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Journalism Education

Summary and Keywords

Journalism education at the college level was first offered in 1869, and developed primarily in the United States. No other country has had a similar impact on the discipline, and the United States’ pioneering role has shaped curricula around the world. While journalism education was also offered in Europe throughout the 20th century, especially from the 1980s onwards, its global spread came in the 1990s and 2000s. This is closely linked to the proliferation of media in countries where economic growth, technological progress, and rising literacy have combined to create a dramatic increase in readership and audience, especially in the most populous nations, China and India, but also in Africa and Latin America.

In 2013, the census of journalism education programs kept by the World Journalism Education Council listed almost 2,400 programs globally. This spread does not only mean a shift in geographical terms, but also in conceptual terms. North American scholars imagined journalism as central to democratic life. But the notion of journalism serving first and foremost democracy puts it at odds with other parts of the world, where different forms of governance are prevalent. This necessitated the American inspired image of journalism, legitimized by its centrality to democracy, to be modified. In this global process, journalism education importantly did not relinquish its normative constituent, but moved it to the ideal of journalism and journalists serving the public.

Equally remarkable, and telling, is the consistency of subjects in curricula around the globe, especially in what are deemed the vocationally relevant subjects. In 2007, and again in 2013, UNESCO released model curricula for journalism education. These are ostensibly directed toward developing countries and emerging democracies, but are used globally and in countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Rwanda. This has raised the question of whether a homogenization of journalism around the world could be observed. At this stage, however, differing political, cultural, and religious conditions exert too much influence on a country’s journalistic output for this to occur.

The intentions behind the support for journalism education vary over time and between countries. Although journalism education is never openly acknowledged as an ideological battleground, it has been used to spread influence. After the disbandment of the Soviet Bloc, the United States and European nations sent journalism educators to the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, ostensibly to teach journalists the values of a free press, but also to build their commercial interests in new media markets. In Africa, after decades of Western assistance in media education,, China has attempted to challenge the dominance of the traditionally Western helpers, although with limited success.

The most prevalent and persistent issue regarding the content of journalism education has been the theory-practice division. This extends to the suitability of journalism education as a tertiary study area and the composition of its curricula, which have been debated since its inception. The earliest programs in formal journalism education in the United States consisted of teaching technical skills as well as writing and editing. This inclusion of skills training pointed from the very beginning to the gulf journalism education would have to bridge in academic institutions. Many countries, notably the United Kingdom, left the training of journalists to the industry until the 1990s.

Academic literature, by its very nature, argues for the place of journalism education in academia. The voices against come from the industry, where employers and editors see journalism education as theory-laden and out of touch with industry realities. Since the 1990s, media companies have largely accepted that journalism training be done in colleges and universities, mostly because it frees valuable resources in a strained industry.

All the same, the criteria for measuring success in journalism education continue to differ between the industry and the academy. The debates on what and how to teach are similarly divergent, although since the early 2000s the idea of educating future journalists as “reflective practitioners” seems to have taken hold. But this comes at a time when in North America, Europe, and Australia the main challenge for journalism education is the fragility of legacy media, which traditionally absorbed the highest number of graduates. Media sustainability has therefore been named as one of the foremost concerns for journalism education.

In times of digital journalism, the challenges for journalists come from many sides. Not only the precariousness of employment, but also the diminishing of authority is affecting the profession. Professionalism is again emerging as a vital concept, although it remains as contentious as ever. At a time when journalistic authority is under attack, professionalism is seen as a tool in the boundary-work taking place between journalists, a public participating in news creation and distribution, tweeters, and bloggers. Journalism schools are using various ways to train journalists for a new, shared world. This includes teaching “entrepreneurial journalism” in order to prepare their students for an anticipated de-institutionalized future.

While much has been written about how and what journalism education should be, little research has been done on the effects of journalism education. A major problem is the difficulty of empirically quantifying this influence. One area where the impact of journalism education can be researched is on students during their years of study, although this goes only a small way toward establishing the influence that journalism education has on the practicing journalist.

Since 1869, much has changed yet some things remain. Journalism education will continue to be characterized by its dichotomous nature. It will remain caught between theory and practice, normative and empirical, academy and industry, market and public service, dependence and autonomy.

Keywords: journalism education, journalism students, journalism schools, motivations, destinations, global spread, effects, Pulitzer


Journalism education is regarded as an important pathway for journalism to be considered a profession. Generally, professions are bound by the specific knowledge they hold, and acquiring this knowledge is seen as essential in mastering the profession.

In journalism, however, the situation is not as evident as in other professions such as law, medicine, or engineering. Journalism does not have as clearly defined a body of knowledge to hand on, nor does it have defined procedures in which knowledge is to be applied. What is more, the aims of journalistic output vary greatly. Because of these circumstances, journalism education has been a contested field since its inception (Schudson & Anderson, 2009; Waisbord, 2013; Hallin & Mancini, 2004).

