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What The Reader Elite Means for Journalism Schools

March 25, 2010

In the wake of my last post about The Reader Elite, I had several discussions with friends in the media industry about what such an audience would mean for journalism as an academic concentration. The Reader Elite is what I call the group of people that will emerge as paywalls begin to ramp up in earnest. The Reader Elite is affluent, well educated, and small in size, and perhaps the only group that will be willing to pay money for professional content creators.

Since that audience will be small — and thus the amount of people whose sole job it is to serve them will be smaller, too — is there any purpose for having journalism schools anymore?

In the coming years, I think most journalism schools will shrink or disappear. The ones remaining will be drastically different, with students focusing on topics that don’t relate to content creation at all. Moreover, some of the best new professional content creators won’t attend journalism schools. They will hail from different majors and degrees, like business, computer science and finance. The notion of being a professional journalist who is merely an objective observer of a topic or industry will officially fade in the coming years. This is a good thing, since it was a stupid fantasy that it should be like that anyway.

Even with the Web 2.0 decade now closed, journalism schools still teach decades-old methods that make no sense for the current media landscape. Many think that adding a “Web journalism” or a few HTML hacking classes can bring them into the 21st century, but it doesn’t. Journalism school teaches kids to be reporters, and little else. They learn to call people and collect information to construct a story, and they boil it down into a “he said, she said” story.

Whether it’s captured in text, sound or video, the “he said, she said” story professes to put a journalist on the sidelines as an objective observer. It presumes that regardless of their own opinions, if you can get quotes and information from two opposing sides and package them into a story, you have been a good journalist. If you’re really good, you might even be able to appear on television as an “expert.” Students in J-Schools are thus taught to worship what my friend Stowe Boyd would call the Church of Journalism.

The problem is, most journalists today aren’t experts; they merely report about people that are. This creates a barrier and credibility problem that people paid little attention to before the Web because the journalists’ identities to regular people were less transparent, and less social. Even those journalists on TV whose face you did see  — you couldn’t click on a link to see their background, disclosures, or why they might be qualified to be reporting on a certain topic.

Now you can go on the Web and find out. The less you can find on them, the more skeptical you are of their analysis.

On the Web, where social connections reign supreme, trust and truth matter more than objectivity. For this reason, journalism schools in the way they are currently comprised don’t work. For my money, one of the better business journalists to emerge in the coming years probably went to business school and interned at a multinational firm instead of a newspaper. In the Church of Journalism, this was deemed an ugly “conflict of interest”; For new content creation on the social Web, this is viewed as great experience and credibility provided it’s disclosed. This will have great benefits. If more of the financial journalists worked in finance first, maybe they could have blown the whistle on certain practices before it was too late and we were plunged into a near-catastrophic recession.

But this argument about expertise and credibility glosses over an important question: Is teaching people how to create quality content important? I think it is, but that’s something that should occur in elementary school education and in high school, utilizing the variety of tools the Web offers and making sure kids know how to write and express themselves in a clear way. At a certain point, as it concerns doing content creation for a profession, it’s also innate: You have it or you don’t.

Perhaps a content creation class should be offered in college, but I think it should pale in comparison to the amount of classes that focus on the topic a content creator covers.

Journalism schools were made to serve the Church of Journalism and the vanity contained within it (“Oh, I’m a journalist actually.”). The foundations of that cathedral have been shaken to the core because there is less money to validate its existence and shield the inadequacies of some of the people in it. My advice to kids currently in journalism school is to, at the very least, find a niche and expertise that isn’t about content creation itself. If you do, you might be one of the lucky ones to serve the Reader Elite.

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94 Comments leave one →
  1. Tom Kaneshige permalink
    March 25, 2010 10:58 pm

    Bethany McLean, a former reporter at Fortune magazine, broke the Enron scandal when she questioned Enron’s inflated stock price in a story. WSJ reporters claim they broke the story, too. Ken Lay tried to squash the Fortune story by telling Fortune editors that Bethany was young and naive. But McLean was more than qualified — and not because she went to J-school (which she didn’t). McLean got her B.A. in English and Mathematics at Williams College and worked as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs prior to becoming a journalist.

    • March 27, 2010 3:46 am

      “Bethany McLean, a former reporter at Fortune magazine, broke the Enron scandal when she questioned Enron’s inflated stock price in a story.”

      I remember that so well. I was covering clean technology for eMileHigh. After I saw that Fortune article, I began asking clean tech entrepreneurs if problems with Enron were going to hurt the industry. It was months before the full impact of the Enron scandal began turning up in other publications.

      During the dotcom boom I was appalled at what passed for business reporting. Many stories were essentially press releases. I don’t think most reporters knew enough to read financial statements or to ask tough questions. If they had, we may have been spared several bubbles.

      That’s been my big complaint about J-schools. Rather than learning how to write and research (which they should have learned in elementary and high school), students would be better served by courses in history, business, economics, science, the environment, and so on. They need to know enough to be able to ask the right questions.

      I agree that we would be better served as a society if there were no J-schools. Rather, all students would learn those skills as part of their basic education.

      As for me, I didn’t go to J-school. My undergrad degree was in business and economics. I wrote for a number of national magazines. No editor ever asked me where I went to school or even IF I had gone to school. They just looked at my clips and gave me assignments. Ironically, after I already had a writing career, I ended up in a school of journalism and mass communication for my master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication.

  2. March 26, 2010 1:02 pm

    Good stuff, Chris. It seems most will not see the light on the new media trends until they wake up in a few years and see that all their traditional media has all but disappeared. It’s called the under 40 demographic.

  3. Bob Ruhe permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:39 pm

    I still have some hope. I still believe we are creating writers who actually care about what they write. Sure there’s probably not as many as there once was, but I think those who learn to actually think and actually write will care enough to do it the right way. Right now we see too many Bloggers getting attention for.. what? These are mostly people with an opinion. They’re able to form words into sentences, but what they are creating is noise and static. I dare anyone with an English degree to try to read an entire issue of Entertainment Weekly or peruse the iReporters section of CNN. You’ll want to rip out your own hair. But hopefully we will see those real writers – those real thinkers – rise up above the din. Yes we live in a world where teachers have to instruct students not to use chat emoticons in their papers… but still, I have hope.

