What kind of education did journalists typically have in the past? When—and why—did formal course work in and schools of journalism develop?
Until the mid-nineteenth century, one typically became a doctor or a lawyer through apprenticeship, not through schooling. In the United States, law schools and medical schools became the primary path to professional practice only in the late nineteenth century. Formal state licensing became commonplace about the same time.
In journalism, in the United States, there has never been state licensing. Nor has formal training been required; journalists until the late twentieth century typically learned the trade on the job. Courses in journalism began to be offered at a few colleges in the late nineteenth century but no school dedicated to journalism education existed until the University of Missouri established its school in 1908. The idea of a college education for journalists had been under discussion for some years by then, and Joseph Pulitzer wrote a lengthy piece in the North American Review in 1904 advocating formal college- level journalism training. He did more than write about it; he donated in his will the money that made possible a School of Journalism at Columbia. It opened its doors in 1914. Many other schools—although no other "Ivy League" schools—would follow. The heart of US journalism education developed in public universities—from Texas to Wisconsin and Minnesota; from the University of California, Berkeley to the University of Maryland and University of North Carolina. Private universities have been much less likely to establish journalism programs, Columbia and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism being the most prominent exceptions.
Journalists in the past did not apply any sort of abstract or conceptual knowledge to their work. The expectation was that good reporting requires skill in writing and a "nose for news"—the ability to recognize when a set of events constitutes a "story" and a knack for getting to the heart of it. Frequently, but not always, journalists were expected to have social skills to enable them to establish rapport with a wide range of possible sources or to have the courage to breach ordinary rules of civility by raising challenging, even hostile questions on sensitive issues.
None of this is anything like the kind of knowledge one is supposed to master in a medical school or a law school. Some journalists, especially in recent decades, do acquire specialized knowledge, perhaps courses or even a degree in law to cover the judicial system, perhaps some background in science to cover science and medicine, perhaps even a medical degree. But these are the exceptions. There are some efforts, but the majority of them less than a decade old, to train students in "data journalism."
The US led the way in developing organized journalism education in colleges and universities. In Europe, formal journalism education is largely a post-1945 phenomenon. In some countries, like Germany, some journalism education takes place in universities but some takes place also in schools run by large media organizations themselves.
There is no licensing of journalists in democracies. The international free press organization, "Article 19" (named after the free expression provision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) observes that international human rights agreements oppose licensing or registration of journalists as a violation of rights to free expression. Even requiring educational qualifications for practicing journalism is generally regarded among human rights advocates as impinging on free speech. However, there are more limited rules in many countries, including the United States, that regulate reporters' access to government buildings and high-level news conferences, or other settings where limited space is a genuine practical concern. In these cases, access may be governed by journalists themselves, organized through their own associations, like the White House Correspondents' Association.