Friday, May 11, 2007

Why We Need Journalism School Rankings

I knew this post would be controversial.

Why wouldn't it be? Ranking colleges and universities has been under fire for years, a convoluted and unnecessarily complex way of measuring a qualitative quality quantitatively. University presidents despise them. Incoming students feed on them. Rankings are seen as the parasite latched onto the Ivory Tower, turning the high-fidelity value of an institution down to a spotty, low-fi MP3 of the real deal.

So why on earth would I suggest to start ranking journalism schools?

Because most journalism schools aren't visible on a national scale.

In a recent, small study posted on, journalism students expressed confidence in their chosen profession, despite its apparent ongoing transformation. And I continue to hear that the popularity of studying journalism in school is on the rise. Hell, the journalism department of my alma mater, NYU, recently moved into an expansive, comprehensive new space next to the headquarters of the once-great Village Voice, complete with a full newsroom, broadcast studio, radio studio, and so on.

Clearly the demand is high. But if you're a student looking to go into journalism, there aren't too many resources to turn to.

An aspiring j-school kid might ask: Which journalism school offers what? Which are better? Where do graduates end up? And what's the difference between communications, mass media and just plain journalism?

If he or she goes and picks up the U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Graduate Schools 2008, they'll find nary a mention of journalism schools among entries for business, law, medicine, engineering, education, science, humanities, fine arts and even library studies. In fact, you have to go back more than a decade to find journalism rankings in USN&WR.

What good are old rankings?

If you are interested in journalism school, you want to get a general sense of the playing field. Most journalists speak highly of their alma mater, so that's not exactly helpful for comparison. Message boards are full of self-proclaimed gurus. And journalism school websites are as full of fluff as those of their parent universities.

So where does the future j-school kid turn?

Using Google, the industrious applicant might find that Columbia, Medill (Northwestern), and Missouri fight for the top journalism honors ("the big three," some like to say). But what about the rest? What about journalism schools at Minnesota? Syracuse? Arizona State? Ball State? Michigan State? Temple? Ohio State? NYU?

Where do they fall?

Before I get a deluge of angry comments, I understand that great journalists can come from "no-name" schools and unethical duds can come from great ones. I'd also like to say that I support the notion that rankings should be released in groups and not single entries (strata, as opposed to a linear order). After all, when colleges are ranked, what distinguishes Princeton from Harvard? Penn State from Maryland? Ignoring all the arguments about the calculation methods for a moment, individual rankings are misleading just by the nature that one entry can follow another by virtue of statistically insignificant differences.

So really, there are two reasons why we need journalism schools to be ranked: First, because many of these schools need visibility beyond their own local spheres (and with an increase in applicants, would in turn benefit from the cash influx); second, because there's a huge difference between the new City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication. Yet few people outside the journalism world can distinguish between a school that stresses reporting spot news and one that stresses studying, say, linguistics (because journalism might be a small subset of communication, but certainly not the other way around). But this distinction, as well as the smaller distinction of which school is better at creating newspaper editors than magazine writers or broadcast news anchors, is incredibly important to the aspiring journalism student.

By what measure can we rank these journalism schools? Difficult to say, although I would suggest that we must take note as to who's got a better handle on broadcast, print, new media, radio (which as categories themselves are changing) and so on (maybe publishing, press relations, etc.)

We might want to evaluate the following:

--Length of program
--Student Publications (number or quality, etc.)
--Graduation Rate/Retention
--Placement within X time from graduation
--GRE score
--Alumni giving rank
--Student/faculty ratio
--Value (or some sort of figure that incorporates the cost of tuition)
--Town/gown relations (maybe not 'town,' but more 'local media')

Of course, these are only initial suggestions. But just seeing journalism schools side-by-side who would otherwise not be compared would expose more applicants to more schools -- and make us compare schools that usually keep to themselves.

The purpose of all this is to strengthen the fragmented network of journalism schools and identity as a whole, as well as encourage a little competition.We're a small bunch -- why aren't we keeping track of ourselves? Why must we rely on word of mouth? And aren't we all trying to get jobs at the same publications?

