Journalism in the Service of Democracy

On January 8 and 9, 2008, The Paley Center for Media in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York hosted a two-day summit, Journalism in the Service of Democracy: A Summit of Deans, Faculty, Students, and Journalists. This web feature summarizes the summit panel discussions and offers supplemental material from the Paley Center collection that we hope will be useful to aspiring journalists.


A Summit of Deans, Faculty, Students, and Journalists
January 8 to 9, 2008

By Christopher Connell

In 2002, a conversation started among several university journalism deans about the paucity of jobs for students hoping to break into broadcast news. Orville Schell, then-dean of the Graduate College of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley; Geoffrey Cowan, then-dean of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California (USC); and Alex Jones, director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, got the ball rolling and gathered more than a dozen journalism deans, educators, and foundation executives for a meeting held at the California home of Walter H. Shorenstein, the San Francisco real estate magnate and philanthropist who endowed the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in memory of his daughter, Joan, a former executive producer of CBS News’s Face the Nation. The conversation quickly turned to broader questions about the future of journalism and journalism education in an era when both newspapers and networks were fighting a losing battle to retain readers and viewers, and when the Internet seemed poised to grab not only eyes, but advertisers, from traditional news media. It was a penetrating discussion. Not long afterwards, Susan Robinson King, the former ABC News correspondent who is Carnegie Corporation of New York’s vice president for external affairs and who attended the meeting, told Schell that the discussion was too important to end there and that the Corporation wanted to include a focus on improving journalism in its work.

Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian, the former president of the New York Public Library and Brown University, was passionate in his belief that journalists play an essential role in a democracy and that society’s need for well-educated, intellectually honest, and probing reporters, editors, and producers was greater than ever in an era of loud voices and short attention spans. Soon, with Corporation funding, the UC Berkeley and USC deans and the Harvard director were flying regularly to New York where they were joined by Nicholas Lemann, who was then the newly appointed dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and Loren Ghiglione, then-dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, in discussions with Gregorian and King about how they might best find their voice to speak up on behalf of needed changes in journalism education and in defense of the highest standards and ideals for an increasingly beleaguered profession and industry. Soon, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a leading force in journalism education and professional development for journalists, agreed to partner with Carnegie Corporation on this effort to raise the standards and stature of journalism schools within the academy. The outgoing president of the Knight Foundation, Hodding Carter, committed Knight resources to the partnership, and Carter’s successor, Alberto Ibargüen, enthusiastically embraced the initiative when he assumed the foundation presidency in 2005. Eric Newton, vice president of journalism programs for the Knight Foundation, took a center seat at the table during the deans’ meetings.

In May 2005, after three years of soul-searching about what the deans and their universities could do to improve the education of journalists, the four deans and the Shorenstein Center director issued a manifesto called A Vision for Journalism Education: The Professional School for 21st Century News Leaders, in which they spoke of the need to elevate journalism education from the trade school model to the legal and medical model of professional schools where students would acquire not only skills but the intellectual depth and curiosity and the commitment to honesty and high ethical standards they will need to uphold the core values of this vital profession. Professional schools “should also strive to act as the consciences of their professions,” the deans said.

At the same time, the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education was unveiled at a May 25, 2005, event at Carnegie Corporation’s midtown New York headquarters, with the two foundations committing $6 million over three years in support of the efforts by the journalism schools at Columbia, UC Berkeley, USC, and Northwestern and by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. These campuses—five of the leading research institutions in the United States—and their presidents made their own commitments of institutional and financial support in the effort to more closely integrate the schools of journalism into the intellectual life of the wider university and to draw upon scholars from other schools and programs to help teach aspiring journalists. In addition to this effort to enrich the journalism curriculum, the initiative launched an ambitious News21 Incubator project in which top students from the five universities, after a final semester of preparatory coursework, would spend the summer working on national reporting projects overseen by campus professors and published and broadcast by both traditional and new media as well as on News21’s own website.

From the start, it was envisioned that several more leading schools of journalism would become part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative. The University of Maryland, the University of Missouri, Syracuse University, and the University of Texas at Austin were added in June 2006, and the journalism schools at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Arizona State University, and the University of Nebraska completed the group as the initiative completed its third year. In June 2007, the presidents of Columbia, Berkeley, Northwestern, USC, and Harvard announced that each of their institutions was committing $400,000 to help underwrite the third year of the initiative on their campuses.

This was the backdrop for the January 8 to 9, 2008, Journalism in the Service of Democracy summit that brought together the dozen deans and more than 120 faculty and students from the campuses participating in the Journalism Initiative at The Paley Center for Media in New York City for discussions with top news executives and journalists about the relevance and reinvention of journalism education and the profession as a whole.

Christopher Connell is an independent journalist and former assistant chief of the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press.

"Journalism in the Service of Democracy" pages: Home | Opening Night | Panel One | Panel Two | Panel Three