McGuire on Media

Can we innovate in journalism education without using the Colorado model of blowing things up?

The most popular journalism education parlor game these days is figuring out what has actually happened at the University of Colorado. You can read that the CU J-School is “toast” or you can listen to the dean of the journalism school who says the journalistic craft has botched this story badly.

Dean Paul Voakes told the Denver News that stories about the demise of the school were “somewhere in the range of premature to inaccurate.”

One of the most important journalism lessons I ever learned came in 1971 at the Dowagiac Daily News in Michigan. I wrote a lead story about a city rabble rouser who wanted to remove the entire city council. The next day he protested he had never said the things I quoted. I went to my boss and said “I have those things right here in my notes, he said them. ” The editor, Fran Reidelberger then said  words that have had a profound effect on my career. “Of course he said it. You know he said it. I know he said it and he knows he said it. He just didn’t realize he said it in 72-point type.”

I think that’s what happened at CU.  The top folks at CU just didn’t imagine the fallout from their decision.  I do not have any inside information but my simple mind tells me that any time you use the word “discontinuance,” the subject of that verb does not have a bright future. Voakes can downplay what’s happening all he wants but I not-so-boldly predict that at the end of the committee process mandated by the chancellor there will not be anything most of us would recognize as a journalism department.

Voakes keeps calling the word “discontinuance” a legally required term. I have dealt with such terms before in my career. When Cowles Media wanted to sell the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and its other holdings, it never once said it wanted to “sell” the paper. Instead the company said it “wanted to pursue strategic alternatives.” That was a “legally required” euphemism that meant “we want to sell but only if the price is right and then only if the highest bidder is not Attila the Hun or the modern day equivalent.” Legally required terms always have meaning.

My colorful friend, Dr. Michael Bugeja of Iowa State, has done a wonderful piece explaining what is probably going on at CU. I find Michael delightful, but I sometimes find myself disagreeing with him. Michael often wants more status quo than I do. I think this piece nails it in many ways.  That piece is a must read to appreciate this issue and it centers some important issues. I especially like his point that the poor job market is a bad excuse to eliminate journalism education.

I do wish Michael would have called for more change because the overriding issue that is most interesting to me is does innovation require blowing something up, as Colorado is apparently contemplating, or can you innovate every single day by developing a forward thinking attitude with an openness to genuine change? Leadership and followership are always crucial to answering that question, but I think there is substantial evidence change can occur from within.

I spent my first career trying to innovate in the newspaper business. I won some skirmishes, but arguably lost the war. My second career finds me in the midst of dramatic innovation at Arizona State’s Cronkite School. The strange thing is that those efforts in the late 90’s produced far more tumult than the innovative changes led by Cronkite School Dean Chris Callahan. Certainly Callahan’s deftness plays a huge role, but stark reality plays a role too. Only an ostrich or a self-absorbed dweeb could resist innovation and change in the light of the dramatic realities facing journalism these days.

That’s why at the Cronkite School innovative efforts to establish an entrepreneurial course and clinic, moves to make a business and future class required, countless clinic experiences , an interdisciplinary approach to border coverage and an effort to put more online and social media professors and researchers on the ground than just about any other school, are seamless, natural efforts to better equip students for a rapidly changing journalistic reality.

Another issue Bugeja briefly alludes too is accreditation. Bugeja uses the word “restrictive” which prompted me to call my good friend Peter Bhatia , the editor at the Portland Oregonian.  Peter is also president of the Accrediting Council on Education and Mass Communications. (ACEJMC).

I came away from that conversation convinced that as long as Bhatia is involved the accrediting council will not be a block to innovative efforts to change journalism curriculum and approaches. In fact, he seems genuinely excited about the innovation he sees at schools like LSU, Northwestern and Arizona State.

Time will tell whether the ruckus at the University of Colorado is about dysfunction or innovation. I think it is clear countless journalism programs are effectively adapting to changing realities without blowing the place up. Then again sometimes a grand explosion can be a good idea!


  1. Posted September 17, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Tim, maybe we don’t need to blow everything up, but journalism education needs to innovate much more dramatically than it has and than most journalism educators want to. As I noted in my recent blog post on this topic, innovation is as much one of the basics of journalism today and writing, editing and ethics:

  2. rivlax
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    “[I]t is clear countless journalism programs are effectively adapting to changing realities without blowing the place up.”

    Which would those be?

