Questioning the Western Approach to Training: 'International Journalism Training Can Have the Feel of a Quite Rigid, Institutionalized Sense of What Must Be Done Even While Operating in an Environment of Increasing Contingency and Dynamic Change ...'

By Miller, James | Nieman Reports, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Questioning the Western Approach to Training: 'International Journalism Training Can Have the Feel of a Quite Rigid, Institutionalized Sense of What Must Be Done Even While Operating in an Environment of Increasing Contingency and Dynamic Change ...'


Miller, James, Nieman Reports


Walter Lippmann complained in 1919 that American journalists were doing the work of "preachers, revivalists, prophets and agitators." They reported the news "by entirely private and unexamined standards." People would look back, Lippmann observed acidly in his book "Liberty and the News," and wonder how nations that thought themselves to be self-governing "provided no genuine training schools for the [journalists] upon whose sagacity they were dependent."

Lippmann considered making training in schools of journalism a requirement for the job. But what he really wanted, philosophically, was to model the practice of journalism on science, which had successfully harnessed the "discipline of modernized logic." Decades later, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, in "The Elements of Journalism," were still pursuing the same possibly illusive end, encouraging newspeople to adopt the rigor of their five "intellectual principles of a science of reporting."

If the dream of a scientific journalism has yet to be fulfilled, the more prosaic of Lippmann's visions seems to have been realized. By 2000, so many young American journalists had majored in journalism or communications that the degree had become in effect a necessary condition for a reporting or editing job. In addition, this is a time of unprecedented international efforts to codify and inculcate Western-style news reporting and editing--to train on a global scale what its proponents assertively call "worldjournalism"--in places quite different from American newsrooms and classrooms, with nothing like the journalistic or political-cultural history of North America and Western Europe.

There is the obvious irony that these achievements occur at the very moment of mainstream journalism's great unraveling--jobs grown scarce, widespread doubt about the very purpose and nature of news, and amateurism celebrated, all an implicit challenge to the notion of training in a canon of ethics and practice.

Around the time of Lippmann's lament, however, American journalism education was already taking root in pragmatic public universities. Newspaper publishers were giving their names and money to establish such schools at private institutions. Training and occupational enrichment programs began. Lippmann himself helped convince Harvard to use the unexpected Nieman bequest in the late 1930's to offer a mid-career fellowship for journalists. After the war, publishers established the American Press Institute to give advanced training to their employees. In the 1970's publisher Nelson Poynter created his own idiosyncratic training school, which became the influential Poynter Institute.

If there is a hodgepodge feel to the development of American journalism education and training, its one persistent, overarching theme is the jealous desire for the status of a profession, like medicine and law, for the realization of a science of journalism. Yet, from the start there was sharp debate, inside and outside the academy, about whether and how to educate and train. In 1993 journalist Michael Lewis famously dismissed "the entire pretentious science of journalism" taught in the now nearly 500 schools and departments of journalism. The two principal associations of U.S. journalism educators have issued, during the last 25 years, a series of somewhat self-defensive accreditation documents on "missions and purposes" and "viability" in the "university of the future." The University of Colorado recently moved to "discontinue" its (accredited) School of Journalism and Mass Communication for failing to resolve tensions between journalistic skills training and the conduct of media research.

Western Aid--Western Media

This unsettled history makes no appearance in the confident realm of international journalism training. There, a surprisingly idealized version of mainstream journalism has been actively promoted for decades. The export of media in the American style was a hallmark of Cold War modernization theory. …

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