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Posts Tagged ‘journalism school’

Is journalism something you need to study