  4. edward allen permalink
    March 26, 2010 1:53 pm

    .The newsrooms of the 1950’s and 1960’s were much more diverse as far as educational background was concerned. At the one where I worked, the national editor was a former taxi-driver who never went to college, the White House reporter was a Marine Reserves intelligence officer, the news editor was an accountant (he used to wear a green eyeshade). At the university I attended, J-school was for students who weren’t up to maintaining a C in English. The J-schools took off in the 1990’s, thanks to endowments and grants, and today provide cheap labor for newspapers in dire economic problems. The turnaround-point against J-schools I think came with the Jason Blair-Jack Kelley affairs. Both went to the University of Maryland’s J-school.

  5. sad to read this permalink
    March 26, 2010 2:49 pm

    Your post affirms some of the big problems with this new media age or, as you put it, “content creators”: (1) Even complete nonsense finds an audience and (2) Unprofessional, unsubstantiated criticism and analysis are tolerated and, worse, considered journalism…..While my hunch is that some will be quick to dismiss this response as just another old media type lamenting a bygone era, I hope at least a few of you will pause for a minute and realize that journalism is much more than “content creation.” Journalism is a public service. (It is also celebrity news, sports, cooking tips, etc. But I’m only talking about The News here. ) The post above doesn’t seem to acknowledge how essential The News really is. It’s not the sexy stuff, but where would we be without the reporter whose work holds public officials accountable and, on his/her best day, acts as a watchdog and looks out for readers, viewers, listeners, etc? And it’s not as easily done as you seem to suggest. Sorry, my friend, but you don’t just become a journalist. Now that so many media outlets have disappeared, taking with them the mentors/editors who have, for years, taught this essential public service to newbies, we need J-Schools to make sure real journalism still happens. J-schools can’t do it by themselves, and they shouldn’t. But we still need them.

    • March 26, 2010 3:03 pm

      I, too, believe journalism is a public service, which is why I’ll be willing to pay for it once more paywalls are erected. I unfortunately don’t think they’ll be a ton of us who will be willing to pay, which is what I cover in my last post: http://thelynchblog.com/2010/03/16/the-reader-elite/.

      I’ve gotten some interesting feedback about my deliberate decision to use “content creators” as much as “journalist” in this post. To be clear, I didn’t use content creation as a commercial word to highlight how news has commoditized or to conjure horrid images of content sweatshops with people writing crap for very little pay. I decided on content creators because journalism now takes on so many different forms on the Web, from a first person blog post, to a more traditional article, to a YouTube video, or a podcast. I think “journalist” evinces a rigid structure of the job in our minds that doesn’t really exist anymore with all these mediums at our disposal.

      -Chris

  6. KevinNutson permalink
    March 26, 2010 3:51 pm

    Content creation is about the only useful thing that J-Schools do teach.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having people with expertise in non-journalism areas cover related beats – someone with an MBA covering business, etc. – but that really only works for big beats at national levels. That’s not where most news happens and thinking it is is the major flaw. Most news happens on the regional or local level. Covering most news requires talking to people and being able to condense what they say into a simple, easy-to-understand piece. It doesn’t matter if that’s in text (on paper or the web) or in broadcast form (traditional or on the web) – you still have to be able to report and create a story that is useful to the readers.

    I think it’s fair to debate what makes a good useful story – maybe “he said, he said” doesn’t work anymore – but the real arrogance and vanity is assuming that the story doesn’t matter.

  7. sad to read this2 permalink
    March 26, 2010 4:18 pm

    Thanks, Lynch, for your reply. Hope you don’t mind answering this follow-up question.

    You write: “Is teaching people how to create quality content important? I think it is, but that’s something that should occur in elementary school education and in high school, utilizing the variety of tools the Web offers and making sure kids know how to write and express themselves in a clear way. At a certain point, as it concerns doing content creation for a profession, it’s also innate: You have it or you don’t.”

    Are you suggesting that reporting skills are this easy to learn and practice? In addition to the local public service journalism discussed above, are you suggesting that someone can step in and meaningfully, responsibly, carry out public service/international reporting on wars, natural disasters, civil rights abuses, genocide, and the like?

  8. sad to read this2 permalink
    March 26, 2010 4:20 pm

    CLARIFYING/EDITING COMMENT ABOVE:

    Thanks, Lynch, for your reply. Hope you don’t mind answering this follow-up question.

    You write: “Is teaching people how to create quality content important? I think it is, but that’s something that should occur in elementary school education and in high school, utilizing the variety of tools the Web offers and making sure kids know how to write and express themselves in a clear way. At a certain point, as it concerns doing content creation for a profession, it’s also innate: You have it or you don’t.”

    Are you suggesting that reporting skills are this easy to learn and practice? In addition to the local public service journalism discussed above, are you suggesting that someone WITHOUT MUCH TRAINING OR EXPERIENCE can step in and meaningfully, responsibly, carry out public service/international reporting on wars, natural disasters, civil rights abuses, genocide, and the like?

    • March 26, 2010 4:41 pm

      I do think there’s a certain element of being a good reporter that can’t be taught. During my first week of Journalism School, I recall a meeting with the entire freshman class and the faculty. One faculty member, who I later came to really admire, had the stones to say something that many didn’t want to hear. He looked around the room and said, “I’m happy to see so many of you here, but I only see a small fraction of you making it all the way through in this major, let alone having jobs in it.”

      Four years later, I can tell you that the folks who went all the way through were pretty decent reporters from the start. They learned it was easy to get straight A’s writing formulaic “he said she said” pieces that they use as a barometer at journalism schools (a lead graph, some supporting paragraphs, and getting “he said she said” quotes). These people got better at their craft over the duration of journalism school, sure, but I’d argue it was because of jobs and internships done along the way; not writing fake “hey, mister, can I talk to you?” stories for their journalism class.

      The ability to cover the events you mention rely heavily on networking, understanding of the people around you, the ability to research, and resourcefulness. Those are basic life skills that hit a variety of disciplines, not just journalism itself. While I think some of that can be covered in a journalism school, I don’t see why you couldn’t learn it while focusing on other concentrations.

      While I hope to see Shield Laws some day, Journalism school isn’t like medical or law school.

      • Joe permalink
        March 29, 2010 4:19 pm

        The thing I don’t understand about your argument is that
        your advocating something that already exists. A lot of journalists
        do in fact have english or technical degrees, especially in the
        finance world. The ones that don’t usually work a beat for years. A
        friend of mine covers municipal bonds for a trade pub: who do you
        think has more knowledge of municipal bonds, a journalist who
        interviews experts and explores these things day after day for 4
        years, or a guy who applies for his job with a Fiance degree, who
        probably spent two hours in four years talking about municipal
        bonds, and no writing experience.