Agreement, however, is almost universal that journalists should possess an education commensurate with the importance and responsibility of their task. The World Journalism Education Council (WJEC), when established in 2007, was “unanimous that journalism education provides the foundation as theory, research, and training for the effective and responsible practice of journalism” (WJEC, 2007). The WJEC, comprising 32 journalism education associations from all continents, asserts journalism education’s place in tertiary institutions. The Council, which includes members as diverse as the Russian, Chinese, and Saudi Arabian journalism education associations, in its principles punctiliously avoids normative statements that link journalism education to notions shaped by ideological convictions. This was not only a novum for journalism education, which in the past has frequently been formulated with distinct societal goals in mind, but also a demonstration that journalism education in the 21st century is a global phenomenon.

In the 1990s and 2000s journalism education grew exponentially worldwide, but the impact of the new information environment in the digital age, in some parts of the world, has severely bruised the economic basis of media institutions. Journalism education has been touched in turn and is searching to redefine its tasks.

The history of journalism education, which was developed first and foremost in the United States, will be outlined here and the global spread of journalism education assessed, highlighting the reasons that have led to this phenomenon and asking the question of whether the globalization of journalism education might lead to a homogenization of journalism around the world.

The conceptual framework guiding journalism education will be explored, as well as the intentions that have inspired the development of journalism schools. These reflect the expectations placed on journalists and signal the role journalism is seen as playing in a particular society.

The support for journalism education has frequently been based on ideological and economical motivations. UNESCO, for example, with its support for Centres of Excellence in Journalism Education in Africa hopes “to facilitate the engagement of civil society in the development of free, independent and pluralistic media” (UNESCO, 2008, p. 2). In many countries, the discourse about journalism education is tightly bound to the idea of strengthening democracy (Adam, 2001; Carey, 1996), in others to the idea of guiding public opinion (Repnikova, 2015).

In his article on global journalism education, Mark Deuze (2006) employed a set of criteria, of which motivations was the first, which will be followed very loosely here. The ongoing tension between academy and industry, and the unresolved question as to what kind of education a journalist should have, will be scrutinized.

One of the most written about areas in journalism education is what and how to teach. The section “Academy and Industry” analyzes the main strands in journalism education, while “Raison d’être” examines the changes occurring in view of journalists’ less assured place in information provision in the digital age and looks at moves made to prepare journalists for a new, shared world.

While much has been written about how and what journalism education should be, little research has been done on the effects of journalism education. A major problem is the difficulty of empirically quantifying this influence. The one area where this can be researched is the influence journalism education has on students during their years of study. “Destinations” looks at whether graduates of journalism schools become journalists, or whether their knowledge is likely to be used in other ways.

The History of Journalism Education

The connection between good education and good journalism was first made in the United States in the second half of the 19th century. Journalism education as tertiary study subsequently expanded in the United States for much of the 20th century (Johansen, Weaver, & Dornan, 2001). In other parts of the world, it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that journalism became an area of study at colleges and universities, initially often in new universities.

Journalism education was pioneered in the United States for a combination of reasons. The quickly expanding newspaper market needed increasing numbers of reporters, and competition between papers drove demand in quality. News journalism is seen as an Anglo American invention (Chalaby, 1996), whereas much of Europe linked its journalism to literary roots, which placed emphasis on a different skill set from that of news and information–focused reporters. Furthermore, the United States was maturing as a democracy at a time when the forms of democratic governance were still evolving in Europe. There, the relevance of an informed public whose voice mattered in affairs of the state had not yet arisen with the same urgency.

The first university president credited with advancing the idea that reporters should receive a college education was the former Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee. When president of Washington College—today Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia—he offered scholarships for journalism studies as part of a liberal arts degree in 1869 (Medsger, 2005, p. 69). Lee’s foray came at a time when newspapers were small enterprises with the editor and printer often being one and the same person. The first courses in journalism appropriately offered the teaching of technical printing skills as well as writing and editing (Johansen et al., 2001, p. 471). For journalism education it is important to note that its teaching has always been circumscribed by what could be called the institutional infrastructure that it served.

One of the momentous steps in journalism education was in fact initiated by an industry leader, Joseph Pulitzer. For some, this was the actual beginning of journalism education. For James Carey it began “when Joseph Pulitzer pressed many dollars into the somewhat reluctant hands of Columbia University” (Carey, 1978, p. 848). Carey does not omit that Pulitzer “was not so keen on university education,” preferring instead the “university of experience,” but he did see, as Carey puts it, “the intimate relationship between university education and the enhanced status of journalists and journalism” (p. 848). This was at a time in the early 20th century when reporters increased in importance in the newspaper industry, when earlier printers and then editors had been the dominant figures.

Pulitzer’s vision was to professionalize reporting, upgrade the status of journalists, and put journalism on an ever more respected and influential footing. Pulitzer envisaged that a wide array of subjects be studied, such as ethics, truth and accuracy, history, sociology, and literature. He even included data: statistics was one of the suggested subjects (Adam, 2001, p. 320). Columbia University’s reluctance to accept Pulitzer’s gift—according to Carey the courtship lasted 12 years—indicates the doubt and unease that has accompanied journalism and journalism education as an academic discipline from the beginning. Columbia chose to make its School of Journalism a graduate school rather than the undergraduate college Pulitzer had wished for.

