Magazine Professors vs. Editors: Are We Teaching Students What They Need to
Get Jobs in the Magazine Industry?
Glen L. Bleske
Department of Journalism
California State University, Chico
Chico, CA 95929-0600
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A manuscript submitted for consideration for presentation to the Magazine
Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication annual meeting, Kansas City, 2003
Magazine Professors vs. Editors: Are We Teaching Students What They Need to
Get Jobs in the Magazine Industry?
This study was designed to fill a gap in the literature by analyzing the
attitudes of magazine editors and educators toward various skills that job
applicants should exhibit. The survey results detail significant
differences between the editors and educators on 18 of 23 skills.
Open-ended questions also indicated that editors appeared to value
non-skills such as cheerfulness, while overlooking a favorite of
Magazine Professors vs. Editors: Are We Teaching Students What They Need
to Get Jobs in the Magazine Industry?
For decades the debate has continued: are journalism educators and
collegiate journalism programs providing the appropriate foundation to
prepare students for careers in journalism, and are journalism educators
and journalism professionals in agreement about what that appropriate
foundation is? Current literature shows that there are, indeed,
discrepancies between how journalism educators and journalism professionals
think about the purpose of a college degree in journalism and about the
skills or knowledge students of collegiate journalism programs should have
upon graduation (for example, see Dickson and Brandon, 2000; Duhe and
Zukowski, 1997; Bales, 1992; Lancaster, Katz, and Cho, 1990; Parisi, 1992).
Past research has focused on analyzing the attitude gap between educators
and professional journalists of several branches of journalism, including
newspaper journalism, advertising, and broadcast news. This study was
designed to fill a gap in the literature by analyzing a different branch of
journalism -- one that has not been studied in the past magazine
journalism. While there are distinct similarities between newspaper and
magazine journalism, the two fields are different in several ways,
including hiring practices, organizational structure, and writing styles
and purposes. Therefore, while it is possible that similar discrepancies
may exist between journalism educators and newspaper editors, and
journalism educators and magazine editors, this research was undertaken to
determine exactly what those differences may be. In other words, what
qualities and mastered skill levels are magazine editors looking for in new
hires, and are these qualities and mastered skill levels in line with what
magazine journalism educators believe graduates should have.
In a study looking at the gap between journalism educators and professional
newspaper and broadcast journalists, Dickson and Brandon (2000) found,
among other things, that there were significant differences between the
professionals and the educators in two categories: what media-related
courses are important for undergraduates seeking jobs in journalism and
what competencies undergraduates should have upon graduation. For the first
category, the authors found that both groups of educators rated conceptual
courses, such as media history, communication theory, and mass media and
society, and professionally-oriented mass media courses, such as media law,
media ethics, and media management, higher than the professional
journalists did. The newspaper educators also rated journalism skills
courses, such as reporting, use of technology, and design, higher than the
professional journalists did. Language arts skills courses, such as
grammar, spelling, and punctuation, were rated the most highly by the two
groups of professionals and the broadcast educators. Only the newspaper
journalism educators rated another category, journalism skills courses, as
being the most important courses for undergraduates to take.
In general, the results of this study showed that although there were
significant differences between the groups of educators and professionals,
the groups were in overall agreement concerning the relative importance of
the types of media-related courses necessary for undergraduates seeking
jobs in either newspaper or broadcast journalism.
In terms of competencies, the professionals were more likely than
educators to rank practical job skills as most important, whereas newspaper
editors were more likely than the broadcasters or educators to favor
community-oriented reporting skills.
The authors concluded that, given the continued debate over journalism
education, it was not particularly surprising that the biggest gap between
professionals and educators was over the importance of conceptual media
courses and professional media courses. Finally, they noted that though
they found a gap, it was not particularly wide.
Similar studies have been done focusing on newspaper professionals,
broadcast educators and broadcast professionals, and advertising educators.
Bales (1992) found, in a survey study done of newspaper editors, that those
editors with journalism degrees were more likely to think that collegiate
journalism programs were doing an adequate job of educating undergraduates
for jobs at newspapers than professionals with nonjournalism majors. He
also found that editors with journalism degrees were more likely to
perceive journalism skills courses as important to take while in college
than were editors without journalism degrees.
