The Magazine

J-School Follies

Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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In light of the ongoing, slow-motion collapse of the mainstream media, at least one major journalism school has decided to reassess its priorities. Last week, Inside Higher Ed reported that the prestigious Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California is revamping its master’s degree program. But Annenberg’s response to the bankruptcy of the profession is laughable. 

The program is shrinking from a two-year to a one-year course of study, which at first glance seems like a better value for students. But it’s not. Tuition for the two-year program was $64,582; now students will have to pay a mere $56,867 for a deck chair with an unobstructed view of their industry’s oncoming iceberg. And in order to convince would-be Woodwards that they need to back their money truck up to the bursar’s office, all Annenberg has to offer is some new buzzwords. The school will assign students reporting shifts in a “digitally converged newsroom” in order to “reflect more what happened in newsrooms.”

The sad fact is that the best thing Annenberg could do to really help the profession is to admit that journalists are not a priestly caste requiring years of expensive and specialized instruction. This was true when journalism had much higher standards and revenues, and it’s doubly true given the impoverished state of the profession today. (Even the New Yorker has resorted to clogging up its website with animated GIF slideshows.) But don’t speak that truth to the power at Annenberg. Here’s Michael Parks, the director of the school, explaining why a journalism degree is so valuable:

“Do you need a journalism school to become a journalist? No. I didn’t,” said Parks, whose first job was at the Detroit News in 1962, where he was “taught journalism” by the city editor. “But I think I would have trouble going into any newsroom today with a degree in classics.”

Of course, what’s actually missing in journalism today is the ability to think critically. To the extent that kids these days can digitally converge on their keyboards and produce coherent sentences that come to rational conclusions, this increasingly rare gift is far more likely to be the result of possessing a knowledge of Latin grammar and having read the classics. Parks has it exactly backwards.

But that’s assuming Parks thinks the goal of a journalism school is to teach students how to write and report. The Scrapbook knows better. The real purpose of journalism schools is to provide teaching sinecures for veteran journalists who might not otherwise enjoy the same prestige and comfortable salary they once expected from an industry they drove into the ground.

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