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Accrediting Council fails commentary.

* Ignoring journalism practitioners is hard to justify,

As far as higher education is concerned, editorial writing isn't as secure as it should be. Courses teaching the principles and purposes of journalism commentary are conspicuous by their scarcity at this country's universities and colleges.

During two terms on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications - 1995-1997 representing NCEW, during the mid-'80s representing the Society of Professional Journalists - I was constantly astonished: Few university and college communication departments and schools seeking accreditation or reaccreditation list courses related to journalism's opinion or commentary function.

Although I regularly reflected this dismay during council deliberations, I'm afraid the impact was largely negligible.

Some explanation about the Council may be helpful. Established 52 years ago to solemnize journalism's place in higher education, the Council as it evolved is influenced mostly by educators, but includes voting members from what's known as "the industry" - various print, broadcast, photo, and television news organizations, public relations and advertising groups, those communication fields looking to colleges and universities for trained (or at least reasonably well-instructed) employees.

Having successfully survived various challenges to its validity and usefulness, the Council is generally recognized in higher learning circles as the body attesting to quality journalism or communication education. The accreditation that reflects this benefaction means the school or department substantially complies with the Council's 12 formal measurement standards.

Since, after all, accreditation is the template with which aspiring higher-ed communication faculty would develop teaching sequences, a scarcity of editorial or commentary courses among accredited schools and departments tends to assure propagation of that bleak situation. More's the pity.

If it is conceded that the country's journalism must look to college and university education for its practitioners, and if it is further agreed that analysis, opinion, and commentary comprise an essential ingredient of American journalism, then failure to even offer college- and university-level courses conveying knowledge about history, principles, and methodology of editorializing becomes difficult to justify.

The lack is far from total. Many university-level schools and departments of communications or journalism do list what would qualify as editorial writing classes.

Oddly, however, too many accredited schools and departments offer what is known as a "news/editorial" sequence that actually offers little that could be identified as editorial instruction. That may help explain why widespread confusion exists even among practicing communicators as to what distinguishes news work from editorializing.

On the other hand, should that part of the latest news-reporting fad - "community journalism," which aspires to convey greater "meaning" - become permanently rooted, a student's understanding of the editorial function would be even more essential; one might even argue it should be a required rather than an elective course.

Perhaps, in any event, editorial writers are actually born, not made. It does seem, when surveyed on the subject, many finding commentary work a compatible career tend to consider themselves called rather than selected. Under such circumstances, on-the-job training may be more valuable than academic preparation and so, therefore, the practical necessity of staffing and equipping higher education editorial writing courses is not compelling.

Whether journalism students in an editorial writing class become editorial writers is unimportant. What's important is that they know more than non-journalists about the editorial function - how and why it is performed. For those who do gain the opportunity to produce commentary, a basic classroom introduction stands to be a long-run benefit for them and their employers.

Also, since communication schools and departments frequently find their presence on a college or university campus questioned because they are considered more vocational than academic, a course emphasizing research, theory, and careful knowledge-gathering, all of which commentary writing at the undergraduate level surely must cover, could help in marshaling a better self-defense.

Accreditation, in any event, is not the pipeline for more college-level editorial instruction. Socializing coincident with council member gatherings may permit direct contact with higher education administrators, but progress made that way is vulnerable to counter-politics and quite perishable. While as a package the Council's 12 standards promote decent advanced instruction in communication or journalism skills, no single standard establishes what courses must be offered or taught. That's appropriate, since a course-content requirement could b
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Conference of Editorial Writers
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Can Editorial Writing Be Taught?; role of Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in editorial teaching
Author:Fuller, Harry
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Previous Article:Editorial writing teacher learned the hard way.
Next Article:Even 10-year-olds can write editorials.

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