Near the end of 2009, the Chronicle Review, the leftwing sidekick to the Chronicle of Higher Education, published a special issue, “Journalism in Crisis.”
Such focus on journalism seems like overkill, especially since journalism schools represent a small segment of academia. But both scholars and mainstream journalists are left of center, and both believe themselves to be in the avant-garde of intellectual thought. Both have, shall we say, a touch of arrogance. Without traditional newspapers, academics will have a harder time keeping up their elevated positions in the professional pecking order, and journalists are looking for any port in a storm. Thus, the special issue.
It was kind of fun to see what self-aggrandizing, high- minded nonsense this subject can arouse when these buddies get together.
Carlin Romano, a writer for Chronicle Review, wants to see “Philosophy of Journalism” courses at universities. “We need philosophers who understand how epistemology and the establishment of truth claims function in the real world outside seminars and journals,” he writes, while journalists need to “scrutinize and question … their own preconceptions about every aspect of their business . . . how many examples are required to assert a generalization . . . how the boundaries of words are fixed or indeterminate in Wittgensteinian ways…. ”
Then there is the more down-to-earth idea that journal- ism schools can “fill the gap.” Student journalists will fill in the blank spaces left by retired or laid-off reporters, suggest Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie, Jr. In fact, Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, says that journalism schools should become like “teaching hospitals,” covering the news of “city halls, school systems, statehouses,” which is going unreported because news organizations are going broke. Journalism schools can do news- papers one better – because they are housed within research universities, they can “raise the level of sophistication in the practice of journalism,” says Lemann. Well, certainly that is needed.
There is much more philosophizing, predicting, and talk- ing. The Review got 18 scholars to give brief (well, brief for academics) commentaries on “how the decline of those news media will affect higher education.” The idea that universities will save journalism again raises its head.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, sees universities as the antidote to what she fears most – “partisan out- lets” with”faux news.” (I write for one of these”outlets,” but, actually, I do my best to write true news.) University web- sites will come to the rescue, as, “uncluttered by advertising and un-beholden to a commercial model,” they will provide “accessible insight and argument about topics of national and international concern.”
There’s stuff like this on every page. Neal Henry, dean of the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, says grandiloquently that journalism schools “have become vital keepers of a flame for professional values and high-quality journalism in an age of tremendous industry struggle and transformation.” What does it all add up to? Mourning, I guess.