Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

ARTS AND THE CRAFT

Highfalutin education threatens to lower j-school standards

Say it ain't so, Lee! A bid by Columbia University's new president, Lee C. Bollinger, to academize its Graduate School of Journalism threatens both it and other practical journalism programs. This is more than an intramural squabble over the softest leather chair in the faculty club. Editors and publishers need people who can determine an event's significance and present it with clarity and grace.

And Columbia is the model for beleaguered j-educators around the country fighting to provide those professional skills. Bollinger calls teaching reporting and editing -- something the j-school has excelled at since its founding in 1912 -- "worthy" but "clearly insufficient." Hoping to make things more academic, he's suspended the search for a new dean and appointed a task force to rethink the school's mission and expand its curriculum.

The problem: adding courses requires either cutting some existing ones or extending the one-year program whose intensity and relative affordability attracted students to Columbia in the first place.

Diluting practical offerings threatens to send journalism programs further down the slippery slope toward scholarly arcana. Many j-departments -- whose goal of producing professional writers and editors has never fit comfortably into the traditional academic mold -- have already been closed or merged into communications programs.

The more emphasis on "academics," the more slots for teachers fascinated by "the qualitative paradigm of descriptive and interpretive epistemology" (the subject of the first paper listed in the newspaper division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's meeting this month). Just as qualitative paradigms don't help on deadline, editors and publishers don't need what President Bollinger wants to give them. The vast majority of j-grads start as general- assignment reporters. By definition, they can't be experts. Instead, they need to learn how to keep learning -- to find specialists in unfamiliar areas and ask them intelligent questions.

Recent Page One topics underscore this point. Covering World Trade Center rebuilding proposals forced reporters to master earthquake-engineering basics. The battle over Ted Williams' body sent sportswriters scurrying to cryonics and probate experts. Stories about the Pennsylvania miners' rescue included intricacies of airshafts, snapped drills, and equalizing pressure.

Bollinger wants the school to delve more deeply into substantive issues. …

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