In looking at copy editing skills, Fee, Russial and Auman (2001) found
that editors and educators generally agreed on how to prepare students for
the workplace across a range of traditional job skills such as critical
thinking, word editing and writing headlines. But a gap did appear with
educators routinely rating 10 skills and courses significantly higher than
the professionals did. The gap was largest on skills such as pagination,
coaching of writers, or reporting. Overall, the professors appeared to
think that students needed to have all the skills to succeed.
In a study of broadcast educators and broadcast professionals, Duhe and
Zukowski (1997) examined the attitudes of each group toward specific
broadcast curricula and how well the curricula prepared students for first
jobs. They found that professionals and educators ranked most highly
curricula with the most hands-on, practical experience in the form of
internships or laboratory experiences. These professionals and educators
stated that the most important thing students needed to obtain their first
TV news jobs was experience, and all other courses and skills were
secondary. The biggest difference found was in the reasons why each group
thought a practical, hands-on curriculum was most important: professionals
stated it was because of the experience it offered, while educators stated
it was because such a program produced students whose skills and intellect
were balanced, allowing them to merge higher- and lower-order learning.
Interestingly, the authors noted in the conclusion that although
professionals and academics seem to be in agreement about what type of
curricula produces the best-prepared student, few programs have made the
effort to implement such curricula, though they noted that signs were
beginning to appear that more and more programs were heading in that direction.
Lancaster, Katz, and Cho (1990) investigated the theory-versus-practice
debate among advertising faculty and found that the biggest discrepancies
over what was important in advertising education were between faculty with
Ph.D.s spending above average amounts of time in research and faculty with
or without terminal degrees spending less than average amounts of time on
research. The results show that faculty with Ph.D.s spending above average
amounts of time in research place significantly less weight on student
internships, practical skills, a "first job" training orientation,
on-the-job training, and industry experience, all skills more valued by
industry professionals. These faculty place significantly more emphasis on
theory and principles, a "last job" approach to education, and student
learning versus ad specifics. The authors conclude that while there appears
to be a gap between approaches, advertising educators are attempting to
bridge it. Educators reported spending a great deal of time teaching and
bringing in industry speakers, agency materials, and case studies in an
attempt to bridge the industry/academia gap.
Dickson and Brandon (2000) stated that journalism education has long come
under criticism from journalists and journalism educators for not
adequately preparing students for media careers. They note that many
studies conducted over the past 40 to 50 years have found the gap between
what educators think is important for journalism students to learn,
including more esoteric subjects such as media law, communication theory,
media criticism, and ethics, and the more practically minded professional
journalism, who value skills courses most highly, to be vast (see Fedler,
1993; Mabrey, 1988; Cowdin, 1985; Dickson and Sellmeyer, 1992; Medsger, 1996).
However, other studies have shown that some journalism educators have
joined the ranks of journalism professionals who think that collegiate
journalism education is moving too far away from the needs of the industry
and not focusing enough on skills courses, which would better prepare
students for the job market and getting that first job (Medsger, 1996).
Eric Meyer, a journalist and lecturer at Marquette University at the time,
was quoted in Medsger's report, sponsored by The Freedom Forum, as saying
that "professional schools cannot afford to diminish their courses in the
skills that are essential to their job. 'If engineering, medicine or law
were to become as theoretical as journalism has,' Meyer said, 'I'd be
afraid to cross a bridge, be treated for the injuries I receive when it
collapses or sue the contractor responsible.'" (Medsger, 1996, p.12).
The argument ultimately comes down to this: should collegiate journalism
programs primarily be skills-oriented, or vocational in nature, with a 75%
emphasis on liberal arts courses, preparing students for their first jobs
and the job search process, or should there be an even stronger liberal
arts focus and greater emphasis on more conceptual courses that focus on
teaching students to think critically about the media, such as media theory
and media criticism, ultimately training students to be generic communicators?