What if someone who lives in Manhattan wants to attend the University of Montana's School of Journalism? No one's stopping them -- except for the fact that few people know that Montana has their own j-school. I certainly didn't. Doesn't that pique your interest?

I'm told time and time again that Joseph Pulitzer wanted journalism to be as professional and respectable a vocation as law, medicine or business. So why are we left off the page by one of our own publications?


Anonymous said...

Nice article and I agree in principal. I've worked with hundreds and hundreds of students over the past 13 years, training them for careers in public radio journalism. I question the *need* of j-schools some weeks and find them desperately needed in other weeks.
Our society uses rankings as a crutch and I wonder if that would happen with your suggestion.

Doug Mitchell

The Editorialiste said...


Your experience is a valuable addition to this discussion, so thank you for commenting.

Interesting that you look at it as a love-it or hate-it thing -- most people seem to reserve themselves to one opinion and stick to it. Even more interesting is your mention of radio -- often, radio isn't discussed nearly enough (I too am guilty of this, but so goes my background -- I'd love to add a radio and broadcast person to this blog) with relation to j-school.

I do agree with you when you say that our society does use rankings as a crutch -- but I think some sort of qualitative analysis, somewhat like Princeton Review's "Students Say" Zagat-style roundup would help redirect some of the focus that would normally go to the numbers alone. At the very least, the statistics used to calculate the rankings would serve to compare schools directly, since there is not one place where you can find, for example, the class size of the 50 most popular journalism schools, or the breakdown of the radio/tv/news/mags/online split. I'd love to participate in such an endeavor, but I just don't have the means to do it alone. At the very least, if I were applying, I'd like to have more options than the Big Three.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and leaving your name -- I really enjoy reading reader comments.

All the best and keep on reading,
The Editorialiste.

Sam said...

Amen! I'm a freshman aspiring to be a journalist and am already finding the task of finding a few j-schools to consider attending daunting.
Hopefully by the time I'm a senior a ranking system such as the one you discribed in your supurb article will exist.
Oh and by the way, If you have any good resourses for deciding which j-school to go into let me know. :)


The Editorialiste said...


Thanks so much for commenting! Glad to see you're already on the lookout, and I hope you have many chances to follow your passion.

As for picking one, location, price and what you want to do are all important aspects to picking a j-school. For now, you should be building clips any way you can -- but good to see you're already researching. If you'd like to talk about j-school off the board, you may e-mail

Thanks for reading,
The Editorialiste.

Kim Hartman said...

This is a really sophisticated analysis of the j-school versus real world experience. I think it also demonstrates the generation gap between generation Y and the older ones.

I'm a 24-year-old newspaper reporter and every professional in the field scoffs at continued education in journalism, in favor of real-world experience.

I entered the field right out of college, but I'd love to go back to school in a year or two--to a J-school, and resources are few and far between.

Thanks for posting. This was really well-written.


P.S.-I have a journalism blog on Vox at if you would ever like to check it out.

Alex Parker said...

Right on! I am in j-school right now at Kansas and was eternally frustrated by the lack any sort of authoritative voice on the subject when I was going through this process. Even now, I really don't know where this school stands in comparison to others (it was in the top 10 in the last ranking list).

If nothing else, it would be nice to pad my ego by thinking I'm in a top 10 school, but without rankings anyone can claim to be an elite j-school.

I dig your blog; glad I found it.

Anonymous said...

I am a senior in high school astounded by the lack of direction for a student wanting to pursue journalism. With many peers in the same position, I thank you for voicing what we are unable to convey to institutions that rank universities.

Daniel Roberts said...

Thanks for this. I'm glad I found your post here, confirming what I had already thought which was that there are no rankings available. I am a college junior at a very respected liberal arts college in the Northeast, and an English major. I've known since middle school that I wanted to go into magazine journalism... what a joke that resources are so limited to someone like me. Sure, I could have told you years ago that Columbia and Medill are the best, but still, now with a year left till application time, I still couldn't name even 5 other respected programs anywhere. Where is the love?