Others were more concerned with the study of journalism than educating journalists. William Bleyer, in the late 1920s, at the University of Wisconsin saw journalism in a matrix with political science and sociology. To him, research into journalism was an essential part of journalism education. The decision to locate journalism in the social sciences had long-term implications. The founders of many major journalism schools in the United States were graduates of the Wisconsin program, “and it carried its empirical social science assumptions with them” (Johansen et al., 2001, p. 47). The emphasis on empirical, quantitative studies, such as content analyses or focus groups testing media effects, are still a characteristic of American scholarly work in journalism. Bleyer was also instrumental in establishing two vital institutions, the Association of Journalism Education Administrators (also known as the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication) and the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (Medsger, 2005, p. 208).

By the 1930s, the United States had three distinct models of journalism education at the university level. They were stand-alone journalism schools at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, such as at Columbia or Missouri University, or separate departments within colleges of liberal arts, or schools within social science departments.

A further model was added by Wilbur Schramm, who became the founder of communication studies and communication research institutes, first at the University of Iowa and then at the University of Illinois and Stanford University (Rogers, 1994, p. 29). While Schramm first chose to place his new communication program with the existing discipline of journalism, communication as a field of study soon overtook its host and left behind journalism education that could not shed its label of vocational training. Unlike Pulitzer, Professors Schramm, Bleyer, and Williams were interested in journalism, not journalists. This left journalism education in the uneasy spot between practical and academic studies, where it still finds itself.

While Pulitzer recognized the intrinsic value of education as a basis for professionalization, others in the industry mostly saw only the need for preparation for a job. This debate about the need and appropriate nature of the journalism education curriculum is ongoing.

The Global Spread of Journalism Education

The United States was by no means the only country in which journalism education was offered throughout the 20th century. Europe (Terzis, 2009; Fröhlich & Holtz-Bacha, 2003) and Australia (O’Donnell, 2014) also made moves, if not as comprehensively, toward institutionalized journalism education. But no other country had a similar impact on the discipline as the United States. Its pioneering role has shaped curricula around the world. This fact has garnered criticism, but also demonstrates that many of the ideas and ideals first developed over a hundred years ago have stood the test of time.

However, the truly global spread of journalism education occurred only from the 1980s and 1990s onward, and this phenomenon is closely linked to the spread of media as they present themselves in the early decades of the 21st century.

In North America, Europe, and Australia, the era of traditional media is coming to an end. There, the legacy media face the decreasing profitability of the mass media business model, the challenge of saturated markets, a loss of audience only tangibly interested in news, and the impact of digital competitors (Picard, 2014a). Figures presented by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers in October 2014 show that circulation over the previous five years fell 10.25 percent in North America, 19.6 percent in Australia and Oceania, and 23 percent in Europe. However, these losses were offset by rises in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. According to its global report, more than half of the world’s population—2.5 billion people—read a daily newspaper and more than 800 million read it in digital form (WAN-IFRA, 2014a). This puts the ratio of traditional media to digital media at about 4:1. These figures indicate that “circulation continues to rise in countries with a growing middle class and relatively low broadband penetration” (WAN-IFRA, 2014b). It is against this backdrop that journalism education has to be considered in the 21st century.

Scholarly attention has been paid in particular to the developments in the BRICS states—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (Thussu & Nordenstreng, 2015). These countries account for 43 percent of the global population. The Asian media boom of the 1980s and the corresponding growth of media outlets created “an increased demand for formal journalism education in many countries in the region” (Banda, 2013, p. 8). The 1990s saw “considerable growth in the Middle East and Africa,” and “in China and India, journalism education programs continue to proliferate at a mind-numbing rate” (Banda, 2013). In 2013, the census of journalism education programs kept by the World Journalism Education Council (WJEC) listed almost 2,400 programs globally.

The shift in location is not only a geographical one for journalism education; it is also a conceptual one. North American scholars like James Carey (1996) or G. Stuart Adam (2001) imagined journalism as central to democratic life. Pulitzer, interestingly, did not see democracy but public service as journalism’s supreme end (Pulitzer, 1904, p. 58). But it was the notion of journalism serving first and foremost democracy that put it at odds with other parts of the world.

Since 1984, Freedom House has only rated between one-quarter to one-third of the world’s countries as ‘free’ (Freedom House, 2015, p. 8). This necessitated the American-inspired image of journalism, legitimized by its centrality to democracy, to be modified. Remarkably, journalism education globally did not relinquish its normative constituent, but moved it to where Pulitzer had placed it: to the ideal of journalism serving the public (Josephi, 2013; UNESCO, 2008).

Equally remarkable, and telling, is the constancy of subjects in curricula around the globe, especially in what is deemed the vocationally relevant subjects. In 2007 UNESCO released its first Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies. The majority of the experts drawn upon came from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, but input was also provided by journalism instructors who “had worked in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America to write the syllabuses for 17 core courses” (Khan, 2007).

These courses incorporated three main streams: professional practice, journalism studies, and arts and science. The attention given to each stream is weighted differently over the three- or four-year undergraduate course. The model curricula suggest that

in the first year 20% of coursework is practice, 10% in journalism studies and 70% in arts and sciences. In the second year, the percentages are 40%, 20% and 40%. In the third year, 80% of courses are in the professional category and 20% in art and science.

