I’ve wanted to get this off my chest for a long time. There are a couple things about journalism school that make absolutely no sense to me and I should think to most of you.
First, it is a crazy idea to teach young people, no matter how bright, how to do journalism if they have no knowledge about anything else. If I ran the world, the only way to get into journalism school would be to have a degree in something else, political science, economics, history, art, biology, math, physics, I don’t care what. Any knowledge you bring to journalism will be useful. The lack of any knowledge about anything is a major handicap. The University of Western Ontario has done this right, the only journalism degrees they offer are post graduate degrees.
I taught at Ryerson for ten years and the most obvious thing that sticks with me from those years is how much better the students with BA’s and BSc’s did in the courses. They were not smarter or more motivated, they just brought informed ideas with them that allowed them to understand the stories they were researching and covering. Unfortunately the undergrads generally could not perform to the same level.
I can’t speak for all schools but at Ryerson this problem is made worse by a stupid idea behind their non journalism courses offered to J-school students. The J-school students don’t take economics, they take economics for journalists. They take a political science course that only deals with local politics. Every non journalism course is dumbed down. The reason: I was told journalism students don’t want to take non journalism courses. Well, when I was at school I had to take a whole lot of courses I didn’t want to take. They are called requirements for a reason. Dumbing courses down to make them easier to handle for journalism students does nobody any good. The students are cheated of knowledge and their future employers are cheated out of knowledgeable employees. All this so the journalism profs can have an easier time dealing with their students. It seemed to me that J-school at Ryerson was run for the most part by and for the teachers not the students. I met few teachers at Ryerson who cared about the education or the future of their students.
My second beef with journalism school is also true of film, radio and television arts, communications, whatever universities and colleges choose to name their media courses. It seems obvious to me that the schools are making promises they cannot keep to young impressionable people who don’t know better. A student chooses a course of study to prepare for a job in that field…am I going to fast here for all you journalism deans? There are very few jobs available in media. Even in good times there are few openings in Canada. Yet just about every school in Canada invites young people to spend their time and money taking these courses. We are graduating hundreds, maybe thousands of students every year into fields where only a handful of jobs will be available.
I understand that young people think film, TV and journalism is glamorous. I understand that they want to get into these professions. That’s no excuse for our educational institutions to take advantage of them. Let’s be honest, it’s all about the money. J-schools are packed with eager students. If we opened more places in the schools – and we do seem to do this all the time – we would fill them instantly. But does anyone tell these kids there are no jobs for them? I have never seen it. Worse, the schools continue to accept these students knowing there are no jobs. It is morally wrong. I expect this from fly-by-night outfits that advertise on match books and late night TV. I don’t expect this kind of behavior from government funded institutions.
The simple answer is to cut back on the spaces available. Cut way back. Only the best should get in because only the best will get a job in the media.
There are other problems with journalism schools. The move towards getting teachers with higher academic credentials rather than experience and knowledge in the courses they teach is hurting those students who do not themselves strive to be academics – in others words, the students who want to work in journalism. When I was at Ryerson we had people teaching news production who had never worked in news, people teaching television production who had never produced television. The real talent was in the part-timers, not the staff teachers.
The growing numbers of students are taxing the system. There are not enough cameras and edit suites available to teach the courses properly. More students equals more money for the school but there are seldom more facilities when numbers go up.
The best thing about journalism school is the students. I found that the best ones pushed themselves and others. They succeeded in spite of the teaching and overcrowding. They succeeded because they were driven to succeed. Their success speaks to their own abilities not to those of their teachers or their schools.