested in exploring any differences in media writing course pedagogy between accredited and nonaccredited journalism programs. A secondary objective was to assess evidence of curriculum innovation in light of emerging issues, such as convergence and cross-platform media writing instruction. A comprehensive national study of media writing instructors revealed that accredited and nonaccredited schools are similar in their approaches to the teaching of media writing, that writing courses are structured similarly, and that faculty qualifications and faculty attitudes toward media writing are very similar. While highlighting the need for continued innovation in the teaching of writing, the study reveals evidence of systemic resistance to curriculum reform, notably in accredited programs, where ACEJMC standards may limit creative educational approaches.

In the early 1950s, George E. Simmons, then new president of the Association for Education in Journalism (AEJ), queried whether the American Council on Education for Journalism (ACEJ) accreditation process would concentrate on improving professional training only in accredited schools, or would the council oversee journalism training in all the nation's programs offering journalism instruction. He had discovered that in most four-year colleges/universities, a great deal of course variation was evident in journalism programs, no matter how large or small, or whether in one course or a sequence of courses. He concluded that AEJ "has an opportunity and perhaps some obligation to offer guidance in the shaping of limited curricula, as well as the professional programs, in journalism." He suggested that this objective could be accomplished by increasing the membership of AEJ to include all programs in journalism, not just the accredited ones.1

Simmons' vision has come to pass, and 425 programs belonged in 2007 to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), including 107 accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). AEJMC has worked to improve journalism education and has provided guidance to all journalism programs through its annual meetings and regional conferences. In 1973, for example, AEJ members went on record to reaffirm that "the well-prepared journalism student should appreciate the fundamentals of reporting and editing which are basic to all forms of media as well as comprehend techniques of reporting through visual, aural and print channels."2 The resolution was endorsed by members of both accredited and nonaccredited programs.

By 1977, to address the question of variation in journalism programs, whether accredited or not, curriculum literature of sixty (thirty accredited and thirty nonaccredited) journalism schools/departments was studied. Carroll found "no significant differences in curricula between the two types of schools-at least not in the printed materials describing the curricula of the news-editorial sequences or emphases."3 With few exceptions, news-editorial students in both types of programs received well-distributed instruction in the basics of reporting, editing, communications law, theory, history, and responsibility of the mass media as recommended by the American Council on Education for Journalism (ACEJ), now ACEJMC.

A 1977 survey revealed curriculum reform (i.e., change) was a "fairly strong, ongoing factor" occurring in accredited and nonaccredited schools, particularly in the area of news-editorial courses. Writing and reporting skills were the central concern of most news-ed faculties. Accredited programs were adding courses in reporting and news writing, management, editing and makeup, and research to a larger extent than in nonaccredited schools. Nonaccredited schools were adding courses in photography, graphics, broadcasting, magazine editing and production, and mass media and society in larger proportion than accredited schools. …