  9. March 26, 2010 4:41 pm

    Maybe, maybe not, Chris. While I agree journalism schools teach a lot of useless crap and are struggling to adapt to the times, they do still teach skills important for being a professional content creator. I am amazed at how many “professional journalists” I’ve encountered who lack good writing skills — things that were drilled into me in graduate j-school. Not that I couldn’t have learned those skills in other ways.

    I do think most people will continue to get their news from professional content creators. A recent Washington Post “On the Media” column (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/14/AR2010031402312_3.html?sid=ST2010031503503) said that 80 percent of the links on blogs and social media sites are still to content produced by old-school media companies. While the industry clearly has to figure out how to make money online, this shows that even aggregators and blogs turn to reporters to get their info. Yes, there will be fewer reporters in the future, and yes, many old-school companies will be hurt by startup news operations like the one I work for. But professional reporters will continue to provide the meat and potatoes.

    I think your columns make some good points, but I get tired of the constant pontificating and bold predictions about the media industry, whatever that is. The fact is none of us knows what is going to happen. Why do so many people continue to pretend they do?

    • March 26, 2010 4:51 pm

      Erik, These are some great points. For what it’s worth, I’d describe myself philosophically as somewhere in the middle between the New and Old media folks, and hopefully my posts reflect that attitude. I also think new media sites will be in for quite a disruption themselves as old sites face greater challenges (due the link redirection issue you mention).

      But be sure to give the new blood their due. As someone who follows tech a lot, I can tell you that The New York Times Tech section is TechCrunch on a 24-48 hour delay. TC aren’t traditional reporters who write he said she said stories, but they do chase down leads and find out about stuff first. Now, the Times’ story the next day might be more flushed out and has immense value for me (so I’ll pay for that when the time comes), but the upfront reporting by TC shouldn’t be overlooked.

      /cgl

  10. March 26, 2010 5:02 pm

    Chris,
    You touched a nerve and articulated some of my fears.
    I teach journalism classes populated by students who don’t want to be journalists. They are afraid, mostly, of an imploding job market; they don;t want to be those rude people who stick microphones in the faces of accident victims.
    Yet, they see the use of the skills we teach: organizing information; critical thinking and evaluation of information; writing cleanly and clearly, and in my case learning effective visual design and photography.
    I am still an advocate of journalism education. We offer a skill set that is highly prized in business, science, the arts and almost any field. Everybody and their mothers and their pets has a website. Journalism education provides these skills.
    As newspaper journalism did for years, we’re shooting ourselves in our collective feet. We don;t explain ourselves to our students and other constituents. We don’t market the values we provide in law and ethics as well as our skill set. Rather than reaching out to new audiences,, we preach to the proverbial choir. And the choir and the audience is indeed shrinking.
    You’ve explained why that’s happening.
    Those of us with good answers, however, remain out of the mainstream.
    Jack Zibluk
    Associate professor of journalism, Arkansas State University

  11. Tom Wailgum permalink
    March 26, 2010 5:03 pm

    I graduated from J-school 16 years ago, and I often wonder what my school and others are actually “teaching” students these days, given everything that has happened. In retrospect, I wish I had perused a dual degree in journalism and business or technology. I think, as you allude to Chris, it would be hugely beneficial if J-schools required dual degrees (or heavy concentrations) in industries, fields or whatever specialized area students find most interesting. And then pushed the students to intern or work inside those industries or corporate departments, for instance. It’s clear that the end of the “general assignment reporter” era is here.
    Journalism as a field is less a mastery of a specific skill set that produces tangible knowledge (rocket science it is not); it’s more an innate human curiosity to talk to people, tap into their experiences, write down their stories and share that information to a wide range of people. You don’t need a degree for that.
    Sure some journalists are better writers than others, but there is only one NYTimes or one New Yorker, and there just aren’t very many of those opportunities any more. I cover enterprise software and business-technology trends, and I see so-called technology industry analysts every day doing a good job being “journalists” — blogging, writing reports, “interviewing” their clients and sharing that information to a Web world who, in most cases, values that type of “journalism.” I may have a journalism degree from Syracuse and know what “passive voice” is, but the readers today don’t give a crap about that.

    • March 26, 2010 5:14 pm

      I’m loving this idea of double major. Or making journalism a minor is another idea I’ve pondered. /cgl

  12. conrad fink permalink
    March 26, 2010 5:28 pm

    One thing we teach at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism is that all writers should know at least something about which they write. The author of this column knows nothing of what modern, progressive colleges of journalism teach, and until he has done his homework, he should sit down and be quiet. Conrad Fink, Morris Professor of Newspaper Management and Strategy, University of Georgia

    • Doug permalink
      March 26, 2010 7:36 pm

      And are they getting jobs? I thought newspapers were all going broke!

  13. March 26, 2010 5:47 pm

    Thougtful blog, Chris. It is a myth, of course, that J-students sit in J-classes all day. My undergraduate journalism education at Medill (Northwestern University) consisted of 25 percent journalism classes and 75 percent non-journalism — including required science, statistics, etc. courses. We were required to have at least one academic concentration outside of journalism (most people would call it a “minor,”) and many of us had two concentrations. I say journalism schools absolutely need to exist — because the students need veteran mentors. Without mentors who have a clue about the real professional world of journalism, even the most determined young journalists don’t stand a chance of making it into the interview seat.

    You can learn to be a content creator without going to journalism school, absolutely. But if you go to journalism school, and you do real-world internships, you will graduate a much better content creator than when you started. Education is not just about what you learn in class. It is about the corollary experiences: internships, jobs, daily college papers. You will learn far more from those experiences (not only about writing, but also about ethics, grace under pressure, people skills) than you will from writing a blog in isolation in your dorm room. Those experiences are better at universities with journalism programs.

    I do believe people care about passive tense. Readers are not stupid. Give them vivid, elegant prose and you will lure them back. Give them sloppy prose or worse, jargon, and you may lose their respect. Some journalism schools must morph, certainly, but the smart ones will do so — and persist.

    One big problem I do see is that some journalism schools don’t realize how much the old career paths have changed, and thus are failing to prepare graduates for the harsh realities that mid-career reporters and editors, even at top journalism outfits, face today, due to the tumultuous state of the business side of online journalism. That’s a reality students deserve to understand.

  14. babydiscarted permalink
    March 26, 2010 6:26 pm

    As for “decades-old methods” that are being taught in journalism schools– do you mean storytelling, investigative reporting, researching, ethics and the law, copyediting and proofreading, visualizing layouts and graphic design, entrepreneurial thinking…? You’re right, those are useless!

    The market may be crap right now for traditional journalists, but these skills are still invaluable in many areas of media and communications. And if the future crop of journalists don’t have them, the content we consume will be far worse for it.

