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Public relations: does it belong in the Journalism School?

A while back we posed the question: Should public relations be taught in Journalism School or in Business School? Now Jay Fitzgerald, the Boston Herald general economics reporter, is reporting that the folks at Boston University''s journalism program are the latest to join that growing debate.

As I''ve written in the past, I don''t believe that journalism and public relations are adversaries; I consider the two to have a symbiotic relationship. Further, a sizable percentage of journalists eventually enter the public relations field, so having them schooled in the fundamentals of the discipline makes a lot of sense. However, I do believe there are significant benefits to shifting the education of public relations undergrad and grad students to the business curriculum because our jobs are increasingly demanding a solid foundation in accounting, marketing and business strategy.

In an article published this week, "BU journalism debate: Prof wants to split PR off from program," Fitzgerald reported that Bob Zelnick, chairman of Boston University’s journalism program, "tossed a small academic grenade among colleagues when announcing earlier this week he’s stepping down from his administrative post." Here''s what Fitzgerald reported: 

In a statement, Zellnick, chairman during four of his eight years at BU, said in a statement that he thinks it’s time for BU to give thought to “divorcing” the journalism department from its advertising and public-relations cousins within the College of Communications. 
 
“The two should be raised as adversaries,” said Zelnick of journalism and the more commercially focused sides of media operations. 
 
“Had I remained in the chairmanship position, I would have begun urging that thought be given to divorcing Journalism from Mass COM,” Zelnick wrote, using the nickname for the umbrella communications school. 
 
The comments by Zelnick, whose scheduled June 1 resignation was described by colleagues as amicable, caught school officials off guard. 
 
John Schulz, dean of the college, said most other universities group their journalism, advertising and public relations programs under one school - and he indicated BU won’t abandon that practice. 
 
Zelnick, a former ABC network correspondent, will become BU’s new professor of national and international affairs. Zelnick, who described himself in the statement as “a dreadful administrator” will be replaced by Lou Ureneck, who runs BU’s program in business and economic journalism.

The question of whether the training of future public relations counselors should be folded into the Business curriculum or remain primarily within the Journalism track is a valid one and deserves rational consideration. However, the argument that PR practitioners are adversaries of journalists is an arrogant and destructive notion. As the blogosphere is illustrating, journalists do not hold a special place high above the fray of public discourse. They are in the fray and any suggestion to the contrary contributes to them becoming less relevant rather than more.

Dan Keeney
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Author: Dan Keeney
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