Woodstein U: Notes on the Mass Production and Questionable Education of Journalists

More than enough students are enrolled in journalism courses at this moment to replace every professional journalist now employed on an American newspaper. What explains this madcap scramble for jobs that don't exist, and how well are the students prepared? A veteran journalist reports on the state of America's schools of communications.

The University of Texas School of Communication, with more than 3000 majors, has more students than the entire enrollment in half the colleges and universities in the country. In this mammoth institution can be found most of the elements, good and bad, that characterize other journalism schools across the country.

The University of Texas School of Communication more than train journalists for newspapers. It maintains a department of journalism, a department radio-television-film (known as "RTV" in the trade), a department of speech communication, and a department of advertising. The journalism department offers concentrations, or sequences, in news and editorial, magazine work, broadcast news, journalism, and public relations. Within the school, journalism attracts 36 percent of the communication students, radio-television-film 31 percent, speech 18 percent, and advertising 15 percent.

The dean who presides over the school is Wayne Danielson, formerly dean of the University of Carolina School of Journalism, and a specialist in computer science and statistical studies involving journalism. Like the deans of six of the ten largest journalism schools, Danielson has had little or no experience in professional journalism. 

The campus paper, the Daily Texan, while not formally issued by the journalism department, is housed in its complex. A superior paper compared to most campus dailies, the Daily Texan has a circulation of 37,000 (total university enrollment is 42,000). It has had editors (usually not journalism majors) who later became prominent professional writers and editors. The Daily Texan has provided students with a realistic view of the vicissitudes of independent-minded editors. When Willie Morris (never a journalism student) was editor of the Texan, he editorialized against deregulation of natural gas, a view that strikes Texas politicians as tantamount to promoting the suspension of breathing. The Texan is read, story by story and headline by headline, by a representative of the Texas Board of Publications who sits at the copydesk and views everything that goes into the paper. The board says it does not censor but merely monitors for bad taste and libel. Apparently editorials calling for regulation of the natural gas industry are considered bad taste, and Morris left white space in protest over the deleted (censored) editorials.

Kay Northcott, a former editor of the Texas Observer, was also an editor of the campus paper when she was a student in the 1960s.  Her editorials against the war in Vietnam became the subject of a censorship battle. A member of the publications board told her. "After all, this is Lyndon Johnson's university." The editorials were eventually printed, but Regent Frank Erwin told her that they caused an unnamed donor to cancel his $1 million gift to the new communications complex.

The journalism faculty is heavily larded with University of Texas graduates and former reporters and editors for Texas papers. Forty percent of all new reporters for Texas papers come from the school. But the faculty is not distinctive in either the practice of journalism or journalistic research. Until a few months ago associate dean under Danielson was A. Richard Elam, Jr., member of a prominent Texas family, owner of a number of small papers, and former owner of a television station once rated by the Columbia Journalism Review as being among the thirty-four worst in the country.

Dr. Norris G. Davis, chairman of the department of journalism until late 1976, lists in his official biography "17 summers of work as a reporter and photographer." The biography does not state that this work was for a utility company's house organ, or that his journalistic experience was rounded out by doing public relations for a former governor.

Academic requirements for journalism students at Texas are technically the same as for all accredited schools and departments of journalism. Students must take only 25 percent of their undergraduate work in "trade" courses, with the rest devoted to other subjects, preferably in the liberal arts. The idea is to get a broad education while acquiring training and perspective in journalism.

The requirements include nine hours of English, thirty hours in the sciences, twelve hours in American government and history (a state law requirement) and five hours of physical education. This leaves about thirty-six hours of electives, thirty-two hours of which may, if the student wishes, be filled with courses given in ROTC or by the Biblical Studies Association.

Within the news and editorial requirements, a major would take 1) Introduction to Communication, a largely quantitative course on behavioral studies taught by Dean Danielson. Alternatives would be Theories of Mass Communication, another scientific research course, or Writing for the Mass Media. 2) Copy Editing: "Fundamentals of copy editing for printed media." 3) News Reporting: "Advanced development of skills in gathering and writing news for the print media." 4) Advanced Information Processing: "Planning content and format of newspapers and other periodicals." 5) Media Law and Ethics: "Social and ethical responsibilities 6) Reporting Urban News: "Study of community news sources . ..”

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