  15. March 26, 2010 6:41 pm

    this is a walk-before-you-can run thing.

    The basic, inverted pyramid story doesn’t get much respect anymore, but it’s amazing how many people can’t even do that while accurately gathering objective facts. (yes, there is such a thing as an objective fact: the getaway car was red, the Prime Minister is 58, baloney will be served for school lunch).

    Then you have to get it all into a readable story–quickly (and did I mention accurately).

    The best practitioners of longer form, narrative journalism have the basics down pat. Otherwise there’s no foundation to the work and it shows.

    J-schools are probably still a decent place to learn this stuff, but even better is to work for some hard ass editor at a good local or regional for a couple of years. If you screw up, you’ll hear about it–often in ways that would make a Marine blush.

    The real problem is when there’s none of these folks left to mentor (in their own cuddly way) younger journalists who think they’re really “content creators.”

  16. edward allen permalink
    March 26, 2010 8:53 pm

    You can take people from ordinary lines of life and make them reporters. I have proof. I know a newspaper that used to recruit from Ivy League schools and hired reporters who couldn’t type. One was the son of a New York banker who his degree hiring people to type his college papers. He started out writing in longhand and turned out to be a great reporter. J-schools are a waste of time and money. There are some people born to work in this craft, and others who defy any amount of education.

  17. charles madigan permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:12 pm

    This is an interesting conversation that seems to overlook the central question, “What is a journalist?” Pretty clearly the definition has been lost. In my 40 years at it, which included some very juicy assignments in very interesting places, I viewed my job as “witness” and took it seriously. When it came time for me to write my book “Destiny Calling, How the People Elected Barack Obama,” I leaned heavily on years of news reporting skills, particularly interviewing skills, but abandoned the journalism model when it came to writing. It just didn’t work very well for story telling. I think we move forward at some risk when we diminish the very basic skills involved in traditional reporting. At the same time, we limit ourselves when we lean on the thought we can reproduce a spunky tech-ed up model of the old way of doing things. Teaching people how to write inverted pyramid stories may well be a useless discipline. Teaching people how to listen, how to think, how to ask questions, how to be the witness, those skills will never lose their value, no matter how they are used. I would also argue that, for the reporter, the objective should be truth, not marketing. I don’t really much care what audience sees the work. But I really do care about the work. Finally, it’s a little misleading to put too much emphasis on how a story is delivered. That model will keep changing forever. How it is collected and told is a different subject. That’s what might be of value in a college classroom.

  18. Liz H. permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:30 pm

    One problem with journalists having prior business careers: they risk becoming too close to their subjects and hence, becoming cheerleading shills who sacrifice any semblance of objectivity (cf., CNBC. Maria Bartiromo got in trouble a while back for getting too close to a Citi VP. She even traveled on the corporate jet with him!)

  19. charles madigan permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:44 pm

    Now I’m stimulated! People who want to be journalists (okay, reporters, since journals are basically disappearing) need to understand that reporting has never been a flush or dependable job option. Those of us who ended our run early in the new century had some great years, but I do recall wondering whether my UPI paycheck would bounce, whether my publisher was so looney he would just dismiss everyone on the grounds they emitted unhealthy beta waves and whether the ancient woman who worked in the library was not actually…well…dead! I recall being one of ten hires at a Newhouse paper, the only one who survived after two years. Some of them were canned the first day. You have to really WANT to do this to do this, you know? We can give them basics, which are absolutely essential, in class and with mentoring. But the big lesson may be they have to find their own way in what is evolving by using their skills well and keeping focused on the search for the truth.

  20. psemerson permalink
    March 26, 2010 10:00 pm

    Yes, when I went to j-school, I ended up learning a lot of useless skills, like headline-counting and marking up paper copy with proofreader’s marks. Of course, it’s nonsense now, but that’s because the future of 2010 hadn’t been invented in 1979.

    I also learned things that remain handy today, such as interviewing skills, document/background research, long-form writing and the ability to write in the inverted pyramid (something that gets plenty of ridicule from people who fail to note the public’s ever-shortening attention span). I also became acquainted with the basics about libel and slander — something that’s been given more of a free ride than it should’ve online.

    I also learned the basics of editing, and I’ve sharpened those skills through the years. If anything, j-school helped me define the essence of what I wanted to see in good writing (so I could write livelier copy) and how to ask for it from other people (which is really the most-important job of an editor).

    And, I really don’t care what kind of media transport is being used — newspaper, radio, TV, podcast, YouTube, Direct-To-iPad 3D — it’s not much good with out the basic talents of communication, which is the essence of what you’re learning in j-school. And it’s not a skill that you can pick up from an internship or from some co-workers at a media outlet (where most of the staff developed their basic skills at — wait for it — a j-school).

    I know that’s not the case everywhere, but you can find crappy physics programs at some colleges, too. J-schools may need to help students lay better tracks to the future — not everybody will work a beat at a local newspaper, or even have one in their city — but the essentials make for better communicators.

  21. Tom Kaneshige permalink
    March 27, 2010 12:01 am

    Would you want to pay for your kid’s journalism degree today? I’m assuming, of course, that a journalism school’s goal is to produce journalists. There’s something very wrong about a university that charges students thousands of dollars in tuition for the chance to earn a narrowly focused degree aimed at a near-jobless profession.

  22. charles madigan permalink
    March 27, 2010 1:12 am

    Nope. a journalism school’s objective is to produce graduates. it’s up the graduate to produce the journalist and honest schools note that it could take quite a bit of time and seasoning for that to happen, if ever.

  23. March 27, 2010 2:12 am

    If the Church of Journalism is indeed a church, it’s like a bit like Lutherans attending Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility: Most students in j-schools today really aren’t interested in journalism per se. 60% of the students in my program are studying marketing communication. Of the 40% who are majoring in journalism, less than half will actually practice anything remotely related to journalism.

  24. Gary Packwood permalink
    March 27, 2010 2:24 am

    I’m having trouble getting my mind around the ‘Reader Elite’ as a new concept.

    If my friend in Youngstown, Ohio reads the daily newspaper, the business newspaper and subscribes to USA today, isn’t she a Reader Elite?

    I subscribe to the online WSJ and pay monthly for that subscription and have paid for several years.

    Other friends subscribe to more than ten ‘news’ publications and always have.

    Don’t we already know who the Reader Elite are; where they are located and how to communicate with them?

    Seems you are trying to ‘get-at’ how to expand the Reader Elite rather than just define the phenomenon.

