An African's fight helps
answer a U.S. university debate
Thanks to Newton Kanhema (Emory Report, March 2), journalism students
at Emory are experiencing a close encounter with government harassment of
Kanhema, a reporter for the national Sunday Independent, Johannesburg,
South Africa, took a sabbatical to help teach an Emory course this semester
about South Africa. The course, Professor Mark Auslander's Journalism 488G,
is required for a dozen journalism students who will intern at Cape Town
news media in May.
Shortly after arriving here on Jan. 11, Kanhema, a Zimbabwean, and his
wife were ordered deported from South Africa in 21 days by the Mandela government.
South Africa intends to rid itself of a tough-minded reporter who broke
stories on secret arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other subjects embarrassing
to the government.
Emory students reacted not only to the deportation order but also to
coverage of the order. Junior David Bray thought South African news media
were overly cautious- "wary of the government." Jeremy Young,
a sophomore, found a New York Times article about Kanhema's case
"very disheartening"; he felt the article described Kanhema "not
as a hard-working journalist who is trying to uncover the truth," but
more as an unpopular outsider.
What students are learning from Kanhema's freedom-of-press fight to continue
reporting helps answer a key question in another controversial fight: Should
U.S. universities teach journalism education and, if so, what should be
the focus of that education?
A recent Rolling Stone feature, "Bad News: The slow, sad
sellout of journalism school," protested current curricula devoted
less to reporting and news writing and more to marketing, advertising and
Vartan Gregorian, Carnegie Corporation president, suggested to The
New York Times that how-to "technique" courses should give
way to history, economics and other "substance" courses. "Journalism
schools should either be reintegrated intellectually into the university,"
Gregorian said, "or they should be abolished."
From the birth of journalism education, many journalists have agreed
with Gregorian's emphasis. In 1893 Charles A. Dana, editor of the New
York Sun, pooh-poohed "alleged departments of journalism"
that failed to teach Greek and Latin.
"I had rather take a young fellow who knows the Ajax of Sophocles,
and who has read Tacitus, and can scan every ode of Horace," Dana wrote.
"I would rather take him to report a prize fight or a spelling match,
for instance, than to take one who has never had those advantages."
In 1904, when Joseph Pulitzer outlined his plan for the journalism school
he founded at Columbia University, he proposed an "anti-commercial"
education that "is to exalt principle, knowledge, culture, at the expense
of business if need be." The school would raise journalism "to
the rank of a learned profession."
Pulitzer suggested the study of modern languages (French and German),
ethics, literature, history, economics, sociology, statistics and physical
science. He did not reject the study of newspapers but advised focusing
on truth, accuracy and fairness-"not type, nor presses, nor advertising,
but brains, conscience, character working out into public service."
Isn't it time for new models of journalism education that draw on the
strengths of the old-pro-ethics, anti-commercial, pro-liberal arts-but also
avoid the pitfalls of the present? Emory's 14-month-old undergraduate program-only
journalism, no advertising or public relations-offers one possibility:
- Admit only a small number of exceptionally bright students who, given
the scarcity of journalism jobs, can compete for the poor-paying entry-level
positions available following graduation;
- Insist that students major in Middle Eastern studies, biology, economics-anything
but journalism-with the hope that they might specialize someday in coverage
of religion, the environment, business or some other complicated subject
not necessarily well reported today;
- Require only five journalism courses that emphasize not only reporting
and news writing but also journalism law and history, press evaluation
and ethics-courses that encourage students to critique journalism as it
- Design even the journalism courses to take advantage of the faculty
in anthropology, philosophy, physics and other nonjournalism fields as
well as experienced, exceptional journalists, emphasizing the interdisciplinary
nature of knowledge and journalism;
- Push students, despite U.S. provincialism, to work abroad, where so-called
minorities are the majority and freedom of press may be freedom to suppress;
- Introduce students to new media and technology, inviting them to help
reshape the way people obtain their news in the 21st century;
- Stress the journalistic ethos that emphasizes, as Kanhema's case reminds
us, truth-telling and resisting government pressure to propagandize and
restrict free expression.
Some universities nudge journalism education in the direction of generic
communications studies, forgetting journalism's distinctive values and mission
of public service in a democracy. Other universities dismiss journalism
education as vocational school training deserving of no place on campus.
But Emory's journalism program-with its course on South Africa, and with
Kanhema's participation in that course-represents a model for journalism
education that even Vartan Gregorian might find acceptable. I like to believe
that a journalism program committed to ethics, the liberal arts and free
expression and updated for a global, high-tech society, can contribute not
only to the education of university students but also to the public discourse
of the world.
Loren Ghiglione is the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism and
directs Emory's journalism program.
to March 16, 1998 Contents Page