When disciplines perceived as contributing to the mission of their liberal arts college are reinforced and those regarded as "non-central" are eliminated, merged, or subsumed into a more "contributing" discipline, faculty in the negatively targeted fields may be prompted to inform their university colleagues about the importance of the theories and skills of their discipline. As part of such an effort, they may point to knowledge that is special to their discipline and, at the same time, crucial to other currently more favored disciplines.
What knowledge, beyond technical skills, is the special province of journalism and mass communication?(1)
The present survey examined selected beliefs to probe whether a journalism and mass communication curriculum instilled a more sophisticated view of media reality in formal coursework for majors than for non-majors who learn about the media from daily experience. The goal was to use this information to initiate a fruitful discussion, which might culminate in consensus(2) about the core understandings that could distinguish a person who has received a mass communication education. Such a core could then be offered as a vital component of a comprehensive university to colleagues and administrators.
Since 1984, national studies and gatherings (e.g., Oregon Report, 1987; Stark and Lowther, 1988; Wingspread Project, 1989; Blanchard and Christ, 1993; State of the Field, 1994; What Makes a Great Journalism School, 1995) have explored the domain of journalism and mass communication education. However, these books, reports, and conferences, while continuing to generate discussion about new paradigms for curricular development and the role of mass communication education in changing university cultures, have failed to define the current baseline.
To establish a baseline, consensus about the basic concepts of mass communication education is necessary. However, the effort to reach consensus for even a modest list of belief statements for this exploratory study emphatically reinforced what Blanchard and Christ (1993, p.92) discovered in their 1990 national survey: Across the country there is "great diversity in the number of required core courses in journalism and mass communication programs and no pattern."
A review of core courses would have been another way to assess faculty philosophy and to demonstrate what a school believes is basic and fundamental to the discipline (Blanchard and Christ, 1993, p. 92). However, after two years of surveys and discussion, even the Oregon Report (1987) suggested only broad-based communication competencies--general literacy, visual literacy, computer literacy, information-gathering ability, media-writing capability--not specific outcomes. At the University of Michigan, the two-year Professional Preparation Network (Stark and Lowther, 1988) also recommended general competencies that overlap or expand the Oregon Report. Scanning the course titles in a curriculum, or examining syllabi for these courses, did not reveal outcomes of interest here, the actual mass communication-related understandings of graduating seniors, and the fit of these understandings to those of their instructors.
The Professional Preparation Network (Stark and Lowther, 1988, p. 23) concluded that journalism educators should expect students to learn to identify, understand, and critique the media's values in courses common to mass communication programs across the country. Despite different emphases at different institutions, mass communication majors should learn media value systems in ethics courses, restrictions and regulation in law courses, impact of the media in media and society courses, leadership in management, internship and capstone courses, and "scholarly concern for improvement" in research and communication theory courses (Christ and McCall, 1974).
Mass communication programs have been admonished to distinguish themselves nationally, and to contribute to their local campuses through "the promotion of media literacy and the fostering of freedom of expression" (Oregon Report, p. …