Missouri Boasts Top Journalism School, Says New RTDNA Survey: Are Results Valid?

The University of Missouri has the country’s top journalism school, according to a new survey completed by more than 1,300 members of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). As one commenter on the survey announcement page confirmed, “No doubt about it. M-I-Z-Z-O-U.”

The runner-up: Northwestern University‚Äôs Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. (Side-note: I still find it strange that the relatively new Medill name does not include an ‘and’ or ampersand before the final IMC portion. Try saying the full name aloud. It just doesn’t sound quite right without an ‘and’ in there.)

The RTDNA-NewsPro survey rankings place the top 10 schools in numerical order — based on respondents’ input — and subsequently list the rest of the top 20 in alphabetical order.


Now, are the results valid? I am respectfully ambivalent. My chief questions and points of concern:

1) How knowledgeable are the survey respondents about schools they did not personally attend or have been employed at? And how objective can they possibly be about schools with which they are aligned — as a student, alum, professor, adviser or outside professional working nearby?

I ain’t buying that most RTDNAers are anywhere close to actual j-school experts with encyclopedic knowledge of various schools’ histories, faculties, teaching methods, curricula, innovative initiatives, student media and publishing opportunities, internship and post-grad job placement rates, budgets, affiliations, student retention levels, etc.

In fact, a large majority probably cannot tell you anything about many j-schools beyond a few well-known facts, relevant chatter they overheard once at a mixer and details from a piece they read two weeks ago on PBS MediaShift. That’s not cynical. It’s realistic.

2) To that end, what qualifies these RTDNA members — at least those filling out the survey — to provide j-school opinions meant to be taken seriously enough to warrant a supposedly reputed ranking? According to the announcement, the respondents are a mix of professional journalists, educators, students and “non-news professionals.”

Hmm. So, for example, more than 25 percent are students. I remember my student days, undergrad and grad school. I can confirm individuals at that stage do not know anything about the intricacies of j-schools other than the ones they are currently attending.

23) What are the criteria for the rankings? I read the survey announcement and an accompanying article in NewsPro magazine. I don’t see the actual survey questions — or detailed numerical results — in either spot. Maybe both are fantastic and thorough, but they should be featured in full along with the rankings so we can decide that for ourselves.

Why? In part, so we can make sense of seeming anomalies (and what the NewsPro article confirms is a surprise) like the electronic journalism arts department at Lyndon State College sneaking into the top 10, above the journalism homes headquartered at Indiana University, Boston University, UC Berkeley and USC.

4) How do you genuinely compare a journalism school with a department? Or a graduate school of journalism (Columbia and UC Berkeley, for example, are both on the list) with an undergraduate program? Or a journalism program intertwined with other disciplines (such as communications) versus one that is standalone?

Bottom line, does Mizzou have the best j-school in the country? Sure, maybe. Is it also the easiest choice, possibly one picked mainly because of its name recognition, sterling history and a large number of RTDNA members who are Mizzou grads or friends with Mizzou grads? Sure, maybe. Without a solid ranking system and the correct people to judge, we don’t really know.

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