    How about marketing to the children of the Reader Elite?

    When the young Reader Elites leave the nest, give them subscriptions as they walk out the door courtesy of Mom and Dad Elite.
    ::
    GP

  25. paul knox permalink
    March 27, 2010 4:08 am

    Chris Lynch on Chris Lynch: “For my day job, I work in marketing at Socialtext, a company that builds really cool social networking apps for businesses.”

    What else is new? A marketer with business clients doesn’t like the idea of people who haven’t been marketers writing about marketing, or people who haven’t worked in business writing about business. Why? Maybe because independent fact-gathering, verification and investigative skills – the stuff taught in journalism schools — might mess up marketing plans, or reveal things that businesses don’t want revealed.

    Every day the world’s journalists produce thousands of stories that go far beyond the he-said-she-said model, ask tough questions, peer into dark corners and hold the powerful to account. Journalists working to gain an audience’s trust were around long before Web 2.0 marketers claimed to be inventing the idea of information-based communities (along with truth, democracy and social life). They’re still around, and they’ll be around as long as people need independently gathered information they can rely on to make personal, financial and political choices. That, not some cartoonish notion of “objectivity,” is what we teach — along with how not to write stuff like “in the way that they are currently comprised ….” If that makes me part of the Church of Journalism, pass the hymn book.

    My own day job is teaching journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. I was a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent during more than 30 years in daily news. By the way, where does a marketer get off blaming journalists for a recession that was caused at least in part by irresponsible marketing?

    • March 27, 2010 5:50 pm

      I’m very confused about how marketers in the Web 2.0 world peddling social networks, geo-location apps and ad-based networks are responsible for a subprime mortgage crisis or wildly irresponsible investing. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. No more sympathetic could I be about the pedantic nature of New Media pundits (ironic statement for this post, I realize), but that’s a totally separate issue.

      But to your point, I don’t think the argument of the skills learned in journalism school here represent anything unique. I’d like to think a lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc. would all like to gather facts and make ethical, informed decisions.

      There is no such thing as independently gathered information, either. There never was. The beauty of journalism today is that everything is more transparent and you can disclose your ties to a story more easily.

      • March 27, 2010 6:00 pm

        I’ve never bought into the idea that good news is unbiased. Everything is biased. As humans we can’t help ourselves. In the print and broadcast days, space was limited, so decisions were made about what to cover, where to put it, and how much space/time to give it. Bias was built into that system. Of course, it’s also known as a filter, which can be helpful. The New York Times serves as a good filter for me. I want to know what the New York Times thinks is newsworthy.

        Overall I believe to get the best view of the world, it’s good to have multiple news sources. My home page is Google News. I don’t actually read all of the stories, but at least I see the headlines, so I know how a story is being framed around the world.

        I’d rather read a liberal publication and a conservative publication to see how they differ in their viewpoints than to have one source telling me both sides. I’d like to know people’s biases rather than to think there aren’t any.

      • paul knox permalink
        March 27, 2010 10:01 pm

        I didn’t say it was Web 2.0 people who caused the subprime meltdown, but marketing certainly played a role. The point is, marketers (or, less euphemistically, salespeople) are marketers, whether they’re pushing cool apps or junk securities. Their interests are not the same as buyers’, which is why buyers value trustworthy, independently gathered information. And yes, there is such a thing, which is why the first news agencies were set up (to give banks and merchants reliable market intelligence) and why there’s a difference between a well crafted news story and a press release.

        Kudos to Nancy Hanus – hang in there!

  26. March 27, 2010 5:08 am

    Well have been in Marketing and having also been a journalist since 1969, mostly freelance, I have to say that there is something to be said for knowing the area you are writing about. You at least know what questions to ask and you don’t make dumb mistakes (my favorite example of this is the reporter who described someone she quoted as a “general in the Coast Guard”. )

    Knowledge is a defense against nonsense. My book on Virtual Reality survived an attempt by someone I’d written about in it trying to kill it, first with the threat of a lawsuit and then by having friends of his position themselves as topic experts and tear the manuscript apart and claiming that I’d gotten the facts wrong. I was able to defend myself on every point because I had all of the information to hand, Ultimately the book was picked up by another publisher. It was published as I had written it. Coming into a complex topic, cold, does not protect a reporter from their own preconceptions and subject ignorance and makes them vulnerable to disinformation and slanting that makes them unconscious advocates for a point of view rather than objective observers.

  27. March 27, 2010 7:02 am

    Another issue with the Church of Journalism is if the goal is to create a group of professionals whose job it is to report the “truth,” that doesn’t help society much if relatively few people are getting their information from these sources.

    It would be better to train kids to observe and research the world around them so that they are capable of making intelligent decisions no matter what information comes their way. Perhaps a healthy dose of media skepticism would be good for them. Teach them to take no news story at face value and to dig deeper for themselves.

  28. Lluís permalink
    March 27, 2010 6:37 pm

    My personal view is slightly different. I think that in j-schools you learn how to watch the reality. That’s a lot more than learning just how to “merely report about people” that are experts. Moreover, where would journalists be supposed to learn about the ethics of journalism?

    • March 27, 2010 6:46 pm

      “Moreover, where would journalists be supposed to learn about the ethics of journalism?”

      Since there is so much user-generated content online now, don’t you think media ethics should be taught to everyone, not just journalists?

      Wikipedia, in its way, teaches people about verifying information.

      And there’s been great debate concerning bloggers and more traditional news sources about “get it first” versus “get it right.”

      And now we are in the midst of discussions about the extent to which bloggers should disclose if they have been paid for reviews or if are being compensated with free items.

      So at least some ethics discussions are filtering out into the greater community. The concept that the only ethical reporters are those who have gone to J-schools is how we’ve gotten the Church of Journalism.

      • Lluís permalink
        March 27, 2010 7:11 pm

        Suzanne, I agree with you that “at least some ethics discussions are filtering out into the greater community”. I wish more people could learn about the ethics of journalism. However, in my eyes, if you are not a professional jounalist, you are not obliged to be aware of the impact that the content that you are generating will have.

        I think that, even though nowadays everybody can generate content, not everybody that generates content is a journalist. Precisely because more people are behaving as journalists without being jounalists, I think that “journalism” is more necessary than ever.

      • March 27, 2010 7:41 pm

        “I think that, even though nowadays everybody can generate content, not everybody that generates content is a journalist. Precisely because more people are behaving as journalists without being jounalists, I think that ‘journalism’ is more necessary than ever.”

