The European Debate in 1894 on Journalism Education

By Bjork, Ulf Jonas | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview
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The European Debate in 1894 on Journalism Education

Bjork, Ulf Jonas, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator

In the summer of 1894, the editor of a prominent Belgian newspaper sought to convince an assembly of fellow journalists from 16 different countries of the necessity for a special professional education for journalists. For the world's newspapers to fulfill "the high social mission they have been allotted," E. Heinzmann-Savino stressed, it was imperative that future journalists be properly trained.(1)

Heinzmann-Savino's forum was the first International Congress of the Press, gathered in Antwerp, Belgium, in July 1894. The ICP was the first organization to bring together journalists from different countries on a regular basis, and although its educational plans had no concrete results, they merit attention because they provide unique insights into how the issue of professional journalistic training was viewed a century ago.(2) This article outlines the proposals made at the Congress and the reception they received, and it concludes by noting that many of the issues raised in the 1890s remain relevant today. Before introducing the organization, it is necessary to briefly deal with the general history of journalism education.

Three approaches

On national and international levels, the history of journalism education brings up three different ways to prepare newspaper writers for their profession. The first, leaving the training to the newspaper organizations themselves, is the oldest and has endured because it is grounded in persisting doubts that journalists need any educational preparation for their profession. Where the value of a formal education has been recognized, discussion has arisen about the direction of that education, which can focus either on practical skills, or general knowledge in the sciences, arts and humanities.

Countries have taken different paths when faced with the three choices. In the United States--where formal education first began and today is the most extensive--the necessity for education was generally recognized by 1920, with a consensus that universities should offer instruction for future journalists. Consequently, American debate since then has dealt mainly with curricula and course content. In Europe, by contrast, no such consensus emerged. Although university study currently appears to be gaining in prominence, it still remains but one of three recognized paths to entry into journalism, the other two being instructions at purely vocational institutions and on-the-job training in a more or less structured fashion.(3)

The idea of a special education for newspaper work arose out of concerns about the professional status of journalists. It surfaced as a result of profound changes in the way newspapers operated, generated revenue, and reached readers--changes that were evident in both the United States and Europe by the time the first International Congress of the Press met in 1894. Harry Christian uses the term commercialization to describe these changes, which include a shift from individual to corporate ownership, the ascendancy of advertising as the main source of revenue rather than subscriptions and political subsidies, and a division of labor separating journalists from newspaper proprietorship and assigning them specific tasks such as editing or reporting.(4)

It was the new division of labor that made journalists begin to voice concerns about their status. Slavko Splichal and Colin Sparks argue that journalism was a "dependent" profession, which could not be exercised independently like medicine or law but only within a large and complex corporate structure. As a consequence, the efforts of journalists to achieve a status as professionals were based primarily on the position of newspaper writers in the labor market. In that context, professional education became important because it contributed to raising the status of journalists, a goal that was articulated frequently in the ICP debate over education.(5)

History and membership

The 1894 Antwerp press congress, the first formal gathering of journalists from different countries, voted to accept the principle of international association.

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