Current accreditation standards still are holding firm to the principles
outlined in the skills/liberal arts track. However, the debate rages with
strong proponents for change to the more theoretical proposal. Some
researchers, such as Parisi (1992) argue persuasively that a university's
responsibility is to help students be more than ready for a first job; its
responsibility is to train students to think critically about journalism
and to understand it as a creative, social practice, thereby allowing these
new graduates to help shape and change journalism in the future.
It appears from the literature, though, that those who advocate a change
to "generic communication" may have an uphill battle, and not just from
professional journalists. In a study by Steiner (1994) of how past and
current career guidance books present collegiate journalism education to
prospective students, she found that since the 1800's, journalism has been
presented in terms of job preparation. Continuing forward 100 years, she
states that "readers of the books of the 1980s and 1990s learn that the
value of journalism school is only its ability to deliver skills necessary
in a 'tight' market." (p. 55). Steiner also notes that career guidance
experts often feel that they are trapped between what they see as the
opposing views of professional journalists, who desire skills and
occupational training, and journalism educators, who desire a change to a
broader, more theory-based curriculum.
Worth noting is the extensive amount of research that has been devoted to
the study of how attending college affects students, and what they report
desiring as an outcome of a college education. The college experience has
been shown to have a significant impact on values, personality, behavior,
and life-styles (Astin, 1977). However, in study after study, students say
that "career preparation" is the most valuable outcome of college (for
example, see Tan, 1992; Astin, King, and Richardson, 1976). In contrast to
the general stereotypes of students in past generations, who had a more
"general learning" focus, Gardner (1989) states that students today are
more self-concerned and career-oriented than ever.
Given the current atmosphere of debate, this study has one major research
R1: What differences exist between professional magazine journalists and
magazine journalism educators in terms of what skills, knowledge, and
education each group thinks graduates of collegiate journalism programs
Based on the literature and this general research question, the following
hypotheses were developed:
H1. There will be a gap between educators and editors in their ranking of
the importance of various skills.
H2. Magazine journalism educators will place higher importance on
journalism courses than professional magazine editors, especially in those
courses often considered to be more theoretical.
H3. Editors who majored in journalism or communication courses will value
journalism education more than editors who majored in other fields.
A survey was sent to 263 magazine editors and 135 magazine
educators. Editors were selected by taking a random sample of the editors
of magazines listed in the Writer's Market 2001 (Holm, 2000). To sample
magazine educators, surveys were mailed to members of the Magazine Division
of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
Reminders were mailed three weeks after the first mailing.
Survey content. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of 23
skills, courses, or college experiences needed by students applying for
entry-level magazine jobs. They were also asked to rate the importance of
various majors such as English, journalism, and magazine (See Table 1 for
the complete listing of skills). They were also asked to list their five
most important and least important characteristics. The survey also gave
respondents an opportunity to answer open-ended questions about what they
thought were important skills and courses.
Who was surveyed. Respondents were 60 educators (44% response rate) and 79
editors (30%). Fifty percent of the educators had seven or more years
of professional media experience, but almost 40% had never worked on a
magazine, while 28% had 10 or more years of experience on a magazine, and
50% had 15 or more years of experience as a professor.
Among the editors, 93% were college graduates with 50% having 10 or more
years of magazine experience. As for magazine size, 67% of the editors
worked on magazines with under 10,000 circulation, and 10% were from
magazines with more than 1 million circulation. For 96% of the magazines,
the staff had fewer than 25 people. Just less than half of the editors had
majored in journalism or a journalism-related major.
Limitations. With an estimated 465 journalism programs listed by AEJMC in
2000 (some of which may not have magazine courses), the sample of educators
represents 26 percent of all the programs. Although the AEJMC membership
list for the magazine division is self-selected, it provides a good base
for contacting educators. Its weakness may be that the list misses those
magazine teachers who may be part time or teach in programs that do not
More limiting may be the sample of editors. Sampling error with 79
responses is higher than 10 percentage points. Likewise the response rate
of 30% may suggest a response bias. But the results may have reasonable
validity, especially since they mirror other surveys of professionals and
their attitudes toward journalism education.
