"Newspapermen are born, not made," Julian Ralph wrote in a posthumously-published 1903 book describing his own reporting career and the rewards of journalism careers generally (Ralph 1903, p. 175). The highly respected New York Sun writer defended news writing courses then offered at Cornell. Ralph encouraged would-be reporters to read and write on their own, for "constant practice is a fine teacher" (p. 7). But he spoke for many journalists in declaring that no schools, including journalism schools, could teach the skills and aptitudes journalists need. While the terms have shifted, the value of journalism education is still debated.
This study looks at the advice about journalism preparation and education in 70 career guidance books--every American college-level book about journalism careers published over the last century--as well as in 30 general inventories of careers (sometimes known as "vocational civics").(1) In order to understand why students studied journalism and what they expected from such study, this article examines the advice given in career books. It examines career advisers' reasons for recommending or criticizing journalism education.
Not all students read these books or follow their advice when selecting careers, colleges, majors, or courses. Nonetheless, students interested in journalism are more likely to consult these books than articles published in the press. Often part of a career series, these books provide more accessible, complete, and dependable information about career preparation than do, for example, conversations with working professionals. Certainly, counselors and parents encourage students to use this literature.
This paper frames the books in the context of their conception of journalism's "mission." Proposals for professional journalism training, although controversial, were among the "possible solutions" for journalistic practices criticized in the late nineteenth century (Dicken-Garcia 1989, pp. 218-219). Indeed, one of the earliest calls for college-level journalism education stemmed from a conviction that it would elevate journalists' ethical standards. The reasoning of George Lunt, a former U.S. attorney, was that since journalists provided a form of public education, they should be educated for public service. Educated people, Lunt said during a 1856 lyceum lecture, are "less liable to petty temptations--less easily controlled and led away..."(quoted in Dicken-Garcia, p. 218). Regardless of what journalism education did or can do, career guidance experts assume that journalism education trains reporters to behave like working reporters, not to be better than them or to change the institution of journalism itself.
Early vocational education
Through the end of the federalist period, inventories of jobs and "success" books constituted most of the little vocational guidance that Americans received. Edward Hazen (1837), for example, described dozens of professions and trades, but essentially ignored the question of preparation and training. Formal career guidance literature appeared in the United States in conjunction with increasing pressures on universities to move away from narrowly defined classical education and to offer courses in "practical subjects." Vocational education itself was an outgrowth of this movement.
America's emergence as a major industrial nation called attention to the need for better training and deployment of workers, especially those who moved to cities from rural areas or from other countries. Turn-of-the-century social reformers designed vocational bureaus, training projects, and services to connect work with self-esteem (Mays 1948; Brewer 1942) and to collect and disseminate career information. Frank Parsons (1909), considered the father of the vocational guidance movement, outlined a "scientific" approach to occupational choice that emphasized using vocational literature of the type studied here to see whether one's personal traits matched the factors demanded by particular occupations. …