(UNESCO, 2007, p. 10)

Although Pulitzer did not put percentages into his basic concept of a journalism school, much of the syllabus he drew up reads remarkably relevant to the world addressed by the UNESCO Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies. Some of the topics Pulitzer suggested could easily make up classes a century later. Among them were, “The growth and development of free institutions and causes of their decay . . . Slavery and war. Conflicts between capital and labor. The history of colonization. . . . The history of journalism” (Pulitzer, 1904, p. 49). The UNESCO model for undergraduate courses (UNESCO, 2007, p. 20f.) is today taught in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, China, Guyana, Rwanda, and Myanmar (Banda, 2013, p. 16).

While the commonalities in teaching may have contributed to a degree of homogenization of journalism around the world, the differences are more discernible than the commonalities. Waisbord (2013, p. 1), after visiting newsrooms across the globe, writes, “[n]ews and occupational practices were similar and different. . . . The ethics used and justified to make decisions about information gathering and reporting were remarkably different.” These differences are invariably grounded in the political, cultural, and social spheres, as spelled out in Shoemaker and Reese’s hierarchy of influences that circumscribe journalism (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014).

In China, where Deng’s economic reforms had created immense commercial success, including the setting up of many new media outlets and an ever-increasing array of television channels, journalism education similarly mushroomed. Yet the explosive expansion of journalism education is felt more as a burden than a joy. As Guo (2010, p. 17) observes, “the task of teaching journalism students to educate, enlighten, emancipate, and entertain all at once in today’s China is fully equivalent to steering a car towards right and left at the same time.” Whatever romanticized excitement may have inspired journalism education in China, it is clear that the proliferation of traditional and digital information channels has in no way weakened the state’s ideological control over the media (Guo, 2010, pp. 16–17).

Similar societal constraints can be observed in other parts of the world. In Oman, as an example of an Arab country, journalism education syllabi were developed in conjunction with Australian and New Zealand universities (Al-Hasani, 2010, pp. 100–101). But being armed with the knowledge of what is required of a reporter does not overcome the reluctance of sources to engage in the openly adversarial manner typical of Western political life and the basis of much Western reporting. Even these few examples demonstrate that it would be premature to talk of a homogenization of journalism across the globe. The main challenge for journalism education in Western countries is the economic fragility of legacy media, which traditionally absorbed the highest number of graduates. The 2013 UNESCO Model Curricula for Journalism Education therefore places media sustainability as a foremost concern, acknowledging that media development in some parts of the world is as important as the education of journalists (Karklins, 2013, p. 5).


The intentions behind the support for journalism education vary over time and between countries. Their respective forms reveal how political or societal forces see journalism performing in their society. The 2007 UNESCO model curriculum, for example, was inspired by “an increased recognition of the crucial role of journalism in promoting democracy, and this has created an urgent demand for well-trained journalists” (Khan, 2007, p. 4). UNESCO, as the lead UN agency in promoting freedom of expression and access to information and knowledge, in this instance linked journalism education directly with the advancement of democracy.

This close coupling was not always the case. For Pulitzer, in his ground-breaking essay on the basic concept for a school of journalism (1904), democracy was not uppermost in his considerations. What was more important in 1904 was the fact that America was a republic at a time when republics were rare around the globe. Pulitzer talks more about “the Republic” than democracy and names public service as “the supreme end of journalism” (Pulitzer, 1904, p. 58). He stresses that “the chief end I had in view was the welfare of the Republic. It will be the object of the college to make better journalists, who will make better newspapers, which will better serve the public” (Pulitzer, 1904, pp. 58–59).

The emphasis on journalism being the Fourth Estate with journalists keeping a watchful eye on government and business, thus aiding democracy, is more a product of the Cold War. By then, the number of republics had increased, but North America and Western Europe distinguished themselves through democratic governance as compared to authoritarian rule, which characterized the Soviet bloc. Journalism education, accordingly, was not only to prepare journalists to be reporters, writers, and critics, but also to teach “the sources and methods of political obligation connecting journalism with the architecture of democratic life” (Adam, 2001, p. 333).

This was a vision that could not be shared globally, nor was it necessarily the message coming across to other countries when looking at North American journalism. Others saw and see North American journalism defined by its economic roots in a free market and capitalist society. In fact, economic reforms have led the media transformations in the world’s two most populous countries, India and China.

India is considered one of the most vibrant media environments, with more newspapers and 24-hour television news channels than any other country (Jain, 2015, p. 150). Due to the landscape of journalism expanding across all regions of India, a boom of tertiary journalism education has ensued, although at times of questionable quality (Murthy, 2011).

Mushrooming media and commercial imperatives were similarly the reason behind the exponential growth of journalism education in China. The state saw no reason to stop this development, as skills in logic and writing could be co-opted for its own purposes. Instead, it endorsed journalism professionalism for its value in the promotion of more effective and persuasive propaganda (Guo, 2010, p. 16). The many new media outlets in China, on the other hand, welcomed journalism education because it led to a Western-style reporting, which was evidently more attractive than the customary party papers’ style, and thus an advantage in the intensifying market competition.

