Tag Archives: education

A RECENT ATTACK ON JOURNALISM EDUCATION WAS WRONG AND HARMFUL. HERE’S ANOTHER VIEW

By Christopher B. Daly

Journalism Professor,

Boston University

 

In its spring/summer issue for 2018, the Columbia Journalism Review ran an odd attack on, of all things, journalism education. It was written by Felix Salmon, a journalist whose work I admire. But in this case, almost every sentence he wrote was outdated, tendentious, or flat-out wrong.

Here’s his piece in regular text and my comments in all caps bold.

By Felix Salmon

When it comes to journalism school, there are two questions. The first is the tough one, and was asked and answered by Michael Lewis in a blistering (and very funny) takedown in The New Republic in 1993: Is it all bullshit? The answer then was a clear yes.

THIS SEEMS GLIB, ESPECIALLY COMING FROM SOMEONE WHO NEVER WENT TO ONE.

 In the 25 years since Lewis wrote his article, the occupation of journalism has become more precarious than ever: Joseph Pulitzer’s plan to “raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession” rings hollow in an age of Chartbeat, post quotas, and pay-per-pageview. If you meet a theologian today, or a lawyer, or a doctor, it’s reasonable to assume they have studied deeply and learned a lot in order to do their job. That’s not the case with journalism, nor should it be;

ARE YOU MAKING THE CASE FOR IGNORANCE HERE?

even J-school’s staunchest defenders don’t consider a journalism degree to be a necessary prerequisite for anybody entering the field. 

GRANTED, A DEGREE IS NEITHER NECESSARY NOR SUFFICIENT. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE ALL WORTHLESS FOR ALL PEOPLE. FOR SOME STUDENTS, THEY ARE A LIFELINE.

 Thus have the contours of the debate stood for at least a quarter century. ACTUALLY, THIS DEBATE HIS NOT CHANGED MUCH SINCE 1904. AS I WRITE IN MY BOOK “COVERING AMERICA,” JOSEPH PULITZER AND HORACE WHITE DEBATED WHETHER A NEWS REPORTER EVEN NEEDED TO ATTEND COLLEGE. (WHITE SAID NO, PULITZER YES)

Copy Desk, Columbia J-School

Students at the Columbia Journalism School work at the “copy desk.”

On one side, we find people who think a journalism degree can be a useful way to learn skills that come in handy while editing and reporting; on the other, more perspicacious types look around, see that many of the greatest journalists have no such degree, and can find no evidence that a J-school education correlates in any way with better work.

THE FACT THAT “MANY OF THE GREATEST JOURNALISTS” OF THE PAST – OR EVEN OF THE PRESENT – DID NOT GET JOURNALISM DEGREES HAS NO BEARING ON WHETHER CURRENT STUDENTS WILL NEED THOSE DEGREES IN THE FUTURE. THINGS CHANGE.

IN MY OWN CASE, I STUDIED HISTORY IN COLLEGE IN THE 1970S AND WORKED ON THE COLLEGE PAPER. I GOT SUMMER JOBS AT SUBURBAN NEWSPAPERS, WHERE I WAS PAID. (AND PAID THE UNION WAGE, TOO!)

Perhaps it is worth asking a more pointed question: Should J-school even exist?

For anybody on Lewis’s side of the original question, the answer is easy. If J-school is indeed bullshit, if it adds no value to the world, if it has signally failed in more than a century of existence to raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession

JOURNALISM IS QUITE A BIT CLOSER TO A LEARNED PROFESSION THAN IT WAS A CENTURY AGO —well, then, it has no real ability to justify its existence, and the world would be better off without it. But the fact is that everybody should concede that the world would be better off without J-school, no matter how noble they consider Pulitzer’s original undertaking.

Indeed, the more useful J-school is, the more urgent and important its abolition becomes. A useless J-school is a waste of time and money for those who go there, offset by the benefit that accrues to teachers and other recipients of the students’ tuition. The net effect is negative, but the only people suffering real harm are the students. What’s more, it’s easy to avoid that harm: Don’t go to J-school. But what if the J-school defenders are right? What if J-school students really do end up with a significant advantage over those who don’t share their credentials? In that case, even more people are harmed. 

HUH?

