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Political Science Graduates As Political Reporters

- July 10, 2013

As the criticism of our current state of journalism and the current state of journalism education mounts, we ask a simple question: Could political science graduates do a better job of providing political reporting than graduates with journalism degrees? Although we do not test this question empirically, a review of the extant literature suggests that political science departments and curricula have the potential to foster graduates that have a high level of political knowledge, political judgment, and critical thinking skills. These skills are essential for political reporters if they are to wade through political spin, manipulation, and misdirection.

Secondly, if political science graduates are indeed more qualified to provide political reporting to US citizens and to reenergize American democracy, would media executives be willing to hire such graduates absent a degree in journalism? This question we do examine empirically. With a survey of current media executives utilizing a battery of questions assessing their willingness to hire nonjournalism graduates, we are pleased to find an openness on the part of media executives to hire political science graduates to do their political reporting, even if such graduates do not possess a degree in journalism.

That is from a new article (ungated) by Matthew Manweller and Ken Harvey.  Their account gels with growing interest in journalism schools in teaching subject area expertise — see, for example, this Carnegie initiative as well as the Columbia Journalism School’s curriculum for the M.A. in journalism and for M.A. students concentrating in politics.  It also gels with (and cites) my piece with Brendan Nyhan on how political science can help journalists and Greg Marx’s piece on “embracing the wonk.”

To be sure, the majority of media executives in Manweller and Harvey’s survey do not see subject area expertise in political science as a prerequisite to political reporting: about 4 in 10 agree that a political science degree is needed to do political reporting.  Indeed, more of them appear to value practical experience in politics or government.  But clearly there is a sizable group that desire subject-specific knowledge in political science.  This one quote from a Kansas newspaper editor was particularly striking:<br>

Mass communications students I’ve employed seem to lack a general knowledge of how government works. They, at first, seem overwhelmed by the detail they must quickly assimilate in order to adequately report what is happening on their beat. It often takes as long as two years to get a new reporter up to speed on how to cover a government beat. I don’t expect a mass com grad to know it all, but when I have to explain the difference between a city manager and a mayor, I begin to doubt a reporter’s ability to make sense of the complicated beat government can be.

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