The Essential Contributions of Mass Communication Programs

By Carter, Richard F. | The Journalism Educator, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

The Essential Contributions of Mass Communication Programs


Carter, Richard F., The Journalism Educator


The future of mass communication programs should depend on the educational contributions they make. But other circumstances arise, such as budget worries. When the axe recently fell on several programs, the AEJMC president asked: "Are journalism/mass communication programs becoming an endangered species?"(1) As journalism educators, we have an abiding concern for program content and quality, but we can not be blind to our place in higher education. We must ask ourselves some searching questions.

We have gone from schools of journalism to schools of journalism and mass communication--sometimes to schools of communication that embrace us along with speech and drama. We have also gone from a professional concern that drew students whose interests lay in public affairs and creative expression to an ever-expanding field where most students seem to have pedestrian vocational interests.

Was it wrong to go from profession to field? One can only agree enthusiastically with Marvin(2) that communication is a great idea for a field. But was it right to become more field than profession?

Should we return to those J-School days of yesteryear? Should we drop advertising, public relations, and media studies? Were we wrong to ever extend beyond editorial journalism? Were we wrong to venture into the realm of social science, even though mass communication figures increasingly in our working, leisure, cultural, and political lives? Has mass communication--and journalism--become a minor regency within an evergrowing realm of communication?

But is any of this the crux of our problem? Is this why our programs appear vulnerable to administrative cost-cutting? Is it not the way of our contemporary world that the economy and jobs take precedence over the polity and profession...that advertising and public relations are the principal mass communication careers of the future for our graduates, that mass media have become too important not to be analyzed and criticized?

And how much of a profession were we? Those in editorial practice-the professionals-were divided as to whether a journalism degree or a liberal arts degree was the better preparation for an editorial career. Such indecision is hardly the hallmark of a profession.

Did we do something wrong in cultivating this field--or did we fail to do something right? The two are not necessarily the same. Did we make a mistake becoming a field...or did we fail by not carrying on further, by not becoming more of a discipline? We have not lacked for a vision of becoming a scientific discipline,(3) and there is precedent enough for that. Just as medicine has its science and practice, so might we. There is even metaphoric parallel. Communication is, as we know too well, often called upon to cure our ills.

Why did we evolve from profession to field but then not develop into a discipline? Why are our scholars more interested in staking out territorial claims in limitless terrain than discovering and organizing theoretical principles scientifically? Why do we have more to say about mass communications effects than we do about general principles of mass communication effectiveness?

Starting with the universities themselves as organizations, and extending to the putative "world community," there is no shortage of collective entities and would-be collective entities that could strongly benefit from more effective mass communication. For example, even if the information superhighway succeeds in yielding universal connectivity, this will hardly begin to solve our mass communication problems. (It may produce more problems than it solves, given its likely development as an economic venue, not as a societal and political instrument. Access, noise, and pollution problems are already evident with just a modest degree of connectivity.)

Social science

But what do collective enterprises like the university and the country find when they look to the field of mass communication?

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