        I understand what you are saying about the value of “trusted sources.” But I’m not sure funneling people through J-schools as a way to create a group of “trusted sources” is going to work in today’s media environment. If there is a way to create an economic model that supports this group of J-school-trained professionals, then yes that credential program model can continue to be supported. But if the general public isn’t paying for “trusted sources” and if non-J-school-trained people also establish themselves as “trusted sources,” then the model doesn’t work so well anymore.

        The “Church of Journalism” model does suggest that some people enter into journalism as a calling. But now we have others who are putting out content as a calling as well. It’s a bit like the Reformation, where we have devoted people continuing to write, but they are no longer going through the equivalent of the Catholic Church.

  29. March 27, 2010 7:02 pm

    What if J-schools shifted focus from turning out a professional group of reporters to developing media education programs that were taught starting in elementary schools?

    Rather than trying to create a professional group that “created and owned the news” the schools could find ways to help a world of citizen journalists to achieve higher standards and being more productive/useful?

    The J-schools would create a generation of media teachers rather than another wave of content creators.

  30. March 27, 2010 8:02 pm

    A lot of the discussion here has been focused on what journalism is or isn’t, and whether journalism schools are even needed anymore to train students for the field. I was a traditional journalist for 25 years before becoming a college instructor less than two years ago. But what I see happening at our J-school is as much a revolution in journalism education as there is in the industry itself. From what I have read in this blog and most of the responses, there really seems to be an ignorance of what really IS going on in J-schools today.

    Good writing, reporting and editing (print, audio, video or online) are all just skills. Cameras, laptops and iphones are just tools. What students do with those skills and tools — in J-schools or computer science programs or political science classes — is what matters. A good J-school today opens students to possibilities while teaching them the basics. And those possibilities are ever-changing. So it’s also about teaching them to be nimble, creative and adaptive.

    Journalism schools — and universities — are more than places to learn facts and skills. They are places where youth melds with experience and where innovation is encouraged. In a time of such excitement and growth in information technology, what better place to try new things, experiment and find new ways to “do journalism”?

    At Michigan State, where we are implementing a new curriculum for the fall, we’ve tried to infuse every course with not only lessons on critical thinking, reporting and writing but also tasks that teach students to tell stories in different ways and on various platforms. Students take fewer journalism “core” classes and more in a “concentration” that can be computer science (for hacker journalists to be), graphics and design, or political science (for the aspiring political reporter). Students are encouraged to find their passion, create a niche and cultivate it. They are guided to brand themselves before ever leaving college.

    The energy is palpable. I have students who are teaching ME, they are learning so quickly. New student publications — online and in print — are easier than ever to create. Students are creating their own Web sites on independent study, with the guidance of instructors who have backgrounds in print, online, social media, graphics and marketing. Where better to do this than in a risk-free environment? Some of the projects being cultivated at MSU (and I suspect at nearly every other good journalism school across the country) will make their way into the “real world” and help shape the future of journalism and information — whatever that may be.

    If J-schools create an atmosphere for learning, we will foster information leaders — no matter what their area of expertise or where they use it. I don’t care if my students use their skills to work on a traditional daily or an innovative start-up. Many do have double majors, concentrations, areas of interest. They will be successful because at the core, they have learned the basics of communicating and have been immersed for four years in a creative environment that teaches them they CAN do anything they put their mind to.

    Journalism schools become irrelevant? I certainly hope not. If fact, I think there’s a case to be made we are more relevant and needed than ever before.

    Nancy Hanus, visiting editor-in-residence for new media, Michigan State University

  31. March 27, 2010 8:14 pm

    “A good J-school today opens students to possibilities while teaching them the basics. And those possibilities are ever-changing. So it’s also about teaching them to be nimble, creative and adaptive.”

    What I am asking is whether we need to separate these skills into its own program or whether they are now so fundamental to communicating that everyone should have them.

    I know that some J-schools have become multi-media schools rather than schools about reporting. But, as you have pointed out, the field is changing so quickly that as soon as students are taught how to use one set of tools, those tools become so accessible to everyone that what needs to be learned can be taught at a community education class over an evening or weekend.

    So what are the skill sets in J-schools that are so time-consuming that they need their own school or majors? I absolutely believe in teaching people how to communicate online, the value of story-telling, how to do research, etc. So I am not trying to belittle those at all. They are very important skills. But why are they offered as something separate from the college experience as a whole? Or from the high school experience as a whole?

    Should J-school courses be offered as a combination of classes required by all students and a series of electives for more in-depth pursuits rather than as a free-standing program?

  32. March 27, 2010 8:28 pm

    This topic fascinates me and I have been in this discussion for nearly 20 years, hence all my comments.

    When I was looking into master’s programs, I wanted something in marketing, but not an MBA. I thought I would get an MS in marketing, but the university eliminated it. When the MA in Integrated Marketing Communications was offered, that seemed like a good alternative, so I signed up for that.

    What I never considered, because it didn’t sound particularly interesting, was a degree in library science. But after I got my master’s in 1993 and also started to spend hours online, I discovered that some of the most interesting observations about information organization were coming from librarians. No longer was library science just about working at the local library helping people find books. It might have been an interesting college degree to have pursued.

    So perhaps there shouldn’t be a division between journalism and library science if the goal is to make information accessible to the widest possible audiences. Also there have been some great online results in data visualization. GOOD magazine is establishing a place for itself in this area.

  33. March 27, 2010 9:15 pm

    The bottom line is that communication skills, as much as we value them here and in our own fields, are NOT emphasized or valued in society as a whole. High school students are taught how to write (sometimes) but not how to think critically. Same for college students. We can say “this should be taught” all we want, but in reality it does not currently happen. I don’t think it will happen across the board anytime soon.

    So journalism schools help ensure that students who do want to communicate for a living have the tools. Yes, some students can get by without that training, just as some people have become business owners without going to business school or become marketers without getting a marketing degree. But I believe the skills being taught in J-schools help students have the tools to be as successful as possible in any area of communication.

    I hear all the time that journalism graduates are sought after for many jobs outside journalism. That’s no accident. They understand how to communicate, and increasingly they understand how to do so on many different platforms and very quickly. Skills taught? There are so many, and they change every day. Beyond the basics, students are able to hone their skills in programs that allow them to report live online; create their own blogs; cover news stories via blogs, social media and online news sites; edit audio and video; create google maps and visualizations. More importantly, they don’t just learn these as skills but as tools to bring together the reporting and writing they do as a part of their classes. It’s not about knowing how to edit in Photoshop. It’s about knowing when a photo tells the story alone vs. with audio, or paired with a number of other photos in a slideshow. Do numbers tell the story alone in a database, or do they need a story to help explain them? I know I’m getting into detail here, but people think it’s about teaching software or tools. It’s not.

