Jay Rosen on James Carey: An Appreciation

James Carey is generally considered the country's outstanding journalism educator, and for a simple reason: he's more educated than any of us. 

Jim says so many smart things that we sometimes forget to stop and appreciate exactly what he is saying. So I would like to begin by explicating and amplifying what Carey just told us. 
Carey loves whatever makes society intelligible. And he scorns whatever leaves things opaque and hard to read. This is why he teaches us to love public life and to work for its improvement: because
public life, well conducted, makes society intelligible to all.
Carey's love of the publicly intelligible is what prods him to teach another of his familiar lessons: that journalism and democracy are "names for the same thing." If that is so-and I believe it
is-then the "thing" that journalism and democracy are both names for is also what the university is for: making society intelligible, which also means inhabitable by all.
ICarey loves whatever makes society intelligible.f we can sense how journalism, democracy, and the university all serve public life, then we can see some other things that would otherwise remain obscure. For example, "journalism" and "media,"
we must recognize, are not names for the same thing, for the media's duty to public life is hardly constitutive. If the United States has always been a commercial republic, it's the commercial part that gives the media their social warrant, while journalism follows from-and depends upon-our existence as a republic.
Thus, if we're to take Carey seriously, we must set ourselves the task of uncoupling "journalism" from "media," while recoupling "journalism" to the keyword "democracy." And here the problem
of journalism education comes into view. It is essentially a problem of alignment: how to get the enterprise into proper alignment with (a) the society and one of its central institutions, the media; (b) the university; and (c) journalism as a practice.
Carey tells us that the alignment suggested by the regime of professionalism is all wrong. It produces an education that is too much an indoctrination. Inadequate too, he says, is the alignment
suggested by science, or at least the view of social science that the modern research university has produced. Journalism, he contends, is more akin to storytelling and argument; it belongs to the humanities and the political arts, not the hard or even the social sciences.
Carey suggests an alignment with democracy as the key to reforming journalism education. That is, the J-school can get into proper alignment with the society, the university, and the profession in
only one way: by thinking with and through "democracy." In addition to its considerable intellectual power, this way of thinking is powerful for another reason: it is of moment.
At the moment, journalism as a social practice is being threatened by the media and their commercial pressures, by a brave new world of information technology that may or may not have a place for
serious journalism, by public disgust with the press, now reaching new heights, by a political climate that continues to repel people from politics and journalism, and by a number of other troubles within the professional culture of the press, including its own ingrained cynicism. Facing a host of challenges, the craft of journalism now finds that its intellectual weaknesses have become problems of survival. Unless it gets smarter about many things and the right things, American journalism may
not be around much longer-although the media, we can trust, will be bigger than ever.
All of which means that we as journalism educators have an opportunity. There's an intellectual crisis in journalism, which creates an opening for those of us who do "journalism" in a university
setting. How do we take advantage of it? To offer an answer would preempt the work of this conference. But following Jim Carey as he follows John Dewey, I can say we need to experiment with a new alignment between journalism education and the university; between the J-school and the society, especially the media; and between the teaching of journalism and practicing journalists.
If we can be guided in these experiments by the keyword "democracy" and by Carey's love of the publicly intelligible, I think we'll be okay.


  • Jay Rosen

    BIO: Jay Rosen teaches Journalism at New York University, where has been on the faculty since 1986. From 1999 to 2005 he served as chair of the Department. He lives in New York City.


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