Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 

 

Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


 

A School of Journalism*


 

The founding of a School of Journalism in connection with one of our large universities is quite as memorable an event, I believe, as its most sanguine supporters declare. In the chorus of praise from other journals throughout the country there have been very few notes of discordant or cynical criticism. That there should have been any at all is surprising; and I cannot help believing that on second thought it must seem to every one that Mr. Pulitzer's gift to Columbia is very wise and beneficent.

The only objection urged against the project springs from a very obvious and conservative point of view. It is contended that the journalist is born and not made, and that any school for the training of journalists must be more or less futile and superfluous on that account; and further, that all our great journalists have been self-made and have found in the rigorous school of opportunity the only training necessary. It is quite true that a consummate journalist must be born with a talent for his profession. But the men who are eminent in any calling whatever are those who have a native bent for it, whether they be poets or scientists or mechanics or horse tamers. The training does not make them, it only develops them. And a regular scholastic training in any occupation must surely be more economical and exact than the laborious haphazard training which comes of experience alone.

A man with an inherent genius for poetry or painting will reach his vocation in time in spite of all obstacles. He would certainly reach it much more expeditiously and readily under the guidance of a master and with the aid of a properly directed and adjusted education. Another man may have a passion for hunting or a great skill in handling tools, and inevitably become a mighty hunter or an excellent carpenter quite unaided; yet he would certainly pass his apprenticeship with much less difficulty, if he could have an older cunning hand to prompt him for a year or two, and teach him the lore of his craft.

It is hard to see why journalism should be an exception to the rule. That it has not been classed with Law, Medicine, and Divinity as a learned profession must surely be only because it is comparatively so new. Not only is it a learned profession, but it is one that is destined to play a more and more prominent part in our civil and social development. In modern democracy journalism can scarcely concede the supremacy to any of its sister professions. It is not more humane than surgery and hygiene, nor more helpful than religion and philosophy, nor more necessary than civics and social order; and yet it is hardly less important than any of these, and in its future development it is likely to become in every way their peer. Surely it is high time that we placed it on an equal footing with them, and gave it the dignity its great responsibilities deserve.

The surprising thing is, not that journalism should be so irresponsible, hot-headed, and sensational as it sometimes is, but that it should be so scrupulous and temperate and sound wisdom as it is almost always. It is an unorganized profession, and suffers on that account. It is looked upon too often as a last resort, and is invaded by shiftless and incompetent triflers who have failed at some other calling. The ambitious and able young college men who definitely devote themselves to journalism as their life work are comparatively few. In no profession surely (though only a journalist may take the liberty to say this) is there so large a leaven of the riff-raff of humanity.

That ought not to be so. And I believe the great benefit of the proposed School of Journalism will not be a practical one so much as a moral one. It will of course tend to give young men command of their profession more quickly and more thoroughly than they can obtain it under our rough and ready system. But its greatest effect in the course of time will be on the standing of journalism in the community. We shall come to regard it with that seriousness and respect which are due its great undertakings, its grave responsibilities, its unestimated powers.

The influence of the press is undoubted, its machinery is a marvel of efficiency, but its preŽminent force as a moral institution is not more than half grown. Journalism in this country, for all its vivacity and enterprise, is still very crude, very ill-regulated, helter-skelter, and unaccountable, by comparison with the best ideals which we must entertain for it. If a School of Journalism cannot make journalists, it can at least make cultivated gentlemen; so that in time the ranks of journalism will be recruited from a body of educated men, who will have felt the sobering effects of scholarship and whose special training will have tended to impress them with the dignity and importance of their profession.

It is too easy to be a newspaper man. If there are many guards and restrictions in the way of becoming a lawyer or a doctor, there ought to be a just as many in the way of becoming a journalist. The responsibility is just as great; the safeguards should not be fewer. Any influence which tends to raise journalism in popular regard by surrounding it with prestige even to the point of exclusiveness, must tend to the good of the community. The higher the place accorded to journalists in public estimation, the more useful will their profession become. It is the business of journalism not only to gather and reflect the sentiment of the day, but to stimulate and correct it as well. It has added the function of a mentor to that of a news-gatherer pure and simple; and that important office it is sure to retain and develop. That the power of the journalist will be enlarged and his position magnified in the future, there can be no manner of doubt. One may foresee for journalism in a democracy a place as august as the judiciary or legislature of the nation, or the hierarchies of its various creeds, and, if the truth were told, quite as useful.

As we move painfully ahead in the difficult path of improvement and enlightenment, we shall need more and more the sound advice which thoughtful culture and scholarship can give; we shall need our men of science and philosophy and ethics and sociology quite as much as our men of practical affairs. We shall need all their wisest counsel, their sober judgment, their farsighted warnings, with whatever solace and encouragement their learning has to offer. And we shall need it presented to us in a medium easy of access, simple of understanding, and yet having all the weight and authority which universal approval and inherent excellence can give.

Such a medium will be the journalism of the future. And such a journalism beyond doubt Mr. Pulitzer's glorious gift will foster.


"A School of Journalism," Literary World, Oct. 1903 [back]