After several decades of neo-liberalism, which fundamentally altered its media landscape, “China has entered a critical phase of rebalancing the triangular relationship between state, market and society” (Hu et al., 2015, p. 175). For journalists, this means a continuation of straddling the demands of serving the public without undermining social cohesion (Dombernowsky, 2015), leaving journalism education the difficult task of negotiating seemingly conflicting values (Guo, 2010).

While India and China openly acknowledge commercial considerations as driving the growth of journalism education, other countries only widely acknowledged the close link between journalism and market once the business model for traditional media was under severe stress. Attention has switched from upholding democracy to the need “for independent media to develop, flourish, and endure so that they can make contributions to the benefit of society” (Picard, 2013, p. 31).


A free media at arm’s length from government was perceived in the United States as a proud achievement, and this was used as a means of highlighting the superiority of a democratic society, based on the principles of a free market. Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s Four Theories of the Press (1956) is the iconic text of the Cold War period. Their desirable libertarian or socially responsible media are “variations on a single theme: a ‘free’ press in a capitalist, democratic context” (Napoli, 2002, p. 260). After the fall of the Berlin Wall, “the United States and other Western countries sent trainers imbued with the values, as well as the techniques, of Western style journalism charging into the former Soviet bloc to show the now discredited journalists there how it’s done” (p. 260). Napoli gives the names of about 20 organizations, which were among the many more that rushed “to the aid” in Central and Eastern Europe, but also other parts of the former Soviet Union.

It was by no means the first time that “media development” in the form of journalism education had been attempted. In many African and other developing nations, journalism training was provided by American or European instructors since the 1970s with results that are only slowly bearing fruit. The mantra of journalism education assisting democracy, however, is well learned, as A. O. Philips’s article “Effects of the Emerging Trends in Journalism Practice and Education on Democracy: Nigeria as Case Study” (2015) shows. Based on focus-group interviews with participants drawn from journalism students, lecturers, politicians, and non-politicians, 90 percent agreed “that the emerging trends in journalism practice and education . . . have made Nigeria’s democracy more robust” (Philips, 2015, pp. 395–396).

Africa in particular has emerged as a battleground for influence in the new millennium, where China attempts to challenge the dominance of the traditionally Western helpers. While it is mostly China’s state-owned media that seek to expand their influence via technical assistance for media infrastructure, training support is also provided to African journalists. Wu (2012, p. 16) writes that the “result is clear in a country such as Equatorial Guinea, where qualified media professionals are divided into journalists who were trained in Spain three decades ago, and the newer generation who are increasingly trained in Cuba or China.” Yet the inroads made by China into the hegemony of the Western journalistic paradigm are small (Wu, 2012). Too often Chinese journalism training is seen as lacking the critical edge or being too closely tied to Beijing’s political interests.

The massive effort of Western journalism education in the former Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union has at best met with mixed success, highlighting the fact that journalism education in itself cannot alter the media or governance of a country. Some nations, like Poland, moved toward a free press. Russia, on the other hand, despite journalism courses being firmly placed in the Western paradigm (Vartanova, Lukina, Svitich, & Shiryaeva, 2010, pp. 210–214), is faced with political and professional traditions and circumstances that limit the practice of these teachings.

The strong ideological demarcations evident in journalism education during the Cold War years have receded. This has come about not only because of the more fragmented nature of power struggles but also because of changed practices in information provision and consumption in the digital age. These shifts have put new urgency into the ongoing debate about how journalism education should be modeled.


The suitability of journalism education as a tertiary study area and the composition of its curricula have been debated since its inception. The earliest programs in formal journalism education in the 1870s in the United States included technical skills as well as writing and editing (Johansen et al., 2001, p. 471). This inclusion of skills training pointed from the very beginning to the gulf journalism education would have to bridge, and raised doubt about the place of journalism education in an academic institution (Bromley, Tumber, & Zelizer, 2001).

These misgivings have somewhat abated. Universities and colleges in the 21st century are much broader institutions than they were in the middle of, let alone at the beginning of, the 20th century. Many universities see it as the virtue of their courses to prepare students vocationally or, in today’s parlance, to get them job ready. Also, the sheer success of journalism schools, schools of communication, or media departments in attracting students has helped silence the critics within the institutions themselves.

Much academic literature, by its very nature, argues for the place of journalism education in academia (Folkerts, Hamilton, & Lemann, 2013; WJEC, 2007; Bollinger, 2003; Carey, 1978). The voices against come from the industry, where employers and editors see journalism education as “theory-laden and out of touch with industry realities.” In today’s straightened circumstances, the “news industry accepts journalism degrees as a matter of convenience rather than conviction: they represent a convenient way of filtering applicants and . . . cost less than the old three-year cadet training system” (O’Donnell, 2014, p. 226). Cost effectiveness may have delivered tertiary institutions the upper hand in the battle for journalism education. But it has done so at a time when the role and professionalism of journalists demand redefinition, placing journalism schools in the unenviable position of negotiating largely unchartered waters.

Traditionally, countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada preferred an apprenticeship system with learning on the job. Other countries, such as Germany, France, and Portugal, had journalism schools that were closely aligned with industry rather than academia. The paths to being a practicing journalist were so varied that Fröhlich and Holtz-Bacha divided their book (2003) on journalism education in Europe and North America according to the predilections in journalism training, into countries that had a long-standing academic tradition, those that preferred non-tertiary journalism schools, and those with mixed forms.

