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'I'd pick J-school at a strong university': journalism education is liberal arts education.

In the time-honored tradition of editorial writers, let me bury the lead and speak out of both sides of my mouth.

During my first career, after decades as a professional student (four degrees earned, not one journalism course taken), I could base the argument for a liberal arts education on first-hand experience. I spent twenty-six years as editor, publisher, editorial writer, and occasional paperboy for the Southbridge News in Massachusetts, a six-day, six thousand-circulation afternoon paper. The News served as an excellent (he says modestly) journalism school for many liberal arts grads--and even a few journalism school graduates.

They were paid poorly to get their journalism education. But at least they didn't have to pay. And Linda Megathlin, George Geers, and other patient managing editor/professors taught them well. The alums of the News School of Journalism, including Ray Hernandez of The New York Times, may have come to us with no clips and no experience as student journalists. But they graduated from the News with self-confidence, prize-winning clips, and the discipline acquired from reporting and writing several stories a day on deadline.

In 1995, I sold the News and began my second career, as head of journalism programs at Emory University, the University of Southern California, and now Northwestern University. As dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and teacher of a course on South African history, culture, and journalism, I can make the case for journalism education by unburying the lead.

In truth, a journalism education at Northwestern and other fine universities really is the best kind of liberal arts education. The students are required to take seventy-five percent of their courses outside of journalism. Many Medill students double major--in history, philosophy, economics, religion, and psychology, as well as in journalism.

I like to think that my South Africa course and other Medill courses are really liberal arts courses. My course is designed to prepare students for quarter-long reporting experiences at South African news media (not something that they could get at the Southbridge News). The course covers the country's geography, history, politics, and culture. The students' exposure to South Africa and Africa, a neglected continent, broadens their perspective and creates a desire for more knowledge.

Julie Pace, a broadcast senior, e-mailed me: "I knew very little about Africa before we took your class last winter and what I did know was very basic and probably more based on stereotypes than facts. I never realized how little is taught about Africa in high school and intro history courses. I realized how dangerous it is for a journalist to be so ignorant about such a huge part of the world so I'm really trying to learn as much as I can...." Julie listed "World News Arena," a Medill elective, and "Africa in the 21st Century," in the international studies department, as courses she is taking this year.

My course focused on HIV/AIDS in the United States and South Africa. Julie and other students became amateur experts. After returning to campus, Julie wrote an excellent article about HIV/AIDS in South Africa for her hometown paper, the Buffalo News, and produced a television series on HIV/AIDS that was aired on stations in Evanston and Chicago.

She was trained, in the age of multimedia journalism, on state-of-the-art broadcast equipment in the new McCormick Tribune Center. Such equipment and such a building, needless to say, are not available to cub reporters at the Southbridge News. The News is housed in a one hundred seventy-year-old, red-brick, white-columned Greek Revival house, strikingly beautiful, but not state of the art.

In an increasingly global multimedia world, if I knew I wanted to be a journalist (and had the money) I would attend a strong university with a strong journalism school. There I would obtain a great liberal arts education and learn not to speak out of both sides of my mouth.

Loren Ghiglione, a former NCEW member and ASNE president, is dean of the Medill School of Journalism. E-mail
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Title Annotation:Symposium: to J or not to J? A question of career preparation
Author:Ghiglione, Loren
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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