What is a journalism school for?

New York Times picture editor Lonnie Schlein, left, photojournalist and educator Paul F. Moloney, in glasses, National Geographic photographer Joanna B. Pinneo, in yellow, and alumnus, Rocky Mountain News photographer and four-time NPPA Region 9 Photographer of the Year Darin McGregor, in dark green, critique the portfolio of student Sean McDonald, in light blue, for a photojournalism class at the University of Colorado, Monday, May 7, 2007. At rear students Theo Stroomer and Ian Kirkpatrick watch. © Kevin Moloney, 2007

 

Yesterday the final decision was made to close the School of Journalism and Mass Communication that is not only my part-time employer, but my alma mater. My father also taught photojournalism part time at this school and graduated from its predecessor College of Journalism at the University of Colorado. The old school will be replaced by a double degree in journalism and another discipline at the university, and details of how that will work remain vague.

Though I and many of my colleagues wish a purposeful change of how journalism is taught at CU would have unfolded differently from this, the decision begs an examination of what it means to have a journalism education. This may still be well served by CU’s plan, depending on how it unfolds. I am hopeful.

 

Paul F. Moloney lectures about sports photography to photojournalism students at the University of Colorado, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008. © Kevin Moloney, 2008

 

I would not teach at a journalism school if I did not value them. For more than a century they have been the training grounds of generations of the world’s witnesses (like all things for better and for worse), homes of the research that help us understand communications’ flows and the social life of information, and builders of confidence in an important profession.

However today not even the working profession of journalism — where reaction to the needs of the market and the social distribution of information is life or death — knows where it is going. Expecting the ivory tower to keep pace where the profession cannot is extreme. Regardless, I and my colleagues, though looking at it from different angles, have not shrunk from that challenge.

Professional journalism will always have skills that need to be learned, philosophies and standards that need to be debated. But in the end it is a profession of experience. Storytellers learn their craft by telling stories. Though my own education at CU inspired me to do the work of learning journalism, almost all I learned about journalism came from watching journalists at work when I was young and from doing the job myself. Journalism schools exist to plant the seeds of what needs to be really learned in real-world practice.

In the two centuries prior to the creation of journalism schools, the art, craft and professionalism of the time was learned through apprenticeship and experience. That will always be available where there is no school to set the stage. A true university education is about ideas rather than practice. It is about learning to think as the acting generally comes later.

Find your mentors in schools and out. And tell story after story.

 

Paul F. Moloney teaches sports photography at the University of Colorado, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. © Kevin Moloney, 2011.

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  1. #1 by Paul Conrad on April 15, 2011 - 1:34 pm

    Wow. Want a bummer. Some good photographers came out of there.

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  2. #2 by Chris S on April 15, 2011 - 1:58 pm

    Here Here. I worked with Darin for half a year, sort of knew you, and grew up in the profession admiring the alumni from the program. After several years working, and after much deliberation, I’m going to Ohio’s grad program in August. Your post articulates all my fears, but more-so my hopes and dreams. Thanks “Kev” for an enduring spirit.
    ~Chris.

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  3. #3 by Matt Nager on April 15, 2011 - 3:20 pm

    Very well said Kevin. I agree completely that university settings are places for ideas…places to plant the seeds to act later. Internships and real world learning is just as important.

    I am sad to see CU close the doors on the journalism school as we know it, but I am hopeful like you. I also hope to find you professing around CU for years to come.
    matt

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  4. #4 by Paul Moloney -- Dad on April 15, 2011 - 8:13 pm

    Kevin, Et Al —

    Thanks for your commentary.

    Hope all of you got my CU J-school thoughts prompted by Erin Hooley. If not, let me know and I’ll send you a private copy of my e-mail.

    Kevin’s and my lives have evolved very much the same, though we have our own involvements and ways of thinking which make our discussions lively and very worthwhile.

    Take care,

    Paul

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  5. #5 by Paul Moloney -- Dad on April 15, 2011 - 8:14 pm

    P.S.

    Your three pictures are headed into my album. Thanks. Dad

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