The Gap between Educators and Professional Journalists

By Dickson, Tom; Brandon, Wanda | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

The Gap between Educators and Professional Journalists


Dickson, Tom, Brandon, Wanda, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Journalism education has been subjected to criticism from professional journalists and journalism educators for years for not doing enough to prepare students for media jobs. Highton (1967), for example, wrote more than three decades ago, "Newspapering is becoming a sidelight, if not an afterthought, of many journalism schools" (p. 10).

More recently, several reports made for organizations of professional journalists have attacked journalism education. For example, the Electronic Media Career Preparation Study (Roper Organization, 1987) concluded that broadcast education fell "far short in providing practical knowledge for the real world" (p. 5).

At about the same time, a survey of 1,900 journalism faculty by the Associated Press Managing Editors Association found that approximately half of the educators felt there was "antipathy or estrangement between themselves and the working press." Mabrey (1988), however, concluded: "There is no argument that journalism educators, by and large, and editors, by and large, want the same thing: young reporters and editors who read, inquire, write, spell, and have an inner sense of cause. The problem here may be in the rhetoric" (p. 42).

The rhetoric continued in a 1990 study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors Committee on Education for Journalism, which concluded: "Looking at journalism education through the eyes of editors ... one finds signs of dissatisfaction that should be troubling to both ASNE and the educators" (ASNE, 1990, p.1).

Dennis (1990) summarized professional journalists' complaints this way: "They do not like what is taught in the communication schools, and they do not much like or trust those who teach it" (p. 9).

Both Lovell (1987) and Dennis (1988) called the debate between journalism educators and professional journalists over the content of media education "the dialogue of the deaf." Lindley (1988) urged journalism faculty to bridge the gap between themselves and professional journalists. However, Weinberg (1990) wrote that doing so would be difficult. He noted, "many newsroom professionals are far less optimistic than I, seeing not a glimmer of hope in the evidence I have presented" (p. 28).

Indeed, the harsh criticism of journalism education continued unabated. For example, the publisher of Electronic Media called on journalism schools to "close the reality gap that separates journalism schools from journalism itself" and suggested that journalism schools might fall victim to "academic Darwinism" if they don't "make themselves more relevant" (Alridge, 1992, p. 30).

Also, the chief executive officer of the National Newspaper Association told participants at the 1993 convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) that journalism educators were ignoring the needs of the newspaper industry and were "soaking up tremendous resources and intelligent people's time writing things that the industry doesn't need" (Corrigan, 1993, p. 44).

Dennis (1994) stated about such criticisms that "the same tired debates continue decade after decade. These range from whether communication and journalism schools should exist at all to the relative balance between theory and practice. The debate is deeply class-conscious and apparently unending" (p. 8).

In the face of continued criticism of journalism education by professional journalists, the AEJMC Vision 2000 Task Force concluded, "the separation of journalism and mass communication units from their industrial moorings" was becoming "increasingly defensible" (AEJMC, 1994, p. 21).

Other journalism educators, however, have joined professional journalists in criticizing journalism education for distancing itself from the needs of the media professions. In a report funded by The Freedom Forum, for example, Medsger (1996) concluded that journalism education had drifted too far away from its practical roots. …

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