As expected in H1, there was a noticeable gap between educators and
editors. Educators rated 18 of the 23 skills, courses, and educational
experiences significantly more important than did the editors. Editors
rated more important than the educators only the following characteristics:
clerical skills, grades, and creativity, but the differences were not
significant. There also were no significant differences in rating the
importance of the media theory courses and interpersonal skills.
Insert Table 1 here
Some of the significant differences were small; for example, the mean
differences in writing, proofing, editing, and computer skills were between
.21 and .26. In supporting H2, the largest differences were for courses
such as media law and ethics, or for skills such as web design and computer
layout skills, or for knowledge of such things as magazine advertising or
the publishing process.
One of the more surprising results was the low ranking editors gave to
clips. Educators gave clips a mean of 1.27, and ranked clips as one of the
Top 5 characteristics for students applying for jobs. Editors ranked it at
2.44. That was the largest difference in means. Likewise, some editors
devalued the internship experience or experience on student newspapers or
Editors were split by magazine size to see if there were major differences
among big and small magazines, but none were found.
Most/Least important. Respondents agreed that writing was the most
important skill for students to master with 84% of the editors and 90% of
the educators listing it in their Top 5. Overall, the list shows strong
agreement in all areas but clips, which makes the Top 5 for educators but
was mentioned by only 10% of the editors, who, as a group, were just as
likely to list clips as one of the five least important areas. No educator,
however, listed clips as a least important characteristic.
Insert Table 2 here
Importance of the major. Editors also were split according to whether they
had been journalism/communication majors or had some other major such as
English. When the editors were compared with the educators, some
interesting trends were found by ANOVA analyses. Supporting H3, there were
significant differences between the nonjournalism majors and journalism
majors and educators in rating the importance of courses such as media law
and ethics and skills often emphasized at journalism schools such as
internships, magazine classes and clips. And in those cases, the means
generated by the journalism majors were between the mean scores of the
educators and the non-journalism majors.
A more interesting pattern developed in the ranking of the importance of
majors. Journalism majors and educators had no significant differences in
their rankings, but both ranked the importance of the magazine major as
significantly more important than the nonjournalism majors who were
editors. Conversely, only the nonjournalism majors were significantly
different from the educators in giving higher rankings to the importance of
the English or creative writing majors.
Insert Table 3 here
As the results show, editors place lower importance on almost all the
characteristics, which suggests that in hiring, they are likely to consider
the whole package, especially interpersonal skills. In the real world
editors probably know or have personal experience with successful magazine
professionals who displayed various skills and backgrounds at hiring. This
also helps explain why an English major is considered more qualified by
some editors than by educators.
For example, in open-ended questions, editors overwhelmingly talked about
enthusiasm and eagerness to learn as desirable qualities: two things not
mentioned by any of the professors. While the teachers wrote that skills,
magazine courses, and portfolios were important, editors expressed a desire
that students needed to know about the subject matter of the magazine: a
sports editor wanted knowledgeable sporting people; a religion magazine
wanted workers familiar with the religion.
Editors wrote that they wanted "cheerful" workers who have "a desire to
learn." As one editor explained, he looked for "someone who has a passion
for something in life...something that shows they have a zest for living."
No editor mentioned that a "portfolio" was something useful.
It makes sense that educators are going to rate highly those classes taught
in their programs: Internet, law, magazine publishing. And journalism
educators who advise students on careers are unlikely to tell a student to
major in English. However, editors reported feeling strongly about new
hires having a "well-rounded education" and being "critical thinkers." A
strong liberal arts base seems to be what editors are calling for. Several
editors stressed that they wanted new hires to have a good attitude and a
willingness to start from the bottom; as one editor put it, "not have an
attitude that is sky-high. Too many graduates, smart as they obviously are,
betray an attitude that says they have nothing to learn. Eagerness cannot
be undervalued in a candidate."
Editors also valued clerking skills, though educators may not teach these
skills within the journalism program or value it as much. As one editor
wrote: "Demonstrable skills are far more important than major or
coursework." And another was clear: "I can teach a new hire about the
magazine publishing industry, but I can't teach her how to write or be
creative--that comes with the person."
