Is J School Moral?

Source: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

When I began this blog back in 2009, newspapers and magazines were endangered, journalism jobs were disappearing and students were rethinking their futures. It was all enough to make me wonder whether keeping J Schools open was immoral. After all, how could we ethically take money from students, train them for the fading types of careers we older journalists had enjoyed, and send them out to flip burgers instead of produce news stories?

Now, as my time in academia is nearing its end, many things have gotten worse. Newspapers and magazines continue to die, journalism jobs continue to fade away (or get hacked away by vulture capitalists and others), and J School students are wise to think about alternative futures. So, the question is even more compelling: is it moral for J Schools to stay open?

My answer then – and still – is yes. Why? Well, first, while lots of traditional journalism jobs are going away, alternative media outlets have been surging. Online outfits, often operating as nonprofits, have sprouted all over the country. Many of them cover things more narrowly than general-interest newspapers, focusing on state legislatures, for instance. Some for-profit ventures, with broader missions, have emerged, too.

There has been so much growth that I led a special-topics course about it in the spring of 2022. I had many leaders of such programs speak to my students. They hailed from new outfits such as The Texas Tribune, The Colorado Sun, Nebraska Examiner, Flatwater Free Press, The Oaklandside, and Boulder Reporting Lab and older ones taking innovative paths, such as Chicago Public Media. Sure, such outfits will provide fewer jobs than the once-robust newsrooms veteran faculty members were used to, but as fewer students seek traditional reporting jobs, the smaller numbers are tolerable.

And let’s not forget the big-name outfits, whose brands have become only more important lately. Even more than before, the big-name outlets are available to students. Yes, The Washington Post and even The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are under pressure. But they still offer opportunities, especially internships. And specialized media, such as Bloomberg News and Reuters, remain vibrant, thank you.

Second, J School is not just about job training for reporters. Most students in such schools nowadays major in PR and advertising, where opportunity abounds. And, within journalism, the skills students acquire would serve them well in whatever field they go into. These skills include researching, analyzing, seeing different viewpoints and writing clearly. Remember that critical thinking – in such short supply throughout society – is at the base of what journalism faculty teach.

Source: Columbia Journalism Review

J School remains great preparation for particular professions, too. Several of my students went into law, for instance (some did so after stints in journalism and some went directly to law school). The skills they learned in our classes were essential. Similarly, some of my business journalism students went into accounting and related fields, where their writing skills were enhanced by training they got from us.

Think about the parallel with another endangered academic species – the English major, my own focus as an undergraduate. I studied the works of 18th and 20th century writers, in particular – works with as much practical value as philately, at least in terms of occupations. And yet, the tightly written prose and verses of Swift, Pope and Johnson taught me how to write with economy. Certainly, the work of Hemingway – who got his professional start as a reporter — was inspirational and worth trying to emulate.

For a time, I considered grad school in English, even gaining admission to a fine program. But the paucity of academic jobs on the horizon in the field back then (in the 1970s), helped me to choose graduate J School instead. Much as my heart may have been in literature, the public prints were my destiny. Even so, that training in the most impractical area of English proved helpful – enriching me personally and professionally.


Moreover, J Schools usually require students to take many courses outside of the field. The way I described this to prospective students was that journalism classes can teach you how to say something well, but other academic areas help give you something to say. Along with Journalism 101, students should take classes in such areas as law, business and economics. Indeed, the most intellectually adventurous might want to double-major in English.

So, should J Schools endure? Is it moral to train students in journalism? I believe so. The faculty must keep close tabs on the rapid changes in the field and make sure students are equipped with the skills they will need. But the core skills remain essential, whether the students wind up covering news, toiling in the courts, running businesses or doing anything else where good writing and clear thinking are vital.

China’s censors stanch the corrosion of morality

"If You Are The One"

In the West, pundits wring their hands over the unsavory fare that airs on TV nightly. Ordinary folks watch the three or four shows weekly that we can abide and we sigh about how much better Bonanza and the Beav were. But in China, the government goes further – forcefully moving to curb programs about dating, talent contests, marital problems and reality shows.

Such programming, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television said, is “overly entertaining and of low taste,” China Daily reported this week. So, each of China’s 34 satellite channels are being limited to two such shows per week. State-approved news programs will largely take their place.

I, for one, applaud this move. There’s no doubt that the morals of young Chinese are being compromised by such products as “If You Are The One,” a dating show where girls wear, migosh, short skirts. In the wake of such broadcasts, girls now are wearing such skirts on the streets! Then there’s the corrosive effect of “Super Girl,” a knockoff of American Idol that fosters the myth that ordinary folks have talent. Let’s stop feeding such fantasies. Thank goodness that the show, which drew 400 million viewers even as officials branded it “vulgar,” “manipulative” and “poison for our youth,” was cancelled last month.

As China Daily described them, many such programs are “simple reproductions of popular ones.” Miming popular shows? Horrors! That kind of thing may suit the U.S., but not China. Further, according to the paper, “some tried to attract audiences through low-taste contents such as gossip and exposure of privacy.” Leave that sort of thing to Entertainment Tonight, I say. Sagely, the state’s TV watchdog agency observed that such things are a waste of resources and “also bad for improving the quality of TV programs.”

“Too many entertainment programs, broadcast during prime hours, will hold TV channels back from exercising their full duties. The media is not only to entertain people but also to inform and educate them, the [SARFT agency] statement said,” China Daily added, all under the headline “Entertainment cutback for better quality.”


It’s about time somebody made that case. China needs more broadcasts about the annual rice harvest. Give viewers more about heroic workers marching off daily to produce iPads and iPhones. Tell them more about the 50-year-old project to divert water from the south to the north. Run more documentaries about Japanese aggression 75 years ago.

Even better, take a page from CCTV 24, the English-language channel of the state broadcasting service. Air more talking heads, commercials for distant provinces and fashion, fashion and more fashion, along with occasional bits about Occupy Wall Street, riots in Greece and shooting in Libya. That’s the kind of thing the public needs.

And, while we’re at it, something should be done about those pesky Western journalists. For one thing, they irresponsibly linked the prudent changes ordered for TV to an alleged crackdown on social media, especially a couple Twitter-like services used by more than 200 million Chinese each. Ignoring the reality that highbrow culture and correct opinions are what the Chinese need now, The New York Times reported critically about right-thinking calls for swift censorship.

The Irish Times was even worse. It quoted bloggers – bloggers! – saying most inharmonious things. “This is not a restriction on entertainment, it’s a new cultural revolution,” carped blogger Susaikeniao. Another, clearly in need of re-education, wrote, “How can a government say it represents you if it wants to control how many times a day you watch entertainment on TV?” And Susaikeniao added that “instability” could follow “because people focus on current affairs by watching CCTV, they … follow its way of thinking and are controlled on its tracks.”

The Beav was better

Western journalists insensibly connected the moves to upgrade entertainment and quash rumor-mongering to alleged nervousness about Arab Spring Twittering and disclosures about “official malfeasance.” The New York Times cited blog posts, with photos, of a Yunnan Province city official’s sex orgy. I bet that the guy had been watching too many episodes of “If You Are The One.”

I’m reminded of the days when Ed Sullivan chastely refused to show Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips, when married couples slept in separate beds on TV-sitcoms and when actors had to keep one foot on the floor in bedroom scenes. If only we had such rules again in the West. No doubt, there would be less teen pregnancy, fewer divorces and more church-going. Perhaps even a balanced budget and less unemployment. Oh, and longer skirts, too.