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Are Journalism schools necessary? Two perspectives.

July 22, 2013

No — Journalism schools are not needed

By Hamilton Nolan

Hamilton Nolan

Hamilton Nolan

Journalism schools are, in general, overpriced elitist anachronisms with no compelling reason to exist in their current form. So it makes sense that they’re both shrinking and changing. The only thing staying the same: desperate justifications of their own existence.

Inside Higher Ed today looks at the changes being made to USC’s J-school program: its masters degree program is being compacted from two years down to one, and they’re rolling out a buzzwordy “digitally converged newsroom” that will, they hope, convince students that $56,867 is a fair price to pay to learn how to type things on the internet.

The entire professional journalism industry is shrinking. The barrier to entry to online publishing is virtually nil. J-school is A) less necessary than ever for professional training purposes and B) a worse investment than ever. Journalism schools themselves know that, which is why they’re scrambling to remake themselves. But they still need a new crop of students every year to pay those bills! What is the very latest J-school justification sophistry, USC Annenberg School of Journalism director Michael Parks?

While some have debated whether a graduate degree in journalism is really worth that much, Parks argued that journalism schools could be more important than ever, because employers no longer have the time nor the resources to train their journalists. They want candidates who already know what they’re doing when they walk into the door, and journalism schools make their students competitive candidates by giving them skills and professional experiences, Parks said.

“Do you need a journalism school to become a journalist? No. I didn’t,” said Parks, whose first job was at the Detroit News in 1962, where he was “taught journalism” by the city editor. “But I think I would have trouble going into any newsroom today with a degree in classics.”

Perhaps Michael Parks would have trouble going into any newsroom today with a degree in classics that he earned prior to 1962, before the internet was invented. But the average twentysomething today grew up online and probably has a pretty decent understanding of how to type words into the little box on Twitter and hit the “Tweet” button. #HASHTAGJOURNALISM


Look, I’m not knocking J-school people for trying to hang onto their cash cow. They have the best job in journalism! If I had a sweet j-school gig (I’m available!) I’d be trying to lure these kids in left and right, too. But the fact is that J-school is a terrible investment. Kids fresh out of J-school don’t “know what they’re doing when they walk into the door” any more than any other first-day employee. J-school will just leave you in a financial hole. Writing sponsored content for PR firms: now that’s where the money is in media these days. No knowledge required. Gawker.

Yes — Journalism schools make better journalists

By Gabrielle Canon

Gabrielle Canon

Gabrielle Canon

Gawker staff writer Hamilton Nolan loves to rant. I can’t say I ever particularly noticed Nolan, or that his opinionated posts stand out from the rest of the sensationalized content Gawker churns out each day, but when a friend forwarded me Nolan’s take on Journalism schools — specifically USC’s Masters program — I read closely. I am a recent graduate from the Masters of Specialized Journalism at USC, and I can understand where he is coming from.

As a student I questioned the direction the school was going and the curriculum decisions made there. I was awarded a partial scholarship but still incurred over $30,000 in debt that will likely follow me far into the future. I worked tirelessly, taking on two jobs in addition to freelance work, in order to make ends meet and sacrificed a healthy sleep schedule.

Despite all of this I can say, without doubt, Nolan is wrong. Worse, he has missed an opportunity to constructively examine the role of J-schools in the future of journalism. Nolan offers no justification for his accusations that J-schools have “no compelling reason to exist” other than sardonically insisting journalism today consists of typing “words into the little box on Twitter and (hitting) the ‘Tweet’ button.”

It’s true, admission costs to an institution like USC would not be a “fair price to pay to learn how to type things on the Internet,” but what he fails to consider is that simple knowledge of the Internet and no barriers to entry does not make a journalist. In fact, his post is a clear example of the problem posed by those parameters.

Though the professional journalist pool is shrinking, the amount of content available is growing. Unverified, unsubstantial and untrue information is easily masked as news, and those with opinions or agendas act as journalists.

Journalism is a public good, essential to the health of democracy and the growth of society. Journalistic standards and ethics — along with strategies for solid coverage, objectivity and prioritized information — are the pillars for good journalism and are instilled in journalists through training, experience and education. These skills set real journalists apart from other content producers as reliable sources of information, and these are the skills I developed during the program at USC.

The man instrumental to my education was Nolan’s scapegoat, Michael Parks. He taught me more than how to be a better writer or how to employ the important standards that govern journalism. He taught me how to think about the work I am doing and the role it plays in society. He taught me how to seek solutions in my reporting and to ask the questions that will expose unseen layers to an issue.

To casually accuse Michael Parks of PR pandering in order to “pay those bills,” suggests Nolan did not do his homework and has little understanding of what Parks has contributed to the field of journalism and why he was chosen as the school’s new interim director.

Still, I think a critique of J-schools is warranted. Student debt is crippling, and there aren’t as many professional opportunities available in journalism. This is why these institutions must rise to the challenge and offer more than basic training or techniques for typing on the Internet.

They are the institutions that must prioritize and uphold the journalistic standards of the past while providing pathways for the future. They must teach students to utilize a variety of mediums and understand a market that is constantly changing.

These institutions also act as laboratories, experimenting with new media models and enabling students to discuss and debate the realities of this industry. They teach students how to produce good ideas along with good content.

I cannot remark on other programs or other J-schools, but I can say the program at USC made me a better journalist. As a student I became a stronger writer and interviewer, I learned how to make documentaries and take compelling photos. I was given the opportunity to travel internationally to report on global issues and empowered to organize discussions that brought experts and students together around a table.

It is true, programs like this one are at risk of becoming obsolete as Nolan says. They are at risk of falling into PR-plays for filled seats where students are provided with an unneeded education or worse — taught to prioritize money over principles. I am optimistic, however, with leaders like Michael Parks, J-schools will rise to the challenge and help create the next generation of good journalists. If they do, they will be worth every penny. Huffington Post.


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