    We have an avalanche of information pouring on us everyday, from every direction. I don’t know about you, but I need someone to make sense of it for me. Journalists are leading the way in doing that, because they know how to organize, aggregate, sort fact from rumor. As we teach citizen journalists to do these things (and yes, I do believe strongly in citizen journalism), we have a role as journalists to ensure fairness and accuracy. For citizen journalists who help feed watchdog journalism, the journalists will be the ones to pull this information together and make sense of it through all the sophisticated ways they are learning in schools today. Will they go on learning? I hope so. We are just giving them the foundation.

    Some may argue people can learn these things on their own. Some might.

    I guess you could say we might get rid of all the arts schools, too. I mean, people can paint and sing on their own, can’t they? Why have schools? Well, sure. Everyone can sing, but how do you learn how to sing REALLY WELL? Better than everyone else? Some just do it on their own. Others need training. Same for journalists. Everyone can communicate. Few people do it really well, and the more people trained to do it really well, the better off we’ll be.

    • March 27, 2010 9:42 pm

      “I guess you could say we might get rid of all the arts schools, too. I mean, people can paint and sing on their own, can’t they? Why have schools?”

      It’s funny you should mention this because I think it may be better not to get a degree in art unless you plan to teach. If you are just wanting to learn to make art, doing it without hoping to earn a degree might be better. I’ve found, both in my own personal experience and watching friends who have been in art programs, that creativity for a grade can be stifling. You end up make art that the teacher wants you to make.

      Same with music. I’ve known people who started out in music programs and then left because they realized they would be better served by going out and making music rather than taking music courses in a college setting.

      College programs that train people to teach art, music, theater, etc. make sense because you usually need that credential to get a job.

      I also see some innovative ideas coming from college professors doing research. (I’m especially fond of what is coming from the MIT Media Lab.)

      But college programs that teach creativity (e.g., art, theater, music, creative writing) might be better accomplished via non-degree programs where you aren’t graded.

      Back in the draft days, arts degrees were a way to go to college, postpone going to Vietnam, and still be able to study what you wanted. So I know why an entire generation did it. But now that people don’t go to college to avoid the draft, but rather to become better educated and hopefully land good jobs, perhaps some pursuits are better suited to traditional college settings than others.

  34. March 28, 2010 12:01 am

    Journalism is not about he said, she said. That’s what cable television is about. Journalism is about verification, about asking questions that need to be asked, about holding the powerful accountable.
    When journalism fails, bad things happen.

    Instead of being journalists, the news organizations (with a few exceptions) played human microphone
    stand for Wall Street. We’ve seen the mess. With a few exceptions, the news organizations played human microphone stand for the Bush Administration. We ended up with wars that weren’t necessary.

    There’s no need for he said/she said education. There is great need to train professional journalists.

    • March 28, 2010 12:20 am

      “Instead of being journalists, the news organizations (with a few exceptions) played human microphone stand for Wall Street. We’ve seen the mess. With a few exceptions, the news organizations played human microphone stand for the Bush Administration. We ended up with wars that weren’t necessary. … There is great need to train professional journalists.”

      I was so frustrated in both those examples that the right questions weren’t asked.

      Do you think the current system can train people to ask those questions? Or you think there’s a better way?

  35. March 28, 2010 1:50 am

    Can the current system train people to ask questions? It better. Is there a better way? Maybe.

    I think citizen journalism is going to push that point. If professional journalists can learn to work alongside citizen journalists, there is great potential for watchdog journalism to not only return to where it was but to be better than ever. More eyes and ears, more sources, more power to report. But that will require a lot of give on the part of professional journalists, who are used to being the stars. It’s also a big adjustment for journalism schools to incorporate that into the curriculum, because there’s still a mindset that citizen journalism will bring down the quality of journalism as a whole. In reality, I think it will make it stronger. Egos will need to be left at the door.

    Entire communities are going without coverage because of the contraction of the industry, and, as Karl Idsvoog said, bad things are certainly happening as a result of that lack of coverage. If citizen journalism meets professional journalism and finds a method for verification and a way to reach an acceptable level of quality, I believe the result will be very powerful. Citizen journalists can help make professional journalists better because every piece of information has the potential to add to the truth of the story.

  36. Gonzoro permalink
    March 28, 2010 3:58 am

    Yes, going to journalism school is not required to become a great journalist, but the same can be said for anything that doesn’t require a laboratory or accreditation, like law or accounting. Those who want to close down all the academic programs that don’t have an immediate or measurable value, are really just saying that art is just a waste of time. Journalism programs, like philosophy and photography programs are less about the graduates they produce then they are monuments to what we hold valuable as a society. Do we really want to live in a world where the lawyers, mathematicians, and scientists define everything there is to know?

    • March 28, 2010 5:20 am

      “Journalism programs, like philosophy and photography programs are less about the graduates they produce then they are monuments to what we hold valuable as a society.”

      That’s an interesting point, because I believe J-schools were set up as professional schools rather than liberal arts schools. I think they were modeled after schools that produce professionals in accredited fields rather than after schools that produce “well-educated” students who study history, economics, philosophy, etc.

      What I have been argued for is reuniting potential journalists with the larger student body rather than separating them into the priesthood of the Church of Journalism. For example, encourage all students to take part in the student paper, the student radio station, etc. Include multi-media (and journalism ethics) as part of the curriculum for all students. Include media history as a liberal arts course. Include media economics as a business course. For that matter, perhaps if ethics is the big issue, make journalism as a subsection of political science or philosophy. Of course, a lot of what I am tossing out here becomes a faculty issue. Established J-school faculty would not want to be absorbed into other departments, but it might make sense from a media-of-the-future viewpoint.

      As I mentioned, I’ve been having these same discussions as far back as 1993. Actually, in a way, as far back as 1979 because the first editor I worked with had been an English major undergrad who stopped pursuing her master’s in English at Columbia University to become a full-time writer and magazine editor and then book editor (and then publisher). She wasn’t a journalist, but she introduced me to a community of writers and we did discuss educational paths. That was back in the day when writers weren’t asked for their educational resumes, just their clips.

      And after I got my master’s degree, I briefly thought about going back to the same school to get a Ph.D. in mass communications. I spoke to the head of the school and said I had had professional experience. I told me that would probably hurt me rather than help me get into the program.