Despite a broad move toward university-based training, some contend that universities have failed future journalists. Picard (2014b, p. 4) puts forward that in the 150 years since journalism education was offered at universities, “it has not developed a fundamental knowledge base, widely agreed upon journalistic practices, or unambiguous professional standards.” Worst of all, in Picard’s eyes, only a few journalism educators have made “contributions towards understanding the impact of journalism and media on society” (p. 4). The notion behind this accusation is that too many journalism educators switch in mid-life from the newsroom to the classroom without sufficient commitment to, or understanding of, the theoretical side of teaching, thus contributing to “the fundamental conflict between the concepts of journalism training and higher education” (p. 4).

The theory-practice division has been recognized as “the most pervasive issue regarding the content of journalism education” (Nordenstreng, 2009, p. 516). Much literature is devoted to the weighting between these two. The UNESCO curriculum, like so many others, tried to combine the two by devising a mix of “(1) Logic, evidence and research” with “(2) Writing,” “(3) National and international institutions” and “(4) General knowledge” (Banda, 2013, p. 20). Some universities decided early on to offer journalism as a graduate course, thus building on some specialized knowledge in another field.

Industry has frequently expressed a preference for the graduate model rather than the undergraduate degree, which, in their eyes, provides the students with some skills but no solid knowledge base in a specific field. This preference can also be observed in journalists’ employment patterns. A “graduatization of journalism” (Splichal & Sparks, 1994, p. 114) has occurred since the 1990s. Whereas only 67.2 percent of journalists held degrees—based on the results of 18 countries—in the first global study of journalists (Weaver, 1998, pp. 457–458), in the subsequent study, incorporating 28 countries, the figure had risen to 82 percent (Weaver & Willnat, 2012, p. 531). In this respect, Pulitzer’s wish for reporters to have an education has almost universally come true.

However, while the percentage of journalists holding a degree now stands at 82 percent or even higher, the percentage of those having majored in journalism has remained almost constant. In the 1990s, it was 41.5 percent (Weaver, 1998, pp. 457–458), and twenty years later, it had risen only one percentage point to 42.5 percent (Weaver & Willnat, 2012, p. 531). This also reflects the experience of individual countries, such as the United States, where the “typical American journalist, although a graduate, has not majored in journalism in college” (Weaver, Beam, Brownlee, Voakes, & Wilhoit, 2007, p. 1). Other countries, for example Australia, show similar proportions (Josephi & Richards, 2012, p. 120).

Academy and Industry

Journalism education, unlike medical or legal training, has never had the recognition as being the necessary pathway to becoming a journalist. In fact, numerous countries for many decades kept to the tradition of journalists “learning on the job” by taking in trainee journalists directly from school. Notably the United Kingdom favored this type of training (Esser, 2003). It was more important to be able to “bash out a quick story on a local murder” than to know about the history of British media (Keeble, 2006, p. 260). In Austria, journalism also remains an open profession, requiring no specific educational qualifications (Dorer, 2003). In other countries, such as Spain, media companies have developed their own highly regarded journalism schools. For much of the 20th century, the British model of taking in school leavers at cadet level could be found in a number of Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, and in the developing world, training on the job was long seen as a financial necessity, by both newspapers and prospective journalists.

Another important aspect of a journalist’s education is the socialization into the newsroom (Josephi, 2001). Numerous canonical newsroom studies (Tuchman, 1979; Gans, 1980; Schlesinger, 1987) have revealed the importance of the organizational and institutional framework on a journalist’s work and output. For this reason, most universities and colleges offering journalism courses work closely with industry, collaborating on internships, or offer news production, such as radio stations or digital publications, on their campuses. More recently, this has been called in the United States the “teaching hospital” model (Francisco et al., 2012).

The academic literature produced in and on journalism education abundantly evidences the divide between theory and practice. Many publications are discussions of what and how to teach, and teaching textbooks that, in the eyes of universities, cannot be counted as research. Yet the research on journalistic practice, usually placed in journalism studies rather than journalism education, is mostly seen by the industry as unduly critical and unhelpful.

As Bromley, Tumber, and Zelizer (2001, p. 252) remark, “[t]he academy and industry employ criteria for measuring success in journalism education which are currently too divergent,” labeling the coming together of the two “some form of shotgun marriage.” In order to find some common ground, calls have been made “for a culture of mutual respect” (Greenberg, 2014, p. 294). The World Journalism Education Congress, in its principles, is at pains to bridge the divide, arguing that “journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners” (WJEC, 2007),” and that it is important that educators have experience working as journalists.

“[T]raining of ‘reflective practitioners’ and an integration of theory and practice in the journalism curriculum” (Deuze, 2006, p. 27) has emerged globally as a leading concept among journalism scholars (Reese & Cohen, 2000; Sheridan Burns, 2002; Keeble, 2005; Wasserman, 2005; Niblock, 2007; Greenberg, 2014). All the same, the concept did not convince industry. Journalism practice was “always seen, in Britain at least, as incompatible with the very idea of critical reflection” (Papatheodoron & Chapman cited in Greenberg, 2014, p. 296). Even when students are taught “best practice” and a vision of what constitutes “good journalism,” the question remains how much of these teachings can be applied in “real world conditions” (Greenberg, 2014, p. 297).

