For the first time, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism announced it wouldn’t seek formal accreditation, stating that it’s ‘relatively superficial, extremely time-consuming and doesn’t lead us to a goal of significant improvement.’ Does a lack of accreditation change the legitimacy of a journalism school?
Gross is the opinion editor for the student-run newspaper, The Daily. She will be taking over as editor-in-chief in the fall.
Despite the kind of recognition, prestige, and approval that usually comes with an accreditation, Medill Dean Bradley Hamm might have been speaking words of wisdom when he told the Chicago Tribune the process was flawed and not useful.
An accreditation, by definition, is only a way to show recognition. Even the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications writes on their website that “to accredit is to assure basic standards of excellence” in education. This claim is in itself a bit vague, and in all honesty, doesn’t say anything about who determines these standards of excellence, and why these specific standards matter. Being accredited, in this sense, speaks more to reputation than it does to the genuine quality of education.
However, Dean Hamm is making this call at the wrong historical moment. Journalism, and honest reporting, is about to be one of most important jobs. Choosing to be a journalist in this moment means choosing to take on a great responsibility of educating the masses. This is not a small duty.
For young journalists such as myself, showing future employers that I received my degree from an institution that maintains accreditation in an era of false reporting is important. Newspapers want to be able to trust their reporters to have a solid base of knowledge in the field of journalism: This means understanding ethics, AP style, multimedia, and much more. An accreditation does ensure that this type of information is being taught to journalism students.
What’s more, media consumers want to know they can trust the news they read, listen to, and watch. Journalists who have gone to schools with accreditations have been undoubtedly taught how to write truthful, well sourced, and poignant pieces that the public needs to see.
I’m not usually the type to vouch for labels: We all know not to judge a book by its cover, or a person by their resume. However, the reality is that accreditation might only seem like a title, but in an era of fake news, it’s much more than that. It serves as a certification that a university will be teaching the future journalists of the United States proper journalistic methods. Right now, that’s more important than ever.
Jackson joined the Times-News earlier this year and has worked in the newspaper industry for 25 years.
Normally when I hear words like “consultant,” “study” or “accreditation” the cynical journalist in me is reminded of the line in the movie “Blazing Saddles:” “Gentlemen, we must do something to protect our phony baloney jobs.”
So it was when I read Medill planned to let its accreditation lapse. The process, Dean Bradley Hamm said, was expensive, time-consuming and “flawed,” according to the Chicago Tribune’s initial coverage.
I read Facebook posts about it but I’m a busy editor and moved on. I have copy to edit, photos to assign and content to clear of any liberal bias—including Marmaduke. That dog is always looking for a hand out.
Nonetheless, I decided to check out the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. There I found an eloquent defense of the council’s work signed by board members of such great merit and scholarship that reading the list tired me out and I required a pick-me-up nap.
It reminded me of my experience with the council at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in about 1990. Professors ran ahead of council members, spit-shining computers and cameras, straightening papers and imploring the students to not screw this thing up.
A school like Medill probably doesn’t need accreditation because it’s big and important and it makes everyone know that. It is so well known it can be referred to with one name: Medill. Like Cher. Or Marmaduke.
But other schools do need accreditation because prospective students and their parents can learn how one program compares with another. Important stuff, graduation rates, job placements, graduate lists, the list goes on. In fact the accrediting council has created a searchable database for parents.
And it’s all done in the same way good schools—accredited schools—teach their students to report stories, objectively, rigorously and independently.
So Medill—and Cher—may go without accreditation. But every other school ought to. It’s good for the schools, the students and the parents.
Now back to content management. How is it that Garfield has not had a job in 30 years but he’s still fat? Sorry, that’s fat cat shaming. He’s a cat of girth.