Thinking about the Carnegie/Knight study of journalism education
May 30th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

We were glad to see the release last week of the Carnegie/Knight
foundations' executive summary of their study, “Improving
The Education Of Tomorrow's Journalists
.”  It’s often a good
sign when financial heavyweights like these organizations recognize there is a
problem and change needs to be forthcoming. 

And we are grateful the study’s conclusion reports that journalists need
to be trained to have greater analytic abilities.  This study, for
example, goes so far as to say, “Developing news judgment and analytical skills,
including the ability to separate fact from opinion and use
statistics   But the report, at least the summary,
fails to break any new ground (the Carnegie Foundation has tried
this before
, at least with the J-school at Columbia Univ.) in articulating
just which statistics some or all journalists should be using.” 
(This is no surprise: the Accrediting Council on Education in
Journalism and Mass Communications
, the accrediting body for journalism
education, says students should be able to “apply basic
numerical and statistical concepts
,” but then fails to describe criteria an
accrediting team could use to measure that objective.)

But and but….

First, we are struck by the U.S.-centric perspective of the
study.  Yes, yes, “five leading U.S. research
universities with journalism schools.”  And, after all, Carnegie
and the Knight family made their fortunes in the U.S.  But the
Digital Revolution is global, and so should be many aspects of journalism
and practice. 
Japanese police, for example, use the same numerals in their GIS systems
as do the Brits or Brazilians.  Ergo, journalists in all nations
need to know things like how GIS is being applied in their jurisdictions to
“monitor the centers of power” or understand and illustrate a variety of

Second, as much as we would like to take comfort in this research
effort, we can only conclude that it’s the same old Classic
talking to each other.  Consider this: 
The summary lists 40 individuals interviewed for the report. 
Any American journalist or journalism educator will recognize most of the
names because they are all high-profile individuals of a certain age,
individuals deeply invested in, it would seem, practicing and perpetuating
classic journalism, i.e. pre-Digital Age journalism.  (There is a
handful of major exceptions, people who have either been deeply involved in
practicing journalism in the new infosphere or learning to leverage the new
environment:  Michael Bloomberg, James Fallows, Richard Kaplan,
Donald E. Newhouse, and Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.)

But by talking to 40 mostly high-profile types, along with these five
deans, what specific directions for change in journalism are likely to
result?  If the study’s efforts were thorough, interviewees would
have included people entrenched in managing information and data in the digital
infosphere.  People like Dave Winer, one of the early
inventors of blogging software, or Craig Newmark of “Craig’s List” or Andy Lehren at
NBC Dateline or Dan Gillmor,
formerly of the San Jose Mercury-News, or Rich
at The New York Times or just about anyone at Google.  All of these
people are changing the way journalism is practiced and delivered.

Third, we are taken aback by the rationale for the “Summer
Institute at ABC News
” internships.  We can’t follow the logic
here.  We are told that all forms of journalism are in trouble in
terms of quality and readership/viewership.  Yet this initiative is
sending 10 carefully selected students into one of the very places that is in
trouble, ostensibly to learn something.  Huh? 

These students, and the future of journalism, would be far better served
if the ten were given financial support to spend a summer working as an
administrative assistant to a city manager in a medium-sized city; spend a
summer working with a crime analyst in a major city police department; spend a
summer working as an aide in the congressional IT division office; spend a
summer working in the field with Oxfam or Catholic Charities or similar
organizations; spend a summer working at Community Viz to learn how simulation
modeling can generate insights and tell stories; spend a summer working at WHO
or the CDC to learn how data is collected and analyzed.  Then, at
the end of the summer, have those students submit a how-to-implement-the-process
paper describing what they learned that can be applied to journalism and how
those lessons and skills could be taught in J-school.

Finally, we are concerned that the study seems to look at
journalism education as a unique species without appropriate attention to the
information environment, the rapidly changing environment, in which the species
lives.  On one hand, Hodding Carter III, president of the Knight
Foundation, seems to recognize the change:  Virtually
everything in journalism is, at the moment, insufficient and in a state of
flux,” he said. “Basic principles do not change, but the environment in which
they must be applied is changing radically. So should the education of those who
must work within that environment.
  Yet the report of the
study so far doesn’t address these changing-environment issues in any specific

We hope that in the next phase, the foundations and deans consider
investigating issues like these:

What proportion of a J-faculty has participated in a research
project in the past 24 months involving colleagues in other disciplines on the
same campus?  Or colleagues in other disciplines from any other
campus?  And how did those interdisciplinary participants organize and manage
the project in the digital environment?

·  What proportion of the J-faculty subscribes to listservs other
than those for their department, school or university?  If the
number is between one and six, how many of those are related to academic
disciplines other than journalism? 

·  What proportion of the J-faculty has attended a scholarly
conference in the past 24 months related to a discipline other than

·   What proportion of the J-faulty has used a spreadsheet or database
to analyze data pertaining to a story the faculty member worked on or used a
spreadsheet or database to build a mini data base for personal or department
use?  What proportion of the J-faculty teaching writing or editing
courses have taught students to use a spreadsheet or database to analyze data
related to a story?

·  What proportion of the J-faculty has downloaded or installed a
computer utility in the past three months, just to see how it works and to
explore how it might be helpful to journalists?

What proportion of the J-faculty have posted their course syllabi
and calendars to a website, one designed to facilitate communication between and
among faculty and students?  What proportion of the J-faculty
typically expects their students to always submit written and imagery
assignments in digital form and via e-mail or similar

We do hope something comes out of this
initiative, but it’s taken two or three years to get to this point. 
Can democracy afford to wait much longer?

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