Last year I was named one of America’s “Top 50 Journalism Professors”, and I’ve finally decided to share that link with my students as an end-of-semester exercise in critical thinking, while we talk about the differences between journalism in print, on the air and on the Web.
After class — or after next week’s final exams, or after I clean out my office the week after that — I may come back to this page and add a few paragraphs to explain why I’m taking at least a semester or two off from teaching… Maybe just retiring for good.
(I am also making jokes about going to a tractor-trailer driving school so that I can declare myself “semi-retired.” If I come up with better jokes, I may add them to this page, too — or at least delete that one.)
I was very pleased that a good number of students in my intro news writing class came up with appropriate “critical thinking” questions about that site — in particular, two questions they should ask any news source:
- Who are you? (In this case, who runs the website, who pays the bills, and what is the site’s real purpose?)
- How do you know that? (In this case, what are the criteria for the top-50 list and how was it assembled?)
In addition to “interrogating” the Web pages themselves, reading the “Home” and “About” pages, I suggested students try the Top 50 list’s find-a-school zip-code search. Surprise! Almost all the results were for for-profit schools or online-only programs. Nowhere was there any link to the major accrediting or research associations in journalism education (ACEJMC and AEJMC), and (coincidentally?) (ironically?) the search never turned up schools at which the “Top 50” professors teach.
My conclusion: While it’s flattering to be on a top-anything list, that’s about all I can say about the “JournalismDegree.org” site. Its operators didn’t respond to my request for information about their criteria or its ownership, and I assume the site is just an advertising ploy to get people to visit and click on links to “journalism schools” that are not on anyone’s “Top 10.”
I recommend that students try to look beyond the window-dressing of such list-making link-farm sites. In all searches for information, look for sources that show why they are authoritative. In dealing with higher education, that means finding real “.edu” institutional sites with lists of faculty that give names, degrees earned, publications, professional experience, previous employers, scholarly interests and contact information.
(Last year I tried that with one of the universities advertised at “JournalismDegree” and chatted online with an “admissions” salesman, who ultimately could not direct me to a page listing any journalism faculty member.)
As for my own status as a “Top 50 Journalism Professor,” the final irony is that right around the time the site in question was putting me on its “Top 50” list, the personnel committee at my school was prepared to drop me off its list entirely. There were no actual journalism professors involved in the decision, and no one from my other teaching area, Web production, so I didn’t feel too bad. I was told I would probably win another year’s contract if I appealed, but I decided not to.
I’ve had enough “best teacher I’ve ever had” student reviews to feel O.K. about my career here, even though those reviews were the exceptions more than the rule. (I had a few “worsts” too.) For the past few years I simply haven’t been able to manage a four-course-a-semester teaching load and a schedule of publishing traditional “peer-reviewed” academic articles. My own disorganization and some health problems didn’t help. Student teaching reviews and conventional publications were all the committee cared about. No member of the committee ever visited my class or talked to me about my courses.
I’ve been better at keeping up with Web-publishing and social-media developments, with hundreds of pages published through my home page and in a half-dozen blogs, a podcast and a Twitter feed. But those things didn’t count for much to the non-journalist, non-Web-focused faculty who served on the personnel committee. (In contrast, my online media presence is probably what counted most to that link-hungry “Top 50” list site.)
As a result, I’ve decided to retire from the faculty of Radford University and take a semester or two to get healthy, play more music, and continue the “book” I’ve been writing online. You can watch its progress at JHeroes.com — Newspaper Heroes on the Air. And you can check out my past, present and future at my Stepno.com homepage, or get some day-to-day links by following me at twitter.com/bobstep.
Updates to this page May 18, 2013 and later.