Raison d’être

In a provocative keynote address to journalism educators, titled “Deficient Tutelage,” Picard warned that in the 21st century, “reality threatens the relevance and existence of traditional journalism education” (2014b, p. 1). Digitalization has destabilized traditional media’s business model, and with it the economic basis of journalistic employment. The effect of this is being felt in journalism schools. The “2013 Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates” shows that, after years of growth, the enrollments declined in the United States for a third consecutive year, with the subfield of journalism and mass communication particularly hard hit (Becker, Vlad, & Simpson, 2014, p. 349). While the decrease in undergraduate programs was still small, “enrolment at doctoral level was down 7.1 percent” (p. 349). This is a trend also observed in other parts of the world where digital media are progressively eroding the monopolies of daily news provision once held by media companies.

The challenges for journalists come from many sides. Not only the precariousness of employment, but also the diminishing of authority is affecting the journalistic profession. “The role of the journalist as bearing witness to the news is usurped when the public itself takes on the role of documenting events through eyewitness accounts, images and videos” (Hermida, 2015, p. 40). What is more, “[o]nline news sites, blogs, and social media are far more often willing to publicly name and shame elites than legacy media” (Picard, 2014b, p. 2). In Western countries, journalists and journalism schools are forced to redraw and reinvent journalistic roles.

Professionalism is again emerging as a vital concept, although it remains as contentious as ever. At a time when journalistic authority is under attack, professionalism is seen as a tool in the boundary-work taking place between journalists, a public participating in news creation and distribution, tweeters, and bloggers. Finding their way through the velocity and volume of data, journalists can prove themselves as “uniquely qualified to coordinate, authentic [sic] and interpret multiple streams of information” (Hermida, 2015, p. 46). Other scholars in North America suggest that future journalists should be educated to make inclusivity rather than exclusivity their hallmark and conceive journalism “as an act of community, a process as much as a product” (Mensing, 2010, p. 520). The belief is that journalists can assert themselves as trusted professionals despite having to adjust to an environment that is more mutual and mobile (Singer, 2015).

Rather than emphasizing professionalism, another pathway chosen by some journalism schools is to prepare their students for an anticipated de-institutionalized future and teach “entrepreneurial journalism.” The fact that journalism “was never entirely a business, and also entirely not a business” (Folkerts et al., 2013, p. 5) is becoming more evident in that media outlets more than anything would like to employ journalists who know how to engage and keep audiences, and generate profit.

The path of proving one’s monetary worth as a journalist is a contentious one for journalism schools to take. As Singer writes,

In a traditional news environment, keeping audiences happy was only indirectly the job of the journalist. The extent to which a start-up’s audience-as-customer must be catered to in order to survive financially, balanced against the value of autonomous editorial judgment and the journalist’s traditional norm of public service broadly defined, is another topic ripe for exploration from a normative perspective.

(Singer, 2015, p. 31)

The discussion of norms and values has by no means disappeared in the digital age (Carlson & Lewis, 2015; Kreiss & Brennan, 2016). But, as Singer suggests, the urgency of financial survival has made their role more precarious. In journalism schools around the world, the teaching of journalism ethics was and is one of the cornerstones of professionalization (Adam, 2001, pp. 333–334). Weaver (1998), when looking at journalists globally, made it one of his research aims to see whether a common ethical standard had been achieved, but his findings showed that journalism was far removed from a common professional ethical standard. Waisbord (2013, p. 18) similarly found journalistic ethics globally “diverse and contested.” What is more, empirical studies have shown that journalists who had a journalism degree showed less tendencies to adhere to ethical rules than those who had not attended journalism school (Plaisance, Skewes, & Hanitzsch, 2012).

Such findings inevitably raise the question of the effect of journalism education. While some attempts are under way to assess these, the influence of journalism education so far has been very difficult to quantify. In recent years, however, renewed effort has been made to ascertain the influence of journalism education on students while still at college or a university.

Effects of Journalism Education

The assumption is that journalism education, by forming journalists’ views and attitudes, can influence the nature and quality of journalism (WJEC, 2007; UNESCO, 2007; Josephi, 2009). At the same time exists the realization that the education journalists receive is “just one among a myriad of possibly stronger influences on journalism output” (Sanders, Hanna, Berganza, & Sanchez Aranda, 2008, p. 134). Sanders and colleagues go on to say that “[c]aution is required when making claims about the influence and effects of journalism education, given the complexity and weight of other systemic factors” (p. 134). The attempts that have been made therefore have been largely within the controlled group of journalism students.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the goal of journalism education “whether implicitly or explicitly, is socialization into the profession” (Becker et al., 1987). Accordingly, one of the first large internationally conducted studies into the values held by journalism students “tried to find out whether or not universal tendencies of socialization, particularly towards professionalization, exist” (Splichal & Sparks, 1994, p. 7). Splichal and Sparks’s study of first-year students from 22 very diverse countries, including Bulgaria, Ghana, and Japan, tested for shared values that could be regarded as early indications of a developing global professionalism. While the students exhibited uniform traits, notably the desire for independence and autonomy, the respondents were equally aware that media ownership and state control if “prevalent in their own country, acted as obstacle to the practice of journalism as they would envisage it” (Splichal & Sparks, 1994, p. 179). A main criticism of Splichal and Sparks’s work was that it recorded the ideas and ideals of first-year students but not the socialization process within journalism courses, let alone in the actual workplace (Weaver, 1996; Josephi, 2009).

