His Message to J-School Educators: 'Lighten Up!' (Journalism School) (Column)

Article excerpt

Once again the conflict between academics and professionals over the quality and relevance of journalism education reared its ugly head at this summer's 77th annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Atlanta.

Donnybrooks between professors and news professionals have become a regular feature at the association's get-togethers, and the Atlanta meeting was no exception. In a presentation before the organization's newspaper division, Kevin Hall, editor in residence at Florida International University's School of Journalism, put the spotlight on a panoply of gripes that the news business has against today's journalism schools.

According to Hall, there is a wide divergence between what educators value in their students and what editors hope for in journalism school writing skills and career preparation.

Hall co-authored a study entitled, "Writing Education and Journalism Schools: A Survey of Attitudes and Values." His findings in the survey: Editors continue to be disappointed in the preparation and quality of writing demonstrated by graduates of journalism and mass communication programs.

Among the comments heard from editors in the survey: "I'll take a kid from a non-fiction writing program any day. The kid from a newswriting program will be narrowly focused - infused with a set of rules but no real appreciation of what moves a reader's soul."

Another responded: "I will express one fear about journalism schools: they spend too much time on related issues (journalism ethics, journalism history, media theory) that would be better spent on just plain writing and writing and writing."

In discussing his survey of professors and editors regarding issues in journalism education, Hall noted the defensive response of educators when confronted with the concerns of news professionals. Indeed, many professors respond to such attacks with attacks of there own against the news industry: attacks on the poor pay offered journalism graduates and attacks on the industry's lack of appreciation for the broad mission of schools of journalism and mass communication.

This observer does not have to be warned about the admonitions of the journalism professoriat when its performance is put under the magnifying glass. One year ago in these pages, I wrote a critical piece quoting Tonda Rush of the National Newspaper Association, who made a plea for more effective journalism teaching.

Rush accused journalism educators of ignoring industry needs, and declared that journalism schools are "soaking up tremendous resources and intelligent people's time, writing things that the industry doesn't need."

To underscore Rush's point, I provided a summary of some of the findings of research papers presented at last year's association meeting, which included such titles as "Effects of Message Discrepancy on Recall of News Information over Time," "Putting News into Context: Apparent Reality Versus Source Credibility in Judgments of News Believability" and "Flight from Politics: Lesbian and Gay |Wedding' Announcements in Newspapers."

My "Shop Talk" piece in E&P inspired an avalanche of criticism. An official with AEJMC called me personally to protest the article. Unhappy letters came to me as well as to this publication. One professor accused me of wanting to subordinate education entirely to the crass needs of corporate America.

Professor Paul Many of the University of Toledo, admittedly engaging in hyperbole, responded in these pages that journalism education "has about as much of an obligation to better the newspaper industry as sociology has to better the toaster industry."

Professor Ed Adams of Angelo State University pleaded in these pages for an end to professionals criticizing educators and educators bashing professionals.

"Corrigan does not add new information to our understanding," wrote Adams. …