J-school attendees might get a benefit from their journalism degree, but it comes at an eye-watering cost. The price tag of the Columbia Journalism School, for instance, is $105,820 for a 10-month program, $147,418 for a 12-month program, or $108,464 per year for a two-year program. That’s a $216,928 graduate degree, on top of all the costs associated with gaining the undergraduate prerequisites. (Columbia, it seems important to say, is also the publisher of Columbia Journalism Review, the publication you’re now reading.)

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: MOST SCHOOLS COST LESS, AND NEARLY ALL REDUCE THAT “STICKER PRICE” WITH SCHOLARSHIPS. SO, THIS IS AN ALARMIST FIGURE. TUITION IS STILL TOO HIGH, GRANTED. BUT IT IS NOT THAT HIGH.

 There are also substantial opportunity costs. Once you’ve graduated from a four-year college, you’re eminently employable, and can enter the workforce immediately. If you delay your career by another year or two, you lose out on a significant amount of income as well as valuable professional experience. Even if you start working in journalism at minimum wage, after a year or two you’re still going to be richer, more experienced, more employable, and almost certainly more skilled than someone who’s spent that time getting a grad-school degree.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE YOUNG PERSON WHO GRADUATED WITH A DEGREE IN ENGLISH? THE WORLD IS HARDLY WAITING FOR THEM. MANY OF THEM TAKE STOCK IN THEIR LATE 20S AND DECIDE TO GET A MORE-PROFESSIONAL DEGREE, LIKE JOURNALISM. WE KICK-START MANY CAREERS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WERE WAITING TABLES.

But what about the people who choose not to go to J-school? Here’s their problem: When you’re looking for that entry-level foot in the door, you’re going to be competing against applicants a year or two older than you who have just spent six figures getting themselves a Columbia degree. And if that credential is worth even marginally more than nothing, those candidates are going to be more attractive to employers, and more likely to get the job. 

The result is a crowding-out effect, whereby job-hunting J-school graduates, having already caused themselves substantial financial harm, then go on to harm any aspiring journalistic employee who was smart enough not go to J-school. 

What does that mean in practice? It means a much less diverse workforce, at a time when newsroom diversity has perhaps never been more important. If you’re poor, or working-class, or a rural person of color, or mobility-constrained, or a single mother struggling to bring up multiple children, or otherwise part of a group that has historically been underrepresented in newsrooms, is it possible for you to go to J-school? Sure. Is it likely? Not in the slightest. VALID POINT. THE WORST FEATURE ABOUT ALL OF AMERICAN HIGHER ED, NOT JUST JOURNALISM, IS THAT IT IS TOO EXPENSIVE.

Is it advisable? It is not. INVALID POINT. IF YOU WANTED TO GO AND YOU COULD GO, YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD.

Yet you’re exactly the kind of person news organizations should be spending more effort bringing into their ranks. Carl Bernstein never went to college; ANCIENT HISTORY

the journalistic profession needs more of his ilk, not fewer.

The best and simplest way to move toward that goal would be to abolish the graduate journalism degree entirely. That would help to level the playing field, while saving students billions of dollars in tuition. Better yet, it would bring the industry back to a model of on-the-job training. People wanting to enter the profession would get paid to learn the ropes.

BY WHOM??? I BENEFITED FROM THAT KIND OF ON-THE-JOB TRAINING, BUT THAT WAS 45 YEARS AGO! THE SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED PAPERS THAT USED TO OFFER THOSE KINDS OF JOBS ARE THE LEAST LIKELY AND LEAST ABLE TO OFFER THEM TODAY. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT OUR STUDENTS ARE OFTEN FILLING THE GAPS IN THOSE HOLLOWED-OUT LOCAL PAPERS. MOST J-SCHOOLS COMBINE CLASSROOM LEARNING WITH REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE.

 It’s more effective, it’s infinitely more real, and it focuses the mind: No one’s going to fire you from J-school if you misspell the mayor’s name in a headline. 

Rather than putting money and effort into expensive trainee programs, news organizations no doubt will attempt to outsource their training to journalism schools, thereby getting someone else (anybody else!) to pay the cost.

THEY DID SO LONG AGO, AND THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK THEY WILL REVERSE THAT DECISION.

