Monday, August 13, 2007

The Dying J-School

One of Chronicle's blogs today discusses how journalism schools are slow to adapt to the changing nature of media. At a conference of J-School educators this weekend, "citizen journalism has moved from heresy — a topic to be considered, if at all, only in side conferences and hallways — to something that, while still not widely accepted, is at least of interest."

As a J-School graduate myself, I felt like I started a bit behind the starting gate. It took me a while to acclimate to blogs because in J-School I was taught that they aren't real journalism and we should reject them. This is mainly because journalism classes are taught by more or less retired journalists. The really cutting-edge journalists all have, well, jobs in journalism. Now that blogs have been (rather slowly) adapted to MSM. (Rick Hertzberg is even blogging now, albeit rather badly).

What I was most disappointed about in my J-School education was the way all of my classes basically ignored the fact that the Internet existed. They told us it was better to pick up the phone (it is, although the Internet is a great way to do a lot of background research for a story), go to the library (for what?), and never ever believe anything printed by a blog (!). I didn't learn HTML except by my own initiative. I never learned to write a blog post until I got a job at a magazine.

This makes me wary of the future of journalism, since we seem to have two streams of people entering the field: a group trained in ethics and reporting who think the future is in newspapers (it's not), and a group of people with no ethics or reporting training whatsoever who understand how to write blogs and get them read.

Cross-posted on Campus-Progress.

1 comment:

Ned Ludd said...

I thought this was an interesting article, but the note you end on seems a bit sanctimonious.

The New York Times wrote an article about the bloggers who covered the Libby trial. I think it puts to bed the idea that "a group of people with no ethics or reporting training" do a worse job at, say, reporting.

"With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake 'live blog' has offered the fullest, fastest public report available. Many mainstream journalists use it to check on the trial..."

"'It seems [bloggers] can provide legal analysis and a level of detail that might not be of interest to the general public but certainly has an audience,' Mr. Snook [the court official in charge of the news media] said..."

"In the courthouse, the old- and new-media groups have mixed warily at times. Mainstream reporters have shushed the bloggers when their sarcastic comments on the testimony drowned out the audio feed. But traditional reporters have also called on the bloggers on occasion to check a quote or an obscure detail from the investigation."

Who is this motley crew? "They include a former prosecutor, a current defense lawyer, a Ph.D. business consultant and a movie producer, all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial." Not a trained journalist in the bunch, yet traditional reporters appear to have deferred to them to "check on the trial" or fact-check information.

Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers (formerly of, now at do better reporting of public opinion, demographics, and electoral trends than any mainstream journalist. I can't think of a reporter that can hold a candle to Glenn Greenwald's knowledge of constitutional law and his coverage of FISA, Guantanamo Bay, and other civil liberty stories.

Similarly, it was websites like that pulled up relevant James Madison quotes about the US Attorneys scandal. For example:

"the president can displace from office a man whose merits require that he should be continued in it. What will be [...] the restraints that operate to prevent it? In the first place, he will be im-peachable by this house, before the senate, for such an act of mal-administration; for I contend that the wanton removal of meritorious officers would subject him to impeachment and removal from his own high trust." -- James Madison, speech on presidential power, 1789

It was not a journalist, trained in reporting, who dug back into Madison's 1789 Speech in Congress on Presidential Removal Power. It was a user at a social bookmarking site.

New York City Teacher of the Year John Gatto once argued that schools make kids dumb. He said that they taught "fixed habits" in dealing with authority that inhibit critical thinking. Unfortunately, good reporting requires critical thinking, and, given the American media as evidence, that's not something you learn at school.

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