And by the way, it's great that Doug Mitchell commented here.. he's definitely a solid persona to have checked out this blog.. however, what does it say that someone like him doesn't know the difference btwn "principle" and "principal?" Just thought I'd point that out, sorry but it had to be done.

Keep up the good work on this blog and if by some stroke of magic you discover a contemporary listing of J-schools ala U.S. News, please post!


shravya said...

I SO agree. I've been searching and searching and I'm all set to tear my hair apart. We really need rankings for J-schools. Because for one, I dont even know which are the Journalism colleges around the globe. And anyway, being a student who would study on a loan, I don't want get into some shady college where I just end up wasting my precious years of study.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, I found this site when I did a Google search for grad school rankings for journalism in US News and World Report. And you're right, there was nothing for journalism. And all I've seen have been Columbia, and your alma mater, actually. This was a great article, thank you for it. I did not get my undergraduate degree in journalism, so I'm really trying to dig up some information, so this was much appreciated!


BlackOps said...

I'm a senior in high school searching as well. The date is December 3, 2008. Funny thing when I fun across this while searching for rankings. I'll have to investigate it myself I suppose. These are all of the schools that got good reviews from every website I searched:
arizona state

indiana bloomington
wisconsin madison
cal berkeley
texas austin
ball state
michigan state

Still got work to do.


Anonymous said...

I agree there should rankings for us. As a journalist working for my own high school newspaper I aspire to be a journalist some day but I want to be able to go to good college for my field of study. So far it's been difficult choosing and knowing which universities offer the best programs for journalism.

HNLI Alex said...

I agree 100%. I am a graduating high school senior and I am trying to choose between Missouri's J-School and the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse. Obviously, both are very prestigious establishments, but I don't know how to choose between the two. A set of rankings would be very helpful. Being that I am from Long Island, NY, I overlooked some very good journalism schools that I didn't know existed and almost overlooked Mizzou.

Rachel K said...

Dear Editorialiste,

What you wrote is all too true. I have a week to decide between Medill and American University's SOC, and I have no objective resource to turn to to learn about placement after attending either of these schools, how well prepared graduates are by the end of their studies, etc. Sure, Northwestern is in the Top Three, but AU has an international journalism program that looks amazing-- and that's my concentration of choice-- so how do I get a quantitative clue of how the two institutions match up in terms of the quality of the education, faculty, and placement? Additionally, as an American living in the Middle East (I plan on returning here after my studies), I want to get a U.S. education that has a global perspective. Medill's website is so vague, I really don't know if they will be offering an education with the scope of AU's program, and I have no one to ask and see if any of that even matters.

In a nutshell, prospective j-school students get good sleuthing practice just trying to figure out where to go to school!

Ruth Dejean said...

OMG! I'm going to be a sophmore in Miami Dade College, and I'm limited in my travels unfortunately because of my circumstances. Through all this my searches for good jounalism schools have come up virtually fruitless. I wish there was a list to go off of. That's what I was searching for when I ran into your blog site. The only choice I seem to have is University of Miami's School of Communication. From reading their school site, I've learned they've won many awards for the students work in broadcasting and few of their graduates have gone on to some pretty good careers. As for the percentage of those who graduate and make it into good jobs and how long it took? Pretty good question, let me know if you ever find that one out! A cool a idea would be to document an aspiring journalist's journey to get into a good school and make it to the top of the food chain. Keep writing more articles like this. I pray we get that list soon!

radio broadcast said...

I mean such type of rankings been useful for students to start their career and select appropriate universities and schools with are level best and popular.

Daniel said...

Go ahead. Rank them. There are so few journalism schools that you could really do it in like an afternoon.

Anonymous said...

I attended Iowa State University for my BA in Advertising and will be attending Syracuse University for my MA this coming school year. Although I'm not a journalism major, I have taken several journalism classes with countless journalism majors. I think accreditation is a big thing to look can really tell you if the program is a quality program. However, this is only one of many aspects to consider when determining if a program is good.