 

 It’s a false economy, because a well-run trainee or internship program is not only cheaper than J-school, it’s also vastly more valuable. 

NOT NECESSARILY. I LEARNED A LOT ON THE JOB, BUT I NEVER LEARNED ANYTHING ABOUT THE HISTORY, LAW, OR ETHICS OF OUR FIELD. BESIDES, WHERE ARE YOUNG PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO LEARN SKILLS LIKE ‘DATA JOURNALISM’ OR ‘DATA VISUALIZATION’? NOT FROM GRIZZLED VETERANS, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM DO NOT HAVE THESE SKILLS THEMSELVES. THAT’S WHY OUR STUDENTS ARE IN DEMAND FOR JOBS LIKE “MMJ” AND “MULTIMEDIA PRODUCER” AND “DATA INVESTIGATOR.”

So let’s abolish J-school, or at the very least turn it into a purely academic subject no one can mistake for vocational training. By doing so, we will force the training back into the newsrooms, where it belongs. WISHFUL THINKING.

 THE FACT IS, WE NEED JOURNALISM EDUCATION NOW MORE THAN EVER.

Story outline

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Journalism, journalism history, media, news, reporting, writing

Abolish the NCAA: The Duke case

By Christopher B. Daly 

I’m just catching up with a fine review by Caitlin Flanagan in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review about what sounds like a fine book by William D. Cohan about the fiasco that was the Duke lacrosse “scandal” of 2006. Without re-hashing the accusations or the ensuing rush to judgment, the issue raises the question:

What educational role does intercollegiate lacrosse play at Duke University?

I think the answer is pretty obvious.

From Flanagan’s book review:

It has become possible, these past several decades, to think of Duke as consisting of a professional basketball team to which, bizarrely, a research university has attached itself. But it is the “non­revenue” sports at Duke — and the school’s relentless, aggressive and very expensive campaign to build them into powerhouse brands — that have most radically changed the tenor of that campus. The strange centrality of the athletic program in the life of an academically excellent institution, and the many unintended consequences this situation has wrought, is the subject of William D. Cohan’s “The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities.” The book is at once a masterwork of reporting and a devastating critique of a university that has lost its way.

. . . The ill-advised party that would end in the rape charges took place at the beginning of spring break, when the team was required to stay in Durham to practice. This forgoing of their vacation week had resulted in a new tradition in which players spent their off-hours partying, hard, in a kind of alternative spring break. At the beginning of the week, the coach came to practice with some $10,000 in cash, which he passed out to the players in fat wads. The absurd amount was ostensibly for meals, although many of the players were sons of wealthy families and could afford to buy their own chow. By that night, the cash was being spent on all the ancient vices: booze, gambling and the hiring of desperately poor women for sexual entertainment. The players chose to do all of these things, of course, and it was their responsibility to deal with any disastrous outcome that might result from them. But the way in which that huge pile of cash played its role in the events hangs over “The Price of Silence.” It raises the most disturbing questions about how Duke envisions its student-athletes, what it expects from them, how it is willing to accommodate them — and how it will drop them, completely, when they are no longer of use to the university. . .

Bernard Thomas/Herald Sun via Polaris

Bernard Thomas/Herald Sun via Polaris

2 Comments

Filed under education, NCAA

Abolish the NCAA: unionize!

By Christopher B. Daly 

As I have long maintained, the NCAA does not advance any educational purpose on college campuses (and, in fact, with its insane training regimens and travel requirements, intercollegiate athletic competition often works at cross-purposes to educational activities like attending class, reading, writing, thinking, etc.)

imagesNow comes word that the NLRB (an agency that rarely makes news in this atomized, freelance economy) has ruled that college football players at Northwestern should have the right to organize into a union like the NFL Players Union. And why not? Those players are on college campuses essentially to provide entertainment to the other students. They are provide a service, and most of them are students in name only. They should certainly have the right to bargain collectively. After all, they bring in big money by putting on a show that is worthy of televising.

(In fact, they should probably be bargaining with the NFL, since they work in what amounts to the NFL’s minor league or farm system.)