Research into journalism students’ views came into focus again in the mid-2000s, when inquiries were undertaken not only within national contexts but also increasingly on a comparative basis across two or more nations (Sanders et al., 2008; Mellado et al., 2013; Nygren & Stigbrand, 2014; Carpenter, Hoag, Grant, & Bowe, 2015; Hanusch et al., 2015). The focus of research ranges from the ways in which journalism education influences students’ perceptions of and attitudes to their future profession, to how journalism education shapes students’ professional and ethical views and degree motivations, to the question of whether a degree of homogenization can be observed among future journalists as a result of globalization.

The findings of these studies reflect the differences in research questions. Comparative studies emphasize the influence of national journalism cultures (Sanders et al., 2008; Mellado et al., 2013). Conversely, the study that set out to trace a potential process of homogenization found, like Splichal and Sparks twenty years earlier, “ideals, competences and character traits . . . quite similar” among students surveyed in Sweden, Russia, Poland, Estonia, and Finland. Yet the authors warn that students in all five countries “face a gap between the ideals of professional identity and the realities awaiting them on the labour market” (Nygren & Stigbrand, 2014, p. 856).

A study of U.S. students admits to not being able to ascertain whether the socialization process experienced at college or university can be carried into the workplace. Carpenter and colleagues interpret the results of their study as suggesting that “academia may not have much impact on certain perceptions and behaviors” (Carpenter et al., 2015, p. 58).

It may be indeed that a “myriad of influences” on professional behavior makes it near impossible to assess the impact of journalism education. At best, it can be measured on the individual level, thus further fragmenting the impact it may have on journalism in a particular country. Economic, political, and cultural factors, as these studies demonstrate, carry a more decisive weight, especially as they were already forces shaping the journalism education on offer in any particular country.


The discussion about journalism education and journalism schools is conducted almost entirely in terms of this being the education of future journalists (Folkerts, Hamilton, & Lemann, 2013; Adam, 2001; Johansen, Weaver, & Dornan, 2001). This was never quite the case and is progressively less so. In many instances courses in journalism are part of schools or departments that also have public relations, advertising, and other areas of communication on offer. What is more, news journalism is often not the kind of journalism sought as a career.

A pilot study in Australia across six universities revealed “that only four of every five students actually want to work in journalism when they graduate, and of those a majority would prefer to work in entertainment-focused journalism rather than in news” (Hanusch, 2012, p. 95).

U.S. data for 2013 showed that 65 percent of graduates in journalism and mass communication found full-time work six to eight months after graduation (Becker et al., 2014). The University of Georgia survey reported that “of those who had jobs, 40 percent were working outside journalism” (Nieman Report, 2014). This is in line with advertising and public relations’ expanding within U.S. mass communication programs, claiming a larger share of the curriculum than pure journalism courses (Becker, Vlad, & Simpson, 2014, pp. 357–358; Weaver, Beam, Brownlee, Voakes, & Wilhoit, 2007, p. 35). Becker and colleagues go as far as to say that “a focus on journalism as the curriculum core of the field, as the common title of the field of journalism and mass communication education, might be dysfunctional from the point of view of attracting students” (p. 364).

Other surveys similarly find that “many students do not know if they want to become journalists” (Nygren & Stigbrand, 2014, p. 855). This statement, however, is closely related “to the perceived possibilities of getting a job.” In Moscow a little over 40 percent were sure of getting a job; in a medium-sized Swedish town it was 30 percent, and in Warsaw only 25 percent (p. 855). Similarly, data reported for Spain reveals “that hardly 41 percent of all graduates of the past 30 years are working professionally as journalists” (Nordenstreng, 2009, p. 515).

These figures give a clear indication that journalism education is not necessarily chosen only by those who, as reporters and journalists, want primarily to be concerned with public affairs. In developing countries or countries with limited media freedom, many graduates find jobs in related fields, such as working for NGOs or foreign broadcasters or they join the ranks of government employees (Josephi, 2010; Freedman & Shafer cited in Banda, 2013, p. 15). In North America, Australia, and Western Europe, the clear division that once existed between journalism and advertising is breaking down (Hanusch, Hanitzsch, & Lauerer, 2015).

After exponential global growth in the 1990s and 2000s, journalism education is again “in one of its recurring periods of being dramatically remade” (Folkerts et al., 2013, p. 1). The transformations have to be absorbed and worked into finding new directions. These will differ in the various parts of the world according to regional situations.

Yet some things will remain: journalism education will continue to be characterized by its dichotomous nature. It will remain caught between theory and practice, normative and empirical, academia and industry, market and public service, dependence and autonomy. In the 150 years of journalism education’s existence, it has undoubtedly achieved a degree of professionalization for journalists. The challenge for the coming years is to adapt and negotiate this achievement of professionalization in a shared world of information provision.


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