Deans and Directors Unveil Plan to Improve J-School

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By: Jennifer Saba

Five universities announced today they are joining forces to institute a new, wide-ranging initiative that will change the way journalism is taught.

“Our democracy needs veracity, openness, and accountability,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which is funding the project, in his opening remarks. “Journalists and school teachers, in my book, are the two most important professions for democracy.”

Presidents, deans, and other representatives from Columbia, Northwestern, Harvard, University of Southern California, and University of California, Berkeley, were on hand this morning at the Carnegie Corporation to explain how they plan to revitalize journalism education.

The effort will be funded by $6 million in donations, mostly coming from Carnegie, which pledged $2.4 million, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which pledged $1.7 million. Other universities will be added to the initiative, an announcement to be made every September.

Deans from all the participating schools — Columbia’s Nicholas Lemann (via video) , Northwestern’s Loren Ghiglione, Alex USC’s Geoffrey Cowan, and Bekeley’s Orville Schell — plus Alex Jones, director of Harvard’s Jean Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy, explained the project and its three major undertakings:

? A change in curriculum that will integrate the schools of journalism more deeply into the life of the university.

? The coordination of annual, national investigative reporting projects to be distributed nationally, under a project called News 21.

? Research conducted by the Carnegie-Knight Task Force, a group dedicated to creating a platform for educators to speak on policy and journalism education issues.

“This industry doesn’t put its money where its mouth is,” said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, about the press’ reluctance to change. “This is an attempt to address the great dirty secret of journalism: that we are inherently conservative about what we do.”

The project has been in the works for three years and was shaped with input from professional journalists. Carnegie enlisted McKinsey & Co. on a pro-bono basis to conduct research with some of the industry’s leading figures about the state of journalism education and how schools could be improved.

During the summer of 2004, the consulting firm interviewed 40 professionals, including Christiane Amanpour, Fred Barnes, Michael Bloomberg, Leonard Downie Jr., Jack Fuller, Eason Jordon, Sandra Mims Rowe, Lesley Stahl, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

While the one-on-one interviews produced a diversity of recommendations, the firm noted broad agreement about what the program should address:

? Emphasize the basics of journalism craft, along with analytical thinking and a strong sense of ethics.

? Help reporters build specialized expertise to enhance their coverage of complex beats from medicine to economics, and help them acquire first-hand knowledge of the societies, languages, religions, and cultures of other parts of the world.

? Channel the best writers, the most curious reporters, and the most analytical of thinkers into the profession of journalism.

The emphasis on training and education comes at time when journalism is under intense scrutiny. When asked, why this program now, the Knight’s Carter quipped: “The malaise. You can cut it with a knife.”

Other concerns noted by Carter include the diminishing appetite for print, most especially visible with youth; technology, which offers many promises and challenges; and the increasing consolidation media and the focus on the bottom line. “That’s just the starting point,” Carter said.

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