  3. Jay Shelledy
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    This is a nice bit of sense in a sea of hysteria, Tim. Your stuff is good. Always has been. We are doing a few off-the-wall things at LSU, as well.

    –Jay Shelledy

  4. Posted September 20, 2010 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    This comment is directed not only at you but also at Steve Buttry, who uses the phrase “journalism education needs an upgrade” in his Sept. 11 post on “The Buttry Diary.”

    What surprises me is that you missed the point of my online article that the phrase–“journalism education” (which Steve uses to discuss Colorado–is at stake.

    You may not know that Iowa State journalism curriculum is one of the most converged in ACEJMC–a fact that I had to defend when professionals on the Accrediting Committee questioned whether the Greenlee School had gone too far in innovating “journalism education.”

    I have maintained in the wake of hoopla what Steve is doing now, that we can innovate without losing journalism principles. That does not make me a traditionalist; it does, however, make me a journalist and journalism educator.

    You and Steve have one shortcoming when it comes to the situation at Colorado. Tim is relatively new to academe and Steve has less experience. I know how administrators operate and we’re on the chopping block rather than the cutting edge.

    I received dozens of emails from journalism professors, journalists and journalism organizations around the country concerned about that main theme in my IHE article and providing more documentation. Worse, those who would destroy journalism education are using your and Steve’s valid arguments about innovation and digital media as an excuse for “Media Studies” and “Information and Communication Technology.”

    Even my alma mater, Oklahoma State University, has changed the name of its journalism school to Media and Strategic Communication. When the faculty tried to insert “News” as in “News Media and Strategic Communication,” administration said no.

    I believe we can move forward, innovate and not destroy journalism education, as we proved at Iowa State, the longest contiuously accredited program in the country, with other schools receiving accreditation in 1948.

    I consider you and Steve my friends and colleagues. But you both need to be aware that your arguments about innovation are being used to remove the journalism from education.

    Brian Johnson, chair of journalism at Illinois, and several colleagues at Missouri and Iowa, are in the process of organizing a summit “To Save Journalism Education” or “To Preserve Journalism Education” as a direct response to my article.

    Here are key points, on which we need both of you expound:

    1. Administrators are forbidding the use of the word “journalism” in degrees and school names. The next thing we’ll hear is that we belong to The Association for the Study of Media and Strategic Communication. And we’ll be accredited by The Accrediting Council on Education in Information and Communication Technology.

    2. Technology is a platform, not a pedagogy. We need to stop the nonsense that “everyone is a journalist” and define what that word means historically, legally and ethically. Conversely, if you believe “everyone is a journalist,” that point can be argued for making journalism education mandatory in the academy.

    3. We should show how Internet can be used as a platform for principled journalism. My IHE essay was picked up by 188 Internet sites and tweeted in more. There is untapped power online if you know how to use it, and our summit should show others how–without forgetting the journalism in the rush to appear innovative.

    4. Associations and organizations are promoting journalism alternatives such as “media studies” or “information and communication technology.” We need to define what those are historically and then assert how journalism education is different and required in a free society.

    5. We should acknowledge that print has been associated with journalism for decades now. Journalism education should not be chained to a platform. We need to disprove the notion, “How goes print so goes journalism.”

    6. We need to report on these and other concerns so as to attract those in academe to the summit because they care about journalism education and realize it needs to be saved before more administrators remove the word “journalism” from more programs, to stop techies from glorifying the platform at the expense of our profession, to provide methods to use technology to further journalism and journalism education as Fourth Estate, to acknowledge that a free press and an informed society are at stake without journalism education, and to admit that for too long we associated journalism with print and remedy that.

    Please think about joining the summit with us. Contact Brian Johnson at Illinois for more information. I fear that you, Steve and others will be quoted by administrators as innovators who support Media Studies as a viable alternative to journalism education.

    Please change that perception.

  5. Posted September 20, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Michael. However, we disagree (not for the first time: I don’t care what you call journalism education. But I do believe that most journalism (and media studies and communication technology) schools need to innovate their teaching far more thoroughly than they have.

    I should add that I include Iowa State’s Greenlee School in that statement (and I know ISU journalism graduates who would agree). Your boast that you are “one of the most converged” schools illustrates the problem. “Convergence” was the buzzword when: about 8-10 years ago? Greenlee still offers journalism majors separate emphases in “print” and “electronic media studies,” as though “print” were a separate silo where a student could pursue a journalism career. Your school teaches both beginning and advanced “print media editing” courses, but no course in data analysis and presentation, no course in entrepreneurial journalism and no course in the business of journalism (Tim’s syllabus gives you a great start for such a course).

