Journalism education at the college level was first offered in 1869, and developed primarily in the United States. No other country has had a similar impact on the discipline, and the United States’ pioneering role has shaped curricula around the world. While journalism education was also offered in Europe throughout the 20th century, especially from the 1980s onwards, its global spread came in the 1990s and 2000s. This is closely linked to the proliferation of media in countries where economic growth, technological progress, and rising literacy have combined to create a dramatic increase in readership and audience, especially in the most populous nations, China and India, but also in Africa and Latin America.
In 2013, the census of journalism education programs kept by the World Journalism Education Council listed almost 2,400 programs globally. This spread does not only mean a shift in geographical terms, but also in conceptual terms. North American scholars imagined journalism as central to democratic life. But the notion of journalism serving first and foremost democracy puts it at odds with other parts of the world, where different forms of governance are prevalent. This necessitated the American inspired image of journalism, legitimized by its centrality to democracy, to be modified. In this global process, journalism education importantly did not relinquish its normative constituent, but moved it to the ideal of journalism and journalists serving the public.
Equally remarkable, and telling, is the consistency of subjects in curricula around the globe, especially in what are deemed the vocationally relevant subjects. In 2007, and again in 2013, UNESCO released model curricula for journalism education. These are ostensibly directed toward developing countries and emerging democracies, but are used globally and in countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Rwanda. This has raised the question of whether a homogenization of journalism around the world could be observed. At this stage, however, differing political, cultural, and religious conditions exert too much influence on a country’s journalistic output for this to occur.
The intentions behind the support for journalism education vary over time and between countries. Although journalism education is never openly acknowledged as an ideological battleground, it has been used to spread influence. After the disbandment of the Soviet Bloc, the United States and European nations sent journalism educators to the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, ostensibly to teach journalists the values of a free press, but also to build their commercial interests in new media markets. In Africa, after decades of Western assistance in media education,, China has attempted to challenge the dominance of the traditionally Western helpers, although with limited success.
The most prevalent and persistent issue regarding the content of journalism education has been the theory-practice division. This extends to the suitability of journalism education as a tertiary study area and the composition of its curricula, which have been debated since its inception. The earliest programs in formal journalism education in the United States consisted of teaching technical skills as well as writing and editing. This inclusion of skills training pointed from the very beginning to the gulf journalism education would have to bridge in academic institutions. Many countries, notably the United Kingdom, left the training of journalists to the industry until the 1990s.
Academic literature, by its very nature, argues for the place of journalism education in academia. The voices against come from the industry, where employers and editors see journalism education as theory-laden and out of touch with industry realities. Since the 1990s, media companies have largely accepted that journalism training be done in colleges and universities, mostly because it frees valuable resources in a strained industry.
All the same, the criteria for measuring success in journalism education continue to differ between the industry and the academy. The debates on what and how to teach are similarly divergent, although since the early 2000s the idea of educating future journalists as “reflective practitioners” seems to have taken hold. But this comes at a time when in North America, Europe, and Australia the main challenge for journalism education is the fragility of legacy media, which traditionally absorbed the highest number of graduates. Media sustainability has therefore been named as one of the foremost concerns for journalism education.
In times of digital journalism, the challenges for journalists come from many sides. Not only the precariousness of employment, but also the diminishing of authority is affecting the profession. Professionalism is again emerging as a vital concept, although it remains as contentious as ever. At a time when journalistic authority is under attack, professionalism is seen as a tool in the boundary-work taking place between journalists, a public participating in news creation and distribution, tweeters, and bloggers. Journalism schools are using various ways to train journalists for a new, shared world. This includes teaching “entrepreneurial journalism” in order to prepare their students for an anticipated de-institutionalized future.
While much has been written about how and what journalism education should be, little research has been done on the effects of journalism education. A major problem is the difficulty of empirically quantifying this influence. One area where the impact of journalism education can be researched is on students during their years of study, although this goes only a small way toward establishing the influence that journalism education has on the practicing journalist.
Since 1869, much has changed yet some things remain. Journalism education will continue to be characterized by its dichotomous nature. It will remain caught between theory and practice, normative and empirical, academy and industry, market and public service, dependence and autonomy.