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Orville Schell, page 2

My own experience suggests to me that we learn best by working with and absorbing the ways of more senior exemplars through actual work, not by sitting in lecture halls on chairs screwed to the floor taking notes. The antidote to such pedagogy is small classes and as much one-on-one editing, counseling and mentoring as possible. And that mentoring should, of course, stress independence and reporting that evinces neither fear nor favor. But does not a younger journalist best learn such traits by watching someone he or she respects actually in the lists themselves, jousting with all the forces with which working journalists must inevitably joust?

I must confess here, that I am not keen on the idea of journalism schools designed to include public relations and advertising departments. Such a marriage seems counter-intuitive to me, because these two disciplines are so completely different in their assumptions and purposes. The idea that they can be bunched together under the rubric of "communications" seems like an almost cruel joke. At Berkeley, we are providentially not burdened with this contradiction.

And, while I believe that any good journalism school must be mindful of and understand something of the media as a whole — after all we are all part of it — I am not sure that it makes sense for schools to be riven with departments of mass communication fighting over common resources with departments of journalism. This is not to say that what communication scholars do is without merit. It is simply to recognize that getting a Ph.D in mass communications in order to enter the academic fraternity has relatively little to do with becoming a good journalist. I have seen all too many schools in a state of dysfunctional struggle between these two different disciplines, and the energy wasted is considerable and lamentable. Again, I can only consider myself blessed as dean at Berkeley not to have to bridge that particular abyss.

The question is not: Can journalism school be justified? but, What kind of a journalism school can be justified? This is Columbia's conundrum.

This is not to say that I think journalism schools should just be craft workshops, the equivalent of trade schools teaching journalistic "technique." Indeed, I think one of the problem with most MA programs is that they are only one year in duration, which means there is very little time for a complement of history, politics, culture and even literature, science, language and area studies to be added. Part of what makes the privilege of being a journalist interesting to so many (despite the low pay) is that it offers the prospect of investigating so many different worlds. In this sense, I think it is crucial that journalism schools broaden their curricula to make students acquainted with some of the myriad realms of life that, if they know something of them, will give their work resonance and depth and will give their own lives deeper meaning.

In this respect, I must confess that I am not enthusiastic about the idea of undergraduates "studying" journalism. They might better spend their time in history, politics, culture, even the classics, philosophy or the sciences. In my experience, too much specializing too early makes for a narrowness and dullness that will ultimately deprive journalism, no matter in what medium, of the kind of convincing connections it needs to be truly excellent.

So, we are back to the question of not: Can journalism school be justified? but, What kind of a journalism school can be justified? This is Columbia's conundrum.

For me, the answer is that a justifiable school is one that is small enough and independent enough to move quickly and creatively to respond to what is going on in the world; that is filled with active, practicing journalists of the most thoughtful, talented kind; that strives to teach-by-doing in master/apprentice-like relationships; that seeks to draw the world of the media into the school and to project the school out into the world; that tries to make the school not only the transmitter of craft, but a place of ideas, politics, culture and global trends; and that has enough time to actually get a glove on students intellectually as they move through it. (And how they change between their first and second years, when we as faculty finally really get to know them and move into positions to be able to actually help them as colleagues rather than as "students!")

So, why did I take this job as dean here at Berkeley when I myself was a journalist of some years standing who had never come near a journalism school?

Because I thought the challenge seemed like a worthy one: namely, how to create a media institution that might actually be able to contribute to this very complex and fragile food chain of journalistic good practices, ethics, and intellect. Moreover, there seemed to be fewer and fewer places within the media as a whole where any of us can feel proud and fulfilled. So, the thought of helping to create a free-standing school at a university seemed like a hopeful challenge.

The returns are hardly in on our Berkeley experiment, other journalism schools, or the American media in general. The media with all its constituent parts is a constantly evolving and multi-faceted proposition. But perhaps the paroxysm through which Columbia is now going will help all of us get a little clearer in-concept about what it is that is worth doing. Whether we are at an actual media outlet or toiling in the vineyards of "journalism education," the question we should all be asking is the same: What needs to be done to do the job better and how can each of us best do it?

Orville Schell is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of 14 books — nine about China, including Virtual Tibet, Mandate of Heaven, and Discos and Democracy. He has also written widely about Asia for Wired, The New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, Harper's, Newsweek and other national magazines.

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