Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Journalism Schools

Have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that journalism school is kind of bullshit? Michael Lewis had just such a concern in 1993 and so visited Columbia's highly regarded School of Journalism to see if his suspicions were true. The result was this classic crackback in The New Republic. And frankly stuff like this (also at Columbia) doesn't help either.

The friend I am staying with here in Asheville is like a brother to me (and he periodically checks in on this blog) and he went to Albama's graduate school in journalism to get an MA. He enjoyed it, and surely found it useful in terms of giving him something to grasp on to after an undergraduate career in which he did not intend to pursue journalism and in an aconomic climate not especially conducive to helping a new graduate transition into professional journalism in small-town New Hampshire. He worked in the field for a few years and hated more about it than he liked - all while living in poverty even with full-time writing gigs - and is now a nurse (which required two more years of schooling). My own views of journalism school were shaped at my PhD program, an admittedly small sample, where the Contemporary History Institute included members of our nationally- ranked journalism program. The bulk of my journalism colleagues (CHI is an interdisciplinary program) were so enamored by the reputation of their school and the occasional big name passing through to teach for a year or a semester that they forgot to consider whether or not one-sentence paragraphs represent an especially wise approach to writing or why knowing stuff made their colleagues in history (or occasionally poli-sci, though at Ohio the political science grad students, and more than a few of the professors, tended to be fools and lackwits) so much more prepared to engage in substance than they were.

As far as I am concerned we could close all of the business, journalism, and education schools tomorrow, (keep early childhood education, which we could team with psychology or something) and the world would be none the worse for it. If these programs were limited to graduate school we could ignore them. But they pervade undergraduate education to the point where the journalists and teachers in training do not realize that you need to be teaching or writing something of substance that you know something about. Meanwhile undergraduate business majors all think they are going to be the next Donald Trump when the reality is that they are on a fast track to a middle-management trainee program somewhere that will teach them all they actually need to know about how to run that local Walgreens. Meanwhile the elite firms in accounting, consulting, investment banking, and what have you are recruiting senior English, history, and econ majors at Williams and Dartmouth knowing that smart people can be trained to pick up rudimentary business skills but that dumb people with business degrees cannot necessarily be trained to have analytical and critical thinking skills.


montana urban legend said...

What? Did the "MBA President" not leave you with a more positive impression?

dcat said...

Believe it or not, eh?