From today’s NYTimes:

The ruling comes at a time when the N.C.A.A. and its largest conferences are generating billions of dollars, primarily from football and men’s basketball. The television contract for the new college football playoff system is worth $7.3 billion over 10 years, and the current deal to broadcast the men’s basketball tournament is worth $10.8 billion over 14 years.

The decision could give momentum to those who believe the N.C.A.A. should modify its rules on how athletes are compensated. The ruling applies only to scholarship football players at Northwestern, but the precedent could extend to other Division I scholarship football players at similar private universities. (Collective bargaining at public universities is governed by state law, not the N.L.R.B.)

“It’s another brick being taken out of the castle the N.C.A.A. has constructed,” said the ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former college basketball player. “It’s not going to stand forever, and we’re getting closer and closer to it tumbling.”


 

1 Comment

Filed under education

Can we ever catch up to Shanghai?

That’s one question that could be asked about the latest round of global testing of 15-year-olds. This Boston Globe graphic makes it easy to see where we stand. (If you believe in testing.)

03test

Kids from Massachusetts may be in striking distance, but that US average is not all that impressive. Try chanting this: We’re Number 30!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Abolish the NCAA (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Former North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis talks with former defensive tackle Marvin Austin in a file photo. Austin is a key player in investigations involving improper contact with sports agents. JEFF SINER — JEFF SINER - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Former North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis talks with former defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who is a key player in investigations involving improper contact with sports agents.
JEFF SINER — JEFF SINER – jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The latest episode of stupid, destructive results stemming from collegiate involvement in big-time athletics involves the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This one is particularly painful to me, since I got my master’s degree at UNC in 1982. (Yes, that was the height of the Michael Jordan era in Tarheels hoops, and yes, I was a fan. I had not yet figured out how deeply corrupting the NCAA is.)

In today’s column, the NYT’s Joe Nocera lays out some of the low-lights from the downfall of UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp (what a name!).

Here’s a link to some of the coverage of the UNC mess by the estimable N&O, the News & Observer of nearby Raleigh. You know you’re in trouble when the biggest paper that covers you has to create a standing headline like “UNC Scandal.” The N&O has a story about a recent talk given by Mary Willingham, who once labored in the belly of the athletic beast, helping unprepared athletes navigate their ways to remaining eligible while working nearly full-time as minor-league players for pro sports.

Willingham, who worked as a learning and reading specialist inside UNC’s academic support program for athletes, talked Thursday about her struggle to combat the system. She spoke of NCAA paperwork that arrived annually that required a signature and promise that she hadn’t seen cheating, or been a part of it.

“I’ve got to tell you that most of the time, I scribbled my initials on it,” Willingham said. “So yeah, I lied. I saw it – I saw cheating. I saw it, I knew about it, I was an accomplice to it, I witnessed it. And I was afraid, and silent, for so long.”

Willingham still works at UNC, though not with athletes. She’s an assistant director in the center for student services and academic counseling. Of the 750 to 800 athletes at UNC, she described 150 to 200 of them on Thursday as “seriously underprepared” for the academic rigors of college life at UNC.

During her 20-minute speech, she lambasted the NCAA – calling the organization a “cartel” and describing its academic entrance standards for athletes “a farce.”

And she should know.
What more is there to say? Abolish the NCAA, before it corrupts another fine school. 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Journalism

Q: What’s wrong with U.S. higher ed?

A: It costs too much.

We are doing some things right in higher education, but we are getting this big one wrong. This is one of the saddest stories I have seen in a while.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

College rankings

are obviously problematic, but not when they make your own school look good. Here is a recent global survey, weighted toward schools whose graduates are in demand in the worldwide economy.

It was no surprise, I suppose, that the top 5 were, in order: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, and Stanford. What came as a pleasant surprise was the No. 17 global ranking for the school where I teach, BOSTON UNIVERSITY. 

In fact, if you go through this list just looking at U.S. schools, the schools rank this way:

Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Princeton, and then . . .  B.U.!

That would make B.U. the seventh-best university in America (at least in the eyes of the “thousands of recruiters” who participated in this survey, which was “compiled by Emerging, a human resources consultancy based in Paris, and Trendence, an institute that researches employer branding, personal marketing and recruitment” — pardon me, but I think I am allergic to half the words in that description of those two outfits).

This all sounds very sketchy, but I have to admit that I like the results.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized