J-schools make too many pros, too few citizens

I’m on a committee with a few journalists and public relations folks rethinking how to teach the various disciplines within communications. We are not alone. A lengthy article from InsideHigherEd.com describes a panel discussion on how the elite journalism schools are rethinking their missions – up to a point, as the article notes:

“One question that panelists didn’t consider in any depth was whether journalism schools were needed in the first place. It’s a “non-dialectical issue,” said Carnegie’s president, Vartan Gregorian. “The fact is, we have to live with reality,” he added: They’re here, so the question should be how to reform them.”

Step one, cut output. I graduated the J-school at Columbia University in 1991. It was a great experience and I found a job. But even then I felt j-schools overproduced. Guest speakers came through often and one graduate of the 1950s era said he and his peers took summers off before taking job. We had no such expectation in 1991. We competed for internships. His class size was under 100. Mine was a bit over 200.

The irony is that 301,621,157 Americans could befit from some journalism education. That’s the entire population. Nowadays anyone can be a journalist through a blog or a social network. Most of that will be at the level of the high school paper or church bulletin. But utimately this will be tremendously good because as more people create media, they will be less gullible and more aware of how situations can be spun. 

If I seem calm about this possible transformation it’s because I’ve been through it before. In the 1980s I was a professional typographer. Desktop publishing decimated that profession and hurt my business. At the time I thought design heathens, drunk with the ability to mix and match fonts, would ravage the printed page. But now that my livelihood is not at issue I rather like how design has evolved.

Today professional journalism faces amateur competition. But it needn’t be adversarial. I think the pros should mentor citizens journalists. Form them into a news militia. The most interested segment of the public wants to get more involved. They are the opinion leaders who will can us more deeply into their communities — if we allow them to get a little bit closer to our hallowed editorial operations.

 How can the elite j-schools help in this evolution of a hybrid journalism? Because to paraphrase Vartan Gregorian, I think it will happen and journalists will have to deal with it.