Law professor: Journalism essential to higher education
Published: Sunday, November 22, 2009
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
Ohio State and all colleges and universities should make journalism part of "the very DNA of American higher education," a prominent OSU law professor declared Friday at a symposium.
"My question is, what would it be like to organize an entire college or university education around the idea of journalism?" said Peter Shane, executive director of a recent study of American citizens' information needs.
Training citizens to critically analyze media content would be a key element of this educational shift, and OSU could lead the way, Shane said.
"Indeed, if I am onto something here, might Ohio State not be the perfect place to launch this educational vision?"
Shane presented information from the report, "Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy," which he directed for the Knight Commission (http://www.knightcomm.org/). He is also a distinguished chair at the Moritz College of Law and a director of the Project on Law and Democratic Development there.
The symposium, Informing Ohio Communities, brought together OSU educators and community leaders to discuss the Knight Commission study.
It introduced ideas on how to train people from all walks of life to deal with the enormous amount of information available in the digital age.
"I see us today raising questions," said Harvey Graff, an OSU professor and Ohio Eminent Scholar in literacy studies. "We need to think hard about democracy and its many meanings."
A media-savvy public has the power — and responsibility — to keep government in check, he said.
Ohio's recent casino referendum and citizens' understanding of its affect on the city is an example of the need for literacy, Shane said.
New and changing technology "is potentially making everyone a journalist," he said.
Educating the public is important, Shane said, because there is limited local news available, few citizens understand how government works, and many students have poor writing skills.
Shane cited information from the commission report, which focused on:
• the needs of citizens, not the media
• the lack of quality information for certain communities
• How to provide "reliable news and information"
• How citizens can get and use digital tools to gather good information
• How to get citizens to participate in government
"The role of journalism was very much of concern to the commissioners," Shane said. In addition to "preserving journalism where it exists, we need to create it where it does not."
That idea becomes more important as media outlets continue to make cuts. He said citizens need "intermediaries" to help them understand the news.
"Private markets for general local news or for access to the readers of general local news will never generate sufficient resources to do the things that communities need journalism to do," Shane said.
Students are encouraged to look for both credible and relevant information at OSU libraries, said Anne Fields, associate professor and subject specialist for English.
When students turn to widely available — and often questionable — information, Fields urges them "to look for information that is more credible and more relevant, often to their great annoyance," she said.
Credible information is essential to democracy, but "challenges with our resources are really daunting," said Tom Reiland, general manager for public media at WOSU.
State Senate Minority Leader Ray Miller said race exclusion is another issue that needs to be addressed in an educated public.
"When there is a disconnection, you are out of touch. You have been excluded from participation," he said.
The public has problems determining what is most important amid the avalanche of information today, said Michael McCluskey, assistant professor in the OSU School of Communication.
"There is so much information there that it ends up being confusing, and sometimes they have a really hard time sorting it out," he said.
McCluskey also said he is skeptical that OSU can implement the ideas presented at the symposium.
At OSU, "Almost everything is directed toward programs that are going to spur economic development," he said. "I'd love to see it, but I'm pretty skeptical."