By George Beres.
Journalism education long had had high respect from me. That has changed in recent years because the Journalism curriculum has begun to fall apart. I have seen that at the University of Oregon where I interact today, and at my alma mater, Northwestern University, whose Medill School was reputed to be the finest in the nation. Their problem? A deterioration of values that has seen them and many other J Schools wrongly equate public relations and advertising with genuine journalism.
To give Journalism degrees in those two areas is an anachronism that diminishes the true profession. Both may have a kind of academic validity. The question is: should not their degrees be offered instead in Schools of Business?
Journalism is recognized as a profession that insists on the free inquiry which is a must for equitable functioning of democracy. Objective investigative reporting is the goal. It sometimes demands digging, while public relations firms and advertisers would rather feed to the public data which sometimes are misleading, and always cosmetic. There probably is a place for the study of public relations and advertising in a free enterprise society. But a Journalism School is not a training ground for cosmetology.
Former Oregon Journalism dean, Tim Gleason, said: “Good journalism involves an understanding that the practice of journalism is a public trust that requires one serve the public interest.” By contrast, the commitment of advertising and P.R. graduates admittedly must be to dish up the cosmetic in order to market their products and services. That’s essential for serving the interests of paying clients, not the public. It is the antithesis of serving the public trust.
The issue is not an easy one for schools which for years mistakenly have placed Advertising and Public Relations in the Journalism program. But to avoid hypocrisy in meeting their goal of the “public interest,” the question has to be confronted. Journalism deans may be reluctant to lose students enrolled in Advertising and Public Relations, as they often constitute the largest number of students in their programs. But they need to quit kidding themselves. If they are serious about the “public trust” of good journalism, they must recognize the subterfuge of allowing marginal programs to tarnish the credibility of students who study genuine journalism.
I suspect a university administration that must hustle for big bucks wherever it can get them is not likely to be comfortable with this discussion of what and whom it teaches. One reason is that graduates of “journalism” programs that are not really journalism often turn out to be the biggest donors to the schools. That’s where valid journalism students– committed to the public trust instead of making the highest earnings– need to step forward in behalf of journalism integrity. They must urge that Advertising and Public Relations be shifted to the Business School, where the training is consistent with accepted business goals, and not square pegs trying to fit into Journalism’s round holes.
George H. Beres is a retired journalist whose work now appears as a free-lancer. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, and later served as sports information director at Northwestern, then at the University of Oregon. While serving in the army in Korea, he was news director of the Armed Forces Korea Network (AFKN). A native of Pekin, Ill., he has resided the last 34 years in Eugene, Ore. Early in his career, he was a columnist for the Decatur (Ill.) Herald & Review. Today he hosts a weekly half-hour discussion program, “To Pursue the Truth,” on Community TV in Eugene, and writes a monthly column for the Northwest Senior News. Main focuses of his writing are politics, classical music, sports and religion. He is a first-generation American, with ethnic roots in Greece.