Educators may be disheartened by some of the results. As one editor put it
clearly: "I don't believe a magazine journalism degree can prepare students
for a job. The best preparation is a good, well-rounded education in which
you learn to write clearly and how to be critical. All the rest is learned
on the job."
In some ways, it sounds as if there is a lack of understanding about
journalism school education and magazine sequences. Educators put high
importance on clips and internships in most cases because journalism
educators think that those experiences provide a good, well-rounded
education and provide evidence of "demonstrable skills" that the editors
say they want.
In part the conflicting results may reflect the pressures and cultures of
the two groups. Educators showed stronger support for Internet and Web
courses, while most editors aren't looking for those skills. In part this
may be due to the constant emphasis on technology at journalism schools,
while editors understand that technology is often easy to learn while on
the job. After all, it may be how they learned to handle technology.
This may also explain the differences in the views toward clips. Educators
push students to get real-life experiences and to develop portfolios,
something that can be assessed through internships and clips. But many of
the editors who think writing skills are important also think clerical
skills are more important than having clips. If an editor who was an
English major is hiring an entry-level editorial assistant, clips and
internships may not mean as much as the ability to get along or the
enthusiasm that the interviewee displays.
From a practical sense, there is much here to comfort educators. Editors
who were journalism majors, for example, thought the magazine major was
important for job applicants--rating it even more important than the
educators did. Also, there is agreement that writing, reporting, and
editing count. Editors appear to endorse as strongly as educators do those
skills that lie at the core of most collegiate journalism programs. Many
journalism programs also emphasize a strong liberal arts foundation, in
addition to a journalism major, though educators may not be doing enough to
explain to students why this foundation is so important and to explain to
editors that a journalism education is a well-rounded education. But
perhaps what this study also shows is that educators need to look further
into teaching or at least encouraging the more nebulous factors such as
enthusiasm, willingness to learn new things and take direction, passion for
learning, creativity, confidence, self-motivation, and a solid work ethic.
Perhaps magazine educators should be rewarding these types of behaviors in
the classroom to better prepare students for the job market and successful
Bales, F. (1992). Newspaper editors' evaluation of professional programs.
Journalism Educator, 47, 3, 37-42.
Cowdin, H.P. (1985). The liberal art of journalism. Quill, (July/August).
Dickson, T. and Brandon, W. (2000). The gap between educators and
professional journalists. Journalism Educator, 55, 3, 50-67.
Dickson, T.V. and Sellmeyer, R.L. (1992). Responses to proposals for
curricular change. Journalism Educator, 47, 3, 27-36.
Duhe, S.F. and Zukowski, L.A. (1997). Radio-TV journalism curriculum: First
jobs and career preparation. Journalism Educator, 52, 1, 4-15.
Fedler, F. (1993). Growing body of evidence refutes some criticism of
j-schools. Paper presented at the convention of the Association for
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Fee, F., Russial, J. and Auman, A. (2001). Back to the future? Teaching
copy editing skills in changing times. Paper presented at the convention of
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Mabrey, D. (1988). Journalism, liberal arts, and editors. ACA Bulletin,
Medsger, B. (1996). Winds of change: Challenges confronting journalism
education. Arlington, Va.: The Freedom Forum.
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Table 1: Comparison of ratings
of characteristics for magazine students
* p < .05 ** p< .01 *** p<.001 NS=not significant
work on student newspaper
Mag pub class
work on student mag
4-point forced choice scale: 1=Extremely important; 4=Unimportant
Table 2: Top 5 important skills
Writing (listed by 84% of the editors)
5 least important skills
Web page design (58%)
Media theory (62%)
Advertising side (58%)
Media theory (51%)
Web page design (52%)
Media law (37%)
Class stories (33%)
Class stories (37%)
Table 3: Comparing editors and their majors
a magazine major2
an English major3
Note: Tukey's HSD used for multiple comparison of means;
1 all groups are significantly different from each of the groups.
2 editors with other major are significantly different from each of the two
3 editors with other major are significantly different from educators only
1=Extremely important; 4=Unimportant