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.org, 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.)
--Placement within X time from graduation
--Alumni giving rank
--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?