      The very fact that people say students come into journalism schools without the necessary research/reporting skills and therefore the program is useful is a damning statement on the state of education. The well-educated citizen should be learning these skills. And hopefully discussions like this will push us forward on the matter.

      I’m not at all trying to minimize the skills necessary to write and report in today’s environment. What I am suggesting is that perhaps the current educational set-up, where we have J-schools that are separate entities from the liberal arts, business, and engineering schools doesn’t make sense when everyone is now blogging, tweeting, and putting up videos, and as newspapers, TV networks, and magazines are cutting back. The divisions have blurred.

      • March 28, 2010 5:48 am

        TYPO alert: That should have been “He told me that would probably hurt me rather than help me get into the program.”

        Unfortunately this blog doesn’t offer me an edit option. I have caught several typos in my posts. I could use a copy editor. 🙂

  37. E.S. Witthoeft permalink
    March 28, 2010 6:44 pm

    I have worked for 30 years, in newspapers, on the web and in TV. I’ve been a reporter, an editor, a web editor, a TV producer, a TV coordinating producer, a TV news editor. I’ve worked in news and sports. Very early in my career, I did brief stints as an advertising copywriter and a PR person for a college. In all of these jobs I have created content, from stories, headlines and picture captions, to widgets, graphics and inline links to teases and bumps, pieces, segments, news-magazine shows to daily news shows. Sometimes, I have also taught journalism inbetween. And I still consider myself a journalist, call myself a journalist. And I’m proud of that title. In the end, the forms change and the delivery systems change, but it’s still about delivering information and delivering information that’s accurate and fair. That hasn’t changed and hopefully, won’t change. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. But my journalism credits were a small part of my education. I also studied history, politics, economics and literature. I’ve always believed a well-rounded education was key to being able to explain the world around me. I hope my readers/viewers have agreed. And I hope to top off my career by returning to teaching, to ensure that the future generations of journalists hold dear the principles that should not change even if the medium does.

  38. March 29, 2010 2:52 pm

    We need to be schooled in writing, thinking and reporting objectively as well as focus on a specialty.

    As a health care communicator and a Journalism undergrad degree and a Master’s in Health Care Administration, my experience has been that few journalists with no post-grad training really understand what is happening in the health care sector. Twelve hundred pages of health care reform legislation is just an indication of how complicated this stuff can be!

    On the other hand, when I’m looking for new interns, I’m constantly searching for young people in college who can write! Not everyone seems to have that skill set just because they went to college. A good friend and wonderful writer once told me to “just keep reading good content like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times every day. That’s your model and that’s what you need to learn.”

    Good topic, thanks…

  39. March 29, 2010 4:05 pm

    This is a fascinating thread. Back in 1985, in Journalism 101, we worried that television was dumbing down the news. No context, totally superficial — Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” come to life. What did that mean for serious journalism?

    Today, David Murray (@themurr) says that internal communication is as important to democracy as public education — that used to be a saw in praise of journalism.

    I admit to more than a passing fondness for the 30 or so years between Edward R. Murrow and Watergate — the pinnacle of ostensibly unbiased journalism in the public service. All was well until Uncle Walter told us the Viet Nam War was lost.

    Now, it’s caveat emptor — who knows what the truth is — it’s Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” come to life, with corporations running news as entertainment content, not journalism; the fairness doctrine tossed on its ear and cross-ownership rules crushed. All that’s left is independent journalism that people don’t seem to want to pay for – the bubble headed bleach blonde comes on at five, she can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.

    Journalism schools should be like other disciplines – teach students how to think critically and draw conclusions supported by data.

    Sean
    @commammo

  40. Larry Higgs permalink
    March 29, 2010 8:51 pm

    What I loved about my J-school experience was that it was at a government sponsored County College (ivy leaguers can gasp now) and the woman who ran the program was a veteran daily newspaper reporter who believed in a boots-on-the-ground approach of intergating the campus newspaper into the J-program. You took the classes and you reported and wrote for the paper, it was as live and hands on as it got. And as some of the other posters had suggested, you were required to take non-J school courses. I never thought that a “Bio of the Environment” course would have helped until I had to cover suburban environmental and sewer issues and could understand the engineer speak that told residents why their lawn turned to goo when they did a laundry or explain about the “superfund” Toxic waste site up the road from them. Based on that experience, I’ve often maintained that should be the model, teach the craft of writing and reporting, write for a live (campus) paper, website, radio or tv station and be required to take other stuff you’ll need to understand in the future – government, science, history, finance, environmental courses, sociology, education, etc, since those are the topics you will be writing about.
    I also worked with editors who had their own reactions to applicants with higher degrees. (“He has a Masters in Journalism, but can he cover a planning board?”) I doubt J-school will disapper, it will just change, (as the industry had better change) and mix the real world courses in with the craft of Journalism. Mary Hires, you got it right!

  41. Jim Brann permalink
    March 29, 2010 10:12 pm

    I have always told my journalism students that America’s editors have missed or come very late to nearly all of the important stories since WWII: race, environmental disaster, the futility of the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq. And most editors ignored Woodward and Bernsteins’ Watergate stories or buried them—for about 8 months after they began writing them. Now, we are running out of drinking water, something that ought to be on every front page every damned day, and editors rarely give it coverage.

    Getting good stories into newspapers is not as easy as it appears. In 1972, it became apparent that the Nixon Administration had devised a way to imprison Americans without a trial and without bringing criminal charges (by abusing the federal grand jury system). The hippie press covered it well, but the Mainstream editors ignored it until the feds locked up a Harvard professor without
    a trial—Sam Popkin. Then editors awakened and made a fuss. But the feds backed down and quickly released Popkin and the press dozed again. This was machinery for the establishment of a
    police state and nobody cared, except the hippie press. God knows what would have happened if Watergate guard Frank Wills had not called the DC police.

    ANYHOW—the good journalism schools teach kids how to think about how society functions
    and how journalism tells us about it, usually ineffectually. And it is good for students to
    be exposed to great reporters in the classroom like George Esper at the U of West Virginia,
    Isabel Wilkerson at Boston University and Len Downie at Cronkite.

    OH—and nearly all undergraduate journalism programs require students to take 75% of their
    courses outside of journalism.

  42. Liz Birge permalink
    March 29, 2010 11:00 pm

    No one ever said that journalists had to go to journalism schools. Many editors prefer reporters who have a major in one of the liberal arts areas rather than journalism. In fact, the surge in j-school enrollment didn’t start until after Watergate.

  43. April 20, 2010 9:54 am

    Wow, this was quite a read! Lots of strong opinions shared amungst you all, well done everyone on creating a wonderfull read!

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