Emory Report

March 16, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 24

First Person

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 the press.

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 public relations.

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 is (mal)practiced;
  • 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.

Return to March 16, 1998 Contents Page