April 18, 2003

Bollinger’s Statement

I didn’t expect anything earth-shattering from Lee C. Bollinger’s task force statement on journalism education at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. And I wasn’t disappointed. But I do think the thrust of his statement is important: journalists must be broadly educated:

That a journalism school is located within a great university, which houses an extraordinary amount of expertise on virtually any subject, means that it would be an intellectual tragedy not to ensure that students partake of the feast.

If at first this seems like common sense, don’t be fooled. I would assert that the majority of students in higher education miss this feast because they come to college focused on being trained for a job rather than getting an education. This situation may be particularly distressful in regard to the practice of journalism (necessary to the civic health of a democratic republic), which, to be done well, requires not only basic professional skills but the ability to think critically and in context. To achieve this, Bollinger believes journalists need

a functional knowledge of statistics, the basic concepts of economics, and an appreciation for the importance of history and for the fundamental debates in modern political theory and philosophy.

To this list I would add a deeper understanding of language and how it works from the disciplines of rhetoric, linguistics, cognitive science, and psycho-linguistics.

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