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Vartan Gregorian, page 2

When asked about the quality of their professional preparation and their related ability to spread knowledge and understanding, journalists were characteristically critical and unsparing of themselves in recent surveys:
  • Nearly three out of four journalists say they are not well prepared to cover the most important issues facing the country. They grade journalists' preparation a "3" on a scale of "1" to "5," with "1" being poor and "5" being excellent. Similarly, most of the surveyed journalists rate the overall quality of reporting as a "3." John E. Cox, Jr., president of the Foundation for American Communications, which commissioned the study, underlined its findings: "This survey shows that journalists themselves believe they need more education and training to do a better job of covering the news." (American Opinion Research conducted the survey, which was sponsored by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.)

  • One in three journalists is dissatisfied with professional development opportunities at work, and this complaint is more common than ones about pay, benefits, promotion or even job security. Most journalists say they need training in work skills, content areas and ethics, values and legal issues — but few news staffers say they receive training in these areas. Nine out of ten news executives agree about the desirability of better training, but they say financial and time constraints severely limit training opportunities — on an annual average, per employee, to no more than several days and no more than $500. Most companies spend one percent or less of their news budget on training, and ten percent of the companies spend nothing on training. The greatest need for training was cited by staffers in local television newsrooms. Beverly Kees, the survey's editor at Princeton Survey Research Associates, commented: "Though news organizations are in the knowledge business, the news industry lags behind others in providing its people with new knowledge and skills through professional training." (The Council of Presidents of National Journalism Organizations commissioned the survey and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation sponsored it.)

  • Nearly two in three editors responsible for international news say their newspaper's coverage is fair or poor — and they said television networks' foreign coverage was worse. These editors also said their own news organizations do a fair or poor job of satisfying readers' interest in international news. Although international news coverage increased at most of the surveyed newspapers after September 11th, the editors expect that coverage will gradually return to prior levels, with most publications allotting foreign news 10 percent or less of the space for all news. (Dwight L. Morris & Associates conducted the survey for the Pew International Journalism Program.)
Of particular interest to the Corporation is a current discussion about whether our journalism programs are preparing "reporters," who are skilled in gathering and packaging information, or "journalists," who have additional abilities for investigation, analysis, synthesis, perspective and narration. Because of journalists' importance to our society, I believe that the level of their education, the level of their sophistication and the level of their knowledge about the issues that they report on must be high in order to prevent them from being marginalized, sidelined or manipulated. We need, as much as possible, an unshakable, untouchable independence and integrity from journalists because, as a society, we are dependent on them not only for information but for context about the information they bring us and for expanding how we think about and analyze the life of our nation, our relationships with our allies and enemies, and events taking place in the most far-flung corners of the world.

Most of us rarely pay any attention to the needs of these idealized professions. We routinely take these practitioners for granted, but are very quick to criticize shallow reporting, ineffective teaching and weak librarianship.

Yet as globalization and the Information Revolution increase the pressure for journalists to become specialists in different areas, I believe we must not devalue generalists or ignore their demands for better education and continued training. After all, we live in an age of extraordinary specialization and fragmentation of knowledge, spawning specializations, sub-specializations and sub-sub-specializations in every discipline. This division of labor, of course, has been of great value in promoting progress in our society. Complexity, by necessity, requires specialization.

So we need specialists in journalism, as well. But for greater understanding, we also need generalists, educated and cultivated, trained and knowledgeable in the humanities, arts, sciences and social sciences. The challenge is to provide synthesis. We also need generalists' help in creating a common discourse, a common vocabulary for discussing various disciplines. Today, more than ever, we must try to balance technical studies in reporting skills with a general and liberal education. In addition, we need a moral balance — informed by the study of ethics, history and culture — that teaches us the difference between making a living and actually living, between means and ends, and between the individual and society.

James W. Carey, professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, makes a crucial point when he writes: "The natural academic home of journalism is among the humanities and the humanistic social sciences. Journalism belongs with political theory, which nurtures an understanding of democratic life and institutions; with literature, from which it derives a heightened awareness of language and expression and an understanding of narrative form; with philosophy, from which it can clarify its own moral foundations; with art, which enriches its capacity to imagine the unity of the visual world; with history, which forms the underlying stratum of its consciousness."


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