FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Can Journalism Schools be Relevant in a World on the Brink?

Journalism schools have much in common with the mainstream news media they traditionally serve. As the business model for conventional corporate journalism collapses and digital technologies reshape the media landscape, journalism schools struggle with parallel problems around curricula and personnel.

As I begin my third decade of teaching journalism, I hear more and more students doubting the relevance of journalism schools — for good reasons. The best of our students are worried not just about whether they can find a job after graduation but also whether those jobs will allow them to contribute to shaping a decent future for a world on the brink.

Can journalism and journalism education be relevant as it becomes increasing clear that the political, economic, and social systems that structure our world are failing us on all counts? Do these institutions have the capacity to see past the problems of falling ad revenues and outdated curricula, and struggle to understand the crises of our age? Can journalists and journalism educators find the courage to grapple with these challenges?

The question isn’t whether journalism and education are important in a democratic society but whether the institutions in which those two endeavors traditionally have been carried out can adapt — not only to the specific changes in that industry, but to that world in crisis.

My answer is a tentative “yes, but” — only if both enterprises jettison the illusions of neutrality that have hampered their ability to monitor the centers of power for citizens and model real critical thinking for students.

Journalism’s business problems provide an opportunity for journalism education to remake itself, which should start with a declaration of independence from the mainstream media and a renunciation of the corporate media’s allegiances to the existing power structure. Our only hope is in getting radical, going to the root of the problems.

Toward that end, I proposed a new mission statement to my faculty colleagues in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. I argued that by stating bluntly the nature of the crises we face in today’s world and breaking with our longstanding subordination to the industry, we could offer an exciting alternative to students who don’t want to repeat the failures of our generation.

It quickly became clear that while some colleagues agreed with some aspects of the statement below, only a handful would endorse it as a mission statement. Some disagreed with my assessment of the crises we face, while others thought it politically ill-advised to criticize the industry and corporate power so directly. But nothing in that discussion dissuaded me from my conclusion that if journalism education is to be relevant in the coming decades, we must change course dramatically.

So, I offer this mission statement to a broader audience as one starting point for debate about the future of journalism schools, which must be connected to a discussion about the fundamental distribution of wealth and power in the larger world. Journalism alone can’t turn around a dying culture, of course, but it can be part of the process by which a more just and sustainable alternative emerges.

Journalism for Justice/Storytelling for Sustainability: News Media Education for a New Future

Schools of journalism must recognize that our work goes forward in a society facing multiple crises — political and cultural, economic and ecological. These crises are not the product of temporary downturns but evidence of a permanent decline if the existing systems and structures of power continue on their present trajectory.

These failing systems produce too little equality within the human family and too much devastation in the larger ecosystem. We face a world that is profoundly unjust in the distribution of wealth and power, and fundamentally unsustainable in our use of the ecological resources of the planet. The task of journalism is to deepen our understanding of these challenges and communicate that understanding to the public to foster the meaningful dialogue necessary for real democracy.

The best traditions of journalism are based in resistance to the illegitimate structures of authority at the heart of our problems. From Thomas Paine to Upton Sinclair, Ida B. Wells and Ida Tarbell, the most revered journalists have had the courage to take a stand for ordinary people and against arrogant concentrations of power. But today, commercial journalism is constrained by diversionary and deceptive claims to neutrality, leaving journalists trapped in a corporate-defined and -directed subservience to the status quo. Increasingly we live with a journalism that rarely speaks truth to power and routinely echoes the platitudes of the powerful. Even when journalists raise critical questions, too often it is within the parameters set by the wealthy and their political allies.

In a world in which an increasingly predatory global corporate economy leaves half the population living on less than $2.50 a day, can we ignore the call for justice? In a world in which all indicators of the health of the ecosystem that makes our lives possible are in dramatic decline, can we ignore the cry of the living world? Mass media have a moral responsibility to produce journalism for justice and storytelling for sustainability.

As the journalism industry faces a broken business model and struggles for solutions, there are great opportunities to reshape journalism to serve people and the planet, following the traditions of the spirited independent journalists of the past and present. The curriculum for this should not only offer training for a job but also inspire a collective search for the values and ideas that can animate a just and sustainable society. We invite you to join us in this exciting time for journalism. By remembering the inspirational lessons of our past and facing honestly the problems of the present, we help make possible a new future in which justice and sustainability define not just our dreams but our lives.

A note to critics: Some might argue that this mission statement threatens to “politicize the classroom.” This kind of complaint is based on the naïve notion that a curriculum in the humanities and social sciences can be magically constructed outside of, and unaffected by, the distribution of wealth and power in the larger society. The choices that go into all teaching — from the identification of relevant problems, to the selection of appropriate materials, to the analyses offered in lectures — are based on claims about the nature of a good life and a good society. The important questions are whether instructors are open with students about how those choices are made and can justify those choices on intellectual grounds. In other words, there is a politics to all teaching, but good teaching is more than the assertion of one’s politics.

When a department constructs a curriculum that supports the existing distribution of wealth and power, challenges rarely arise. Perhaps the most politicized departments on any college campus are in the business school, where the highly ideological assertions of corporate capitalism are rarely challenged and the curriculum is built on that ideology. In a healthy educational institution with real academic freedom, we should encourage a diversity of approaches to complex questions. This mission statement identifies problems and suggests we consider the systemic and structural roots of those problems without asserting simplistic solutions. Such an approach honors the best traditions in journalism and scholarship, offering a path for struggling with difficult questions rather than dictating simplistic answers.

ROBERT JENSEN is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center http://thirdcoastactivist.org. His latest book is Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007). Jensen is also the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang). He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html.

 

More articles by:

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail