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 Do these institutions have the capacity to see past the problems of falling ad revenues and outdated curricula, and struggle to understand the crises of our age?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.