Recommendations for Curricula That Stress Reflective Thinking

By Wilkins, Dennis M. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Recommendations for Curricula That Stress Reflective Thinking


Wilkins, Dennis M., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


The expectation in the United States and most Western democracies is that journalists will provide information the public needs to carry out the duties of citizenship and that the media will provide a forum for the circulation of ideas and opinions.

Klaidman and Beauchamp

Th' newspaper ... comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable ...

Finley Peter Dunne

These quotations are gospels of journalism. From Klaidman and Beauchamp is drawn the theoretical ideal of the mission of the press as expressed in liberal democratic theory. From Dunne is drawn the ethic of what working journalists on deadline in a newsroom have traditionally believed they actually should be doing. But in a postmodern era of increasing media conglomeration, infotainment, ambush interviews, subservience to the need to produce ideal demographics to advertisers, the remaking of journalists as celebrities, sources as manipulators, "news" dictated by marketing surveys, private lives as public fodder, journalists as paratroopers invading the site of a story, and entertainment masquerading as news, journalism has witnessed an increase in thoughtlessness and a decline in thoughtfulness. Some might argue that journalism has lost its traditional moral compass, that it no longer afflicts the comfortable but rather afflicts those who need comfort. It is a journalism in which Hard Copy, the National Enquirer, and Inside Edition are becoming exemplars rather than aberrations. In this journalism, critical thinking and reflection are absent. How can they be restored?

This article offers criticism of journalism as a professional practice of doing rather than thinking, briefly surveys scholarship on infusing journalism curriculum with critical thinking instruction, and offers a higher standard through the notion of reflective judgment. It also makes specific recommendations for curriculum additions to increase undergraduates' performance as critical thinkers and creators of reflective judgments that help readers and viewers understand the social, cultural, economic, and political worlds they inhabit.

Curriculum correctives

Criticisms from various quarters impugning the abilities of the press to fulfill both theoretical and traditional roles suggest correctives of some sort are needed in the professional practice of journalism. Several correctives could be considered: (a) Adjusting journalistic practices themselves within their current social, cultural, and professional contexts; (b) Taking no action at all; (c) Abandoning the practice of journalism as a principal conduit of information to the public; and (d) Redefining the nature of journalism itself.

Both reasonable and unreasonable critics of journalistic performance would undoubtedly argue that a no-action alternative is unacceptable. Yet from whatever point on the political, social, and cultural spectrum these critics flay journalistic practices and performance, the arguments would suggest that the press as currently constituted ill serves society.

Surgical removal of journalism from a commingling of social practices that constitute western society and culture would also be unthinkable. The role of the press is deeply imbedded in liberal democratic theory and praxis to the extent that any such attempt would require reconstitution of relationships among those same social practices.

That leaves two plausible and possible alternatives -- either adjusting journalistic practices or redefining the nature of journalism itself (The latter would require redefining the role that the press as an institution serves among other social, political, cultural, and economic institutions, to say nothing of redefining the presspublic relationship).

Curriculum reform cannot be ignored in attempts to regenerate journalism as a productive means of providing information necessary and sufficient to bring the public to that point at which it may take a well-considered action or reach a sound judgment on matters of public policy. …

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