The Importance of Being Educated: A Discussion About Journalism

March 10, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Stephanie Collins

Nicholas Lemann, the Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, talks to journalism students regarding the future of the industry and the importance behind being educated, on Friday, March 11. (PHOTO BY SYDNEY GIESEY / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

The subject of journalism education has long been debated in the United States, but as the media industry undergoes change, the debate is more pointed than ever. Some find it a subject that does not belong in the classroom, while others believe it is inherently academic. Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s graduate journalism program, spoke about this issue in the context of today’s digital frontier Thursday morning.

Today in the United States, more than 400 bachelor’s degree learning institutions offer some courses in journalism, according to Lemann. The history of journalism education in the United States has been fairly rocky, however, dating back earlier than 1903, when Joseph Pulitzer founded the journalism department at Columbia. The department was later closed and journalism education is now only available through the school’s graduate program.

“The critics of journalism education tend to think that if it is in a university, it is going to be too intellectual,” Lemann said.

From Lemann’s perspective, the real challenge in designing a journalism program for students is making the curriculum more academic and less vocational.

Nicholas Lemann sits with professor Carolyn Barta in the ournalism new room. (PHOTO BY FERNANDO VALDES / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

“I try to marry journalism education to the rest of the university and the more traditional notions of education,” said Lemann.

For this reason, Columbia’s journalism program offers a master of the arts degree that allows students to select a subject of interest such as science, arts and culture, or politics and society to focus on. Through this program, students are educated on the subject of their choosing and how to apply what they learn to journalism, rather than learning specific journalism skills.

Some of these courses include the history of journalism and the economics of journalism.

“I would call these consciousness-creating courses,” said Lemann. “The heart and soul, or the DNA of story-telling is there. You can always go take a night class to learn something technical.”

With the constant changes occurring in media presentation due to the “digital revolution,” as Lemann put it, this philosophy may prove to be outdated.

It used to be that a recent graduate would land an entry-level job at a big news organization and work his or her way up through the ranks, hopefully improving the organization as they moved through it, Lemann said.

“By the time you got into a decision-making position, you would have learned a lot on the job,” said Lemann.

With today’s technology and the large span of online news organizations and the blogging that goes along with them, the system is working differently for recent graduates. Now, entry-level employees are being given more responsibility due to changes in technology and subsequently immediacy in journalism.

Lemann gave an example of a student who curates a health webpage for Newsweek’s website.

“This is a job that’s like being a mini editor-in-chief. She has to use real news judgment,” he said.

Because of this change, the pressure to teach more advanced skills through journalism education and the desire to keep the program as academically focused as possible is an ongoing struggle, according to Lemann.

“I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a fight,” he said.

Often Lemann’s students become frustrated, he said, because they are not equipped to actually produce multimedia work, as the Columbia program does not focus on these skills. Instead of actually creating a multimedia project, Lemann asks his students to come up with concepts for the project and produce a storyboard instead.

“The students hate that,” he said.

Lemann acknowledged that with the struggles of the new digital era come numerous benefits. There is unlimited space for text, and a website can accommodate all kinds of multimedia to enhance a story. For better or for worse, almost anyone can be published.

“This is exactly what the founders had in mind when they wrote the first amendment. It’s a wonderful thing for freedom of speech,” said Lemann.

Although the outlets have shifted, and the education is constantly changing, Lemann’s points suggested that the essence of journalism stays the same: “seeking the truth in the situation, assessing it and presenting it.”

Video and editing by Fernando Valdes

Nicholas Lemann from on Vimeo.

Campus News Blog: Minority Students

February 28, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Kathryn Sharkey

I recently read an article from Newsweek about minority graduation rates. It has some pretty shocking information such as “The graduation rates for blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans lag far behind the graduation rates for whites and Asians.As the minority population grows in the United States, low college graduation rates become a threat to national prosperity.”

This got me wondering about SMU.

SMU has made it a priority in recent years to attract more minority students and has several programs within the Dallas area for Dallas students. But how well is SMU doing at attracting minority students?

And how is it doing at keeping and graduating the students it attracts?

I looked up the statistics from the Office of Institutional Research and found that the percent of black undergraduate students on campus has fallen from 5.2% in the fall of 2006 to 4.8% in the fall of 2009. Also, while 72% of white students graduate within six years, only 54.7% of black students do, according to The Education Trust and Newsweek.

However, the graduation rate for Latino students is almost equal to whites at 71.4%.

It seems that SMU needs to work harder to attract, keep, and graduate minority students.

I need to do more investigation to see what SMU is currently doing to help minority students, but the Newsweek article mentions the success other schools have had with mentoring groups. If we don’t already have programs like this, perhaps that is one place to start.

Campus News Blog: Goodbye, Christian America?

April 10, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Posted by Mallory McCall

“The decline and fall of Christian America” is plastered on this week’s cover of Newsweek Magazine. It is as bold and straightforward as a biohazard warning sign…making it impossible to ignore.

In March, the American Religious Identification Survey released a new study. The number of self-identified Christians in America has fallen 10 percent since 1990, dropping from 86 to 76 percent.

The ARIS survey also revealed that the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.

As of February, 40 percent of the SMU population had not identified a religious preference. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of mystery-faithers for a southern, Methodist university in the American Bible belt.

Could agnosticism really be America’s new religion?