By: Tony Case
Newspeople and academics agree that much of the
misunderstanding separating news professionals and
journalism educators can be overcome by simple conversation sp.
SAN JOSE MERCURY News managing editor Jerry Ceppos wasn’t aware the journalism department at a community college near where he lives was in danger of being shut down ? until he attended a conference about 200 miles away.
They should have hollered for help, he said.
Lack of communication is but one reason for the canyon of misunderstanding separating news professionals and journalism educators, Ceppos suggested last month during a meeting of newspeople and academics at the Society of Professional Journalists convention in Nashville.
Given the urgent need for discourse, the editor was surprised to learn recently that less than half of the journalism programs at U.S. institutions of higher learning seek the counsel of their area news organizations and journalism groups.
“I can’t imagine why anybody would avoid a structured conversation between professionals and educators once a year, twice a year,” he said.
So many journalism programs in California, and elsewhere, are fighting to stay afloat, and free-speech battles on college campuses have become epidemic.
In response, the California Society of Newspaper Editors, of which Ceppos is president, has formed a journalism education advisory board to encourage educators whose j-schools are under siege to speak up.
Judy VanSlyke Turk, dean of the University of South Carolina College of Journalism and Mass Communication and president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, told SPJ conferees, “If there ever were a time for us to put aside our differences and discover what we do, indeed, have in common ? which, I think, is a belief that there is some value in journalism education ? this is the time. The survival of some of our better programs is being threatened.”
But many editors question the usefulness of j-schools ? a bias those teaching tomorrow’s newspeople must try to change, USA Weekend editor Marcia Bullard maintained.
“If journalism schools are to continue, and I think there is a great place for them, then I think the journalism educators are going to have to work to convince the industry that [they] can provide the kind of training and thinking skills that newspapers and the media can use,” said Bullard, who chairs the journalism education committee of Associated Press Managing Editors.
Willard “Wick” Rowland Jr., dean of the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication and president of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, spoke of a longtime “cultural prejudice” against j-schools on college campuses.
Journalism, advertising and public relations programs were considered beneath contempt, he recalled, “less of a majesty” than such areas of academic pursuit as the arts, the languages and history. But those who teach the more venerable subjects eventually came, in the electronic age, to view the study of media and communication as valid.
Ceppos urged journalism teachers never to view themselves as the unwanted stepchildren of academia.
“Educators and professionals can’t talk about alliances unless educators are proud of journalism, proud teaching it, and proud of newspapers,” he said. “We can’t talk about alliances if educators think newspapers are dead, or if they’re ashamed of their status on campus.”
Journalism students today are being prepared to travel the so-called information superhighway, but Ceppos reminded professors their main responsibility is teaching the traditional methods of gathering and analyzing information.
The Mercury News has about 350 full-timers in its news department, he noted. Mercury Center, the paper’s on-line, facsimile and audiotex service, employs 14 full-time people, only half of them of journalists.
“That’s because gathering the information is a lot more important than figuring out how to adapt it to an on-line service,” he said.
“If I were an educator, I wouldn’t worry about means of delivery; we can’t predict what it’s going to be, and it doesn’t matter. I would teach students how to gather the information, how to analyze it and how to present it in an understandable way. Those skills will be important regardless of the method of transmission.”
Editors who belong to APME, of which Ceppos is a board member, were asked in a survey a couple of years ago how j-schools can better prepare future journalists for their first newsroom jobs. A majority of respondents said educators need to teach their students to think analytically.
“If you talk to any editor,” USA Weekend’s Bullard said, “the ability to put together the pieces of a story, to see beyond the obvious, to have a broad base of knowledge from which to draw your information . . . is crucial.”