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Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Knight Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, four journalism schools and a journalism-related institute at Harvard have put together what the Chronicle of Higher Education calls a "broad plan to overhaul journalism education."

The Knight announcement today has links to coverage from The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Editor & Publisher, as well as a downloadable PDF file of a McKinsey & Co. report commissioned by Carnegie to get the ball rolling. Carnegie's site also has links to all of the schools involved, a Manifesto, a FAQ file and much more.

The $6 million, three-year project involves the journalism schools at Columbia University, Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California, plus the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

If your reaction is that it's no big deal to have two top foundations writing checks to already-excellent universities, here's a chunk of the Carnegie FAQ file (highlighting added):

Why undertake this initiative aimed at revitalizing journalism schools at this time? And why these schools?
A: It's all about democracy. Just as we need well-educated and well-trained teachers for public schools; we need well-educated and well-trained journalists to analyze, interpret and report for today's media. This is particularly critical in a time of globalization when context, culture and the complexity of issues facing our nation and the world challenges the ability of all of us to make sense of modern times. That's why we must look to journalism schools, which are uniquely positioned to draw on the educational and intellectual resources of the universities at which they reside, to prepare the news leaders of the 21st century. We ignore these schools and their curricula at democracy's peril.
This project encourages journalism schools to go beyond their current boundaries - to be expansive about the kind of courses and information their students should absorb. It attempts to raise the profile of journalism education - and its place within the university - by helping improve it at top schools that have support from the highest level - so much so that their presidents have agreed to support the project's third year.
We think all good journalism school deans would agree that journalism education needs to get better and it needs to get the attention from the profession and the university that it deserves. We have built into this initiative the ability for these five schools to work with others, and under the grant to Harvard, they are required to give research grants to other universities.

OK... I'm all for a higher profile for journalism education, in hopes of some "trickle down" impact at the University of Tennessee, where I've been teaching in a journalism school for the past year. If a "higher profile" brings journalism schools more private or state funding for student projects, more salaries for full-time teachers, better teaching labs and more encouragement to experiment with things like weblogs, "converging" media and computer-assisted reporting, I'm all for it.

I've been saying for a long time that, with the Web empowering more people to do "citizen journalism," journalism schools are a natural place to teach them to do it well -- as well as preparing full-time professionals to do it even better.

Maybe as part of this Carnegie-Knight Initiative, there will be some online forums and blogs for participating teachers to talk about their craft, as well as the craft of journalism... and about the challenges of getting students interested in real news today. (That was the subject of another recent study. See the cover of the most recent Carnegie Reporter: A picture of Jon Stewart and a headline that says "Abandoning the News; Is This the Most Trusted Anchorman in America?")

I'm especially intrigued by a part of this Carnegie-Knight Initiative that recommends team-teaching, putting subject-matter experts and journalism teachers together together to improve courses in special-topic reporting. Says the FAQ file, "The world, including the media world, has become far too complex for journalism as usual."

Another encouraging part of the project is that the foundations got the university presidents to buy in, guaranteeing funding for the third year. Back to the Carnegie FAQ:

The presidents of the universities involved are committed to this initiative, not only because of what it brings to their own campus, but because they recognize the need nationally for revitalizing the profession of journalism. The schools will serve as incubators of reform for the nation and the profession.

While all that incubating is going on up north and out west, here in Knoxville we have university committees searching for both a dean of the College of Communication & Information and a director of the School of Journalism & Electronic Media. ("JEM" is one of the four parts of the college.) Having Information Science and journalism in the same college, and having print and broadcasting in one school, are among the special things that attracted me here.

Maybe this high-profile Carnegie-Knight project, even if it is far away, will help raise more interest (and funds) to help journalism schools like ours take advantage of their own universities' special strengths, and I don't mean football and basketball. For example, journalism students can discover important work going on here in many fields -- business and logistics, computer science and engineering, anthropology and forensics, and more.

Off-campus, I'd count as local strengths the lively online communities of the Rocky Top Brigade and KORRnet, and the fact that local journalists pay attention to what's happening in those online communities.


For the record, here's the e-mail alert about the Chronicle article that got me started chasing down these links:

This article, "5 Universities Will Announce a Broad Plan to Overhaul Journalism Education," is available online at this address:

This article will be available to non-subscribers of The
Chronicle for up to five days after it is e-mailed.

The article is always available to Chronicle subscribers at this

updated 6 p.m., 5/26;
some editing 5/30

9:30:26 AM    

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