Editor's Afterword

By Biernatzki, W. E. | Communication Research Trends, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Editor's Afterword


Biernatzki, W. E., Communication Research Trends


Early in this report authors were cited who called for a broader and more meaningful approach to journalism education in the United States. One (Stephens, 2000, pp. 63-64) wanted journalism courses to teach not only "the basics," but also to consider "what journalism could and should be." Another (Adam, 2001, p. 318) asked that journalism courses "educate the journalist as a whole," rather than as "an apprentice." Others insisted that technique alone is not enough and that journalism schools should be integrated with other parts of the university so students can develop expertise in other disciplines and greater critical reflection on the profession of journalism itself (Cunningham, 2002, p. 23--interviewing Bollinger).

Journalism schools in some European countries have long emphasized that their graduates require more than techniques but also should have strong, in fact, professional or nearly professional backgrounds in one or more other disciplines, such as law, history, or one of the physical sciences. Such a background would give them a vantage point from which to evaluate their own journalistic practices as they pertain to other aspects of life, the matrix into which their journalism must fit. It also would help them guard against oversimplification when writing about topics unfamiliar to them.

Ethics and objectivity were mentioned above, and some attention was given to the difficulty journalists have in arriving at a truly objective stance in their writing. Ethics poses similar problems. Although courses in ethics are finding their way into journalism curricula, the content of such courses might vary widely, due to the differing assumptions of teachers and textbook authors. The need to avoid plagiarism, would probably find universal acceptance as one content of any ethics course, but some other, more subtle topics could encounter more questioning. Ultimately, I think, ethics must be philosophically grounded, but the condition of philosophy in contemporary academe would seem to have more the qualities of quicksand than of solid ground. The number of authors cited in the text as working on journalistic ethics is encouraging and necessary. Reaching widespread agreement on many ethical questions may, however, be quite problematic.

In the final analysis, much of the responsibility for ethical journalism devolves upon the individual journalist, himself or herself. The relatively high scoring of journalists compared with other professionals on the Defining Issues Test, cited earlier (Coleman & Wilkins, 2002, p. 220), is an encouraging sign that many accept this responsibility. Topics mentioned above as needing more attention in journalistic education include "niche areas" such as science writing, literary journalism, and the alternative press. Religion, as Kelley notes, might be added to that list, as recent incidents indicate, such as the worldwide turmoil stirred up when a Danish cartoonist included the Prophet Muhammad in one of his cartoons. Religion is one of the most difficult topics for the journalist (or the cartoonist!) to deal with. Its complexity equals or surpasses that of science, especially when all a religion's subtleties and geographic variations are considered, and the reactions of believers to both intended or accidental misstatements about their own religion can be strong, or even violent.

The incident of the Danish cartoon also suggests that journalists--and others involved in the mass media--must be aware that what they write or say in one language can be quickly translated and made available to unintended audiences, both near and far. This fact need not be a "wet blanket" on expression or a reason for extremes of self-censorship, but should be a stimulus for more decency and politeness in public discourse.

--W. E. Biernatzki, S.J.

References

Abrahamson, D. (2006). Teaching literary journalism: A diverted pyramid? Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 60(4), 430-434. …

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