Pulitzer's School: Columbia University's School of Journalism 1903-2003

Article excerpt

Pulitzer's School: Columbia University's School of Journalism 1903-2003. James Boylan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 337 pp. $37.50 hbk.

Merited or not, the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University has long been seen, at least in the public mind, as the premier school of journalism in the country. A part of an Ivy League university in the media capital of the world, the school has graduates who hold top positions in major media operations including the Associated Press and Neiusweek. Notable reporters and commentators such as Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, Molly Ivins, and Patrick Buchanan have passed through the gates at 116th St. and Broadway. Finally, the school is linked in some fashion with many of the most distinguished prizes in journalism, most notably the Pulitzer Prizes, and the granddaddyof media criticism journals, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).

Despite the esteemed position that the school holds among the general public, the main message of Pulitzer's School, a wellresearched, detailed history of its operation written by James Boylan, an alumnus, former faculty member, and founding editor of CJR, is that, like Rodney Dangerfield, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism gets no respect. On the one hand, within the context of Columbia University, the journalism school is a small operation, typically staffed by an academically undistinguished faculty that has made little contribution to the university's larger mission of creating new knowledge. As a result, presidents and provosts periodically have tried to merge the journalism school with other small schools at Columbia or otherwise undercut it. On the other hand, many in the media have long questioned the need for journalists to receive their training at an academic institution. The skills of journalism, their thinking goes, are better acquired on the job.

The uneasiness that both the academy and the profession felt and feels about journalism education is evident from the start of Boylan's account, which begins with the negotiations between Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World and arguably the pre-eminent figure in journalism then, and Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia in 1903. At that time, the idea of journalism education had begun to emerge as part of a broader trend towards professional education in fields such as medicine and law. Pulitzer, though, did not envision simply teaching the skills of journalism, which he did not believe needed to be taught in a university setting. His idea was to offer aspiring journalists a broad education in all they needed to know to better serve the public good. …

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