Northwestern’s Medill j-school plays the name game, revealing their confusion about what business they are in 3/13/08Posted by Steve Boriss in Medill.
John Lavine is the Barack Obama of j-school deans. As dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he is a man who clearly wants change, but we can never be sure of exactly what he means. When he speaks of journalism’s increased need for “audience understanding,” he can be downright inspiring. “Our job is to create journalists who can win and hold the attention of media consumers faced with limited time and abundant media choices,” he has said. But when he joins with his fellow deans of prestige j-schools, he can be downright depressing — like when they made the First Amendment-violating proposal for the federal government to force local news broadcasters to meet stringent, government-set standards.
Now he’s charged a committee with exploring whether to change the name of his Medill School of Journalism, for reasons that remain unclear. The alternatives under consideration include: 1) The Medill School of Journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications; 2) The Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications; 3) The Medill School of News Media and Integrated Marketing Communications; 4) The Medill School of Audience and Consumer Information; 5) The Medill School of Media Arts and Sciences; and 6) The Medill School of Information and Influence.
More than most, I am sympathetic to scrapping the word “journalism,” which has come to be associated with a failing model that only its practitioners still believe delivers objective, verified truths. But do we really want to combine news gathering with sales and entertainment disciplines like marketing, media, and persuasion? And, isn’t the public tired of journalism insisting it is providing pure “information,” and in fact showing increased interest in a more helpful and stimulating combination of fact and opinion?
The right answer must be too simple for j-school eggheads — the “Medill School of News.” By news, I mean “new information about a subject of common interest that is shared within a community.” Everything from as small as news of family and friends, which is now being served by Facebook and MySpace, to as large as news of our universe. Not just news of government, but also news of the private sector, our neighborhoods, our vocations, and our avocations. The public no longer believes in “journalism.” But renaming it “news” is a change they can believe in.