Do We Need J-Schools?

Do We Need J-Schools?

“The role of the reporter is changing, as are the economics of education,” observes the Columbia Journalism Review. In this story, the review asks this provocative question: “With this new calculus, does journalism school still have a place in our profession?”

Three professionals weigh in: yes, no, maybe.

For those interested in the future of the profession, and in our democracy, I encourage you to read the arguments made on both sides of the question. I come down emphatically on the yes side. Bill Grueskin, former reporter, editor and academic dean at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, makes the case for such training. J-Schools are no longer tasked with simply preparing students for entry into traditional journalism roles at the local newspaper or television station, he acknowledges. The profession has certainly changed in recent years. But so have all professions. And such change doesn’t mean that J-Schools can’t keep evolving to provide essential trainin in today’s environment. Journalism must take the lead, he argues, instead of simply responding to change.

“Many journalism schools are becoming hothouses of innovation and research for the news business,” he writes. “This is a big shift. J-schools used to see themselves largely as training grounds for the cannon fodder that would head off to local radio and TV stations and newspapers. They failed to recognize the historic role universities have played in providing insight and research for industries.

“That is changing, and fast. Journalism professors have seen how timidity and slow-wittedness have hampered the news business, and they’re responding, either because they fear the consequences of a shrinking job market on enrollment, or because they understand the opportunity and duty that confront higher education.”

As part of their core curriculum, J-Schools have always provided students with a solid educational foundation – a mixture of theory and practical skills training that is especially beneficial as they prepare for uncertain futures.

“But a strong journalism program will help young reporters challenge their presumptions and prejudices, will encourage them to meet people and go to neighborhoods outside their comfort zone, and will force them to develop the resilience that journalists need, especially now,” writes Grueskin. “The best programs will also enable students to develop the intellectual dexterity to deal with unending technological change, so journalism can emerge more interesting and more dynamic than ever before.”