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Report Finds Curricular Experimentation in Journalism Education In The United States

At least some journalism programs in the United States are experimenting with curricular change designed to make journalism as practiced more citizen-centered, a new report published by the Kettering Foundation and authored by a University of Georgia researcher found.

The educators involved in this experimentation begin with a critical perspective on journalism in the U.S. today and demonstrate a strong “sensitivity to citizens and their needs,” Dr. Lee B. Becker concluded based on eight case studies he conducted.

“For the most part, these concerns with the needs of citizens center more around the view of citizens as news consumers than around notions of citizens as active participants and decision-makers in public life,” Dr. Becker wrote in the Kettering report. “The assumption, not always articulated, is that citizen need will drive news use and make journalism profitable.”

Dr. Becker concluded that, even with the experimentation, “journalism education has not moved far away from that historical focus on a curriculum designed to prepare students for workforce.”

The Kettering Foundation, outside Dayton, Ohio, is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s research is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation.

Kettering published the report by Dr. Becker in its Working Papers series.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

This report examines eight journalism programs at universities in the United States that have made efforts to change their curricula to embrace citizens in a new way. As such, they are at least to some extent critical of what has been done in the past. And they are suggestive of what might be done in the future. The report ends with 10 observations and conclusions about the findings from the programs studied.

Dr. Becker conducted research on journalism education and its labor force in the United States for more than 25 years and has published widely on that topic. The research has been used extensively in Cox Center programming since Dr. Becker became Center director in 1997.

“The view of citizens as news consumers and of news as a commercial product is a central component of journalism education’s historical focus on the labor market for its graduates,” Dr. Becker wrote in the report. “Only if citizens in fact find news of enough value to invest financial resources in it will journalism be profitable and will students be able to see journalism as a viable occupation. And only under that circumstance will students continue to enroll in the journalism programs as now fashioned.”

The full report, published on Nov. 1, is available here.