    Your argument is not helped by hyperbole. You say that “journalism education is different and required in a free society,” yet you also boast of being the first accredited journalism school, with accreditation in 1948. I’m pretty sure we had a free society before then, and before Missouri opened the first J-school in 1908. I do believe that good journalism benefits a free society, but journalism education needs to keep pace with the changes occurring in journalism or it becomes irrelevant.

    If Brian Johnson, or anyone else, wants to invite me to this meeting (why is every conference these days a “summit”?), I will participate if my schedule allows. But my contribution will be to say that most journalism schools need to significantly update what they’re teaching. And that’s more important than what you call the school.

    (I posted this same response on my blog, where Michael, as he noted, posted the same comment.)

  6. Barbara Mack
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Your “facts” are wrong, Steve. You’re written in haste and there are errors in what you said. There’s also a vituperative tone that doesn’t help discussion much. Let’s use inside voices, please.

    1. The Greenlee School offer two degrees: advertising, and journalism and mass communication. Students have the freedom to take a wide variety of courses. Indeed, we hope students will seek and tell the truth clearly, whether it’s through a video camera, the written word, or the spoken word.

    2. Iowa State began offering journalism courses in 1905; we celebrated our centennial in 2005. Michael Bugeja correctly said that Iowa State was among the first wave of schools to be accredited, when accreditation began back in 1948. You equated “accredited” with “began offering courses.”

    3. I couldn’t agree more that journalism educators need to continue to work hard to create a curriculum that is more innovative, that serves our students better, and that serves the public better. That’s been a challenge for journalism educators since we began. Remember “the Oregon Report” from the mid 90s?

    4. We do, however, need to think more clearly about the fact that many university administrators, regents, chancellors, legislators and governors would be far happier if journalism education simply died. Parents are already telling students not to major in journalism “because it’s a dying profession.”

    The first order of business is to keep the concept of “journalism” alive and explain why it will be a vibrant, important part of society 40 years from now.


  7. Posted September 20, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Steve Buttry’s facts are wrong about the Greenlee School. We ended all emphases two years ago. We’re required to keep information on emphases on our Web site until a cohort who enrolled at Greenlee has graduated.

    Also, Steve doesn’t understand what “a converged curriculum” means in higher education. It means all emphases such as print have been terminated and remaining courses converged for degree progress. It’s a curricular term. Additionally, we require all platforms to be included in journalism classes.

    Steve writes that the Greenlee School has “no course in data analysis and presentation, no course in entrepreneurial journalism and no course in the business of journalism.” Of course we do. We just don’t use those Buttry terms for “The Digital Newsroom,” “Media Management” and the “Meredith Apprenticeship Program.”

    Speaking of the latter, our students don’t “study” entreprenurial journalism; they practice it at Meredith and through our insourcing PEER Program (production, editing and electronic research). We charge by the hour.

    In my comment above I make six points. If Steve is against them, he should have noted that, rather than attack the Greenlee School.

    I also have reached out to Steve in a personal email that we should work together on this one rather than against each other.

    The fact is, journalism education is different than Media Studies and Information and Communication Technology. That is why we’re hosting a summit rather than a conference to alert the industry that people who glorify platforms at the expense of pedagogy are providing leverage for non-journalists to end journalism programs.

    I don’t think our industry wants that. I hope that Steve Buttry doesn’t either.

    Tim’s and Steve’s value to journalism education is based on their prior experience in traditional media rather than their technological expertise. So is mine. The point is to hold on to those principles while advancing journalism education.

    No one is arguing against that in Ames, Iowa.

    We all can advocate for innovation in journalism education as long as we still have a pedagogy to advance. That was the point of my IHE article and this planned summit.

    That Steve should respond defensively indicates that he might learn something from this debate which should not be a debate at all but something that we all can embrace, i.e., the need for journalism education in academe and to put on notice those administrators who would end our programs, miscontrusing arguments about innovation.

  8. Posted September 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Barbara and Michael, I am looking forward to discussing this with you privately. I presume you know that the Greenlee School web page listed the print emphasis as recently as this morning. Glad to see you’ve updated it today.

  9. Posted September 20, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Yes, we look forward to that discussion, too, Steve. I told my staff to get rid of that online information and distribute it in person only to students who matriculated in 2008 and before.

    For those interested in our curricula, you can access it here:

    It was a long, hard road to converge our curricula, combining courses from six emphases into one journalism and mass communication degree. Some of our professors still believe that our curricula is as thin as it is wide in our promoting platforms across courses. I think we had to converge courses and require those discussion and methods to keep up with changes in industry.

    I have 30-plus years experience in academe. Ending silos is extraordinarily difficult, and we did that here and had to defend doing so to the ACEJMC Committee in Chicago last spring. All turned out well. It was not hyperbole but fact as we had to defend our commitment to journalism to the professionals on that panel. No one questioned our commitment to innovation as the facts spoke volumes in our self study and curricula and capstone experiences at Meredith, Lee Enterprises, Gannett and Scripps.

    That alone should tell you that Steve, Tim, Barbara and I have much in common when it comes to innovation while maintaining principles that have guided us this far in journalism education. I just don’t want to see arguments about innovation be used as an occasion by non-journalism administrators to end our pedagogy. My first post was a head’s up, not a showdown.

    I’m hoping Steve and I can collaborate on a post to show all who may doubt our commitment that we agree on the larger points.

  10. Joey Senat
    Posted September 20, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I agreed strongly with Mickey’s IHE column regarding the problems facing journalism education and told him so in a quick telephone conversation last week.

    But I want to clarify the circumstances surrounding the change in the program name at Oklahoma State. The decision to exclude “news” wasn’t as draconian as it sounded in Mickey’s reply, but how the new name came about did reflect a threat to the teaching of journalism – at least on our campus.

    The name change from “Journalism and Broadcasting” occurred as we overhauled our curriculum. News-editorial and broadcasting were merged into multimedia journalism. Public relations and advertising became strategic communications. We also have a fairly new sequence in sports media.

    The faculty concluded that “School of Multimedia Journalism and Strategic Communications” was too long for a title. “School of Media and Communications” garnered the most votes. Not my first choice, but I was outvoted.

    When that name was put forward, however, the English department objected and suggested the addition of “strategic” to differentiate us from their teaching of media and communications courses.

    In my 12 years at OSU, we have had a losing battle with other departments deciding to teach journalism courses. Most recently, it’s been the English department. I believe these encroachments lower the quality of journalism education being taught and exist for the sole reason of protecting other departments’ budgets. But I don’t want to digress from the purpose of this posting.

    “Media & Strategic Communications” was a compromise with the English department. But my director has pointed out that our advisory board members had proposed the same name.

    When I and some other faculty members learned of the addition of “strategic” to the name, we proposed adding “news” so the name would be “News Media & Strategic Communications.”

    At that point, however, the dean had accepted the new name and we were out of time if the name change was to occur when the new curriculum took effect this fall. So a majority of the faculty voted to move forward with that new name.

    As one of my colleagues joked, if the English department had really had its way, our new name would be “School of Production-Based Media in Subsumed Communications and Non-Rhetorical Based Discourse Analysis” – assuming it let us exist at all.

    Regardless of the name, our news-editorial and broadcasting faculty agreed from the start that excellent journalism, not technological proficiency, should be the goal of our new multimedia journalism curriculum. Unfortunately, what’s being taught in journalism courses elsewhere on campus is beyond our control.

    My apologies to Mickey for the confusion.

  11. Posted September 21, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Michael Bugeja and I have decided that, after airing these differences, we should also blog about some agreements we share about journalism education:

  12. steve jackson
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Most Journalism Educators are confused!
    Consider Schramm’s model. Journalism is the Message and the Content, not the Medium or the Technology. Certainly both the Message and the Medium involve business or money. That is what make both a business. Journalism Education is going to the extreme with the Medium or the Technology. Journalism Education should be about teaching/practicing the creation of the Message…the Content. Is this also related to business? Sure it is. Is Medium or Technology also related to business? Sure it is. The two(Message and Medium) are in a symbiotic relationship. However,they are still distinct skills/professions.
    Teach Journalism. Also, teach how Journalism is and always has been related to Business and to Technology. But Journalism is—and deserves to be–taught on its own merits not as a Medium or as a Business, but certainly importantly related to the two. In fact, Journalism remains the quintessential interdisciplinary course and should be taught/learned along with understanding of and courses in Technology and Business as well as a variety of other courses in the curriculum. The present emphasis on Technology/Medium while de-emphasizing Message is wrong.
    Stephen Flanagan Jackson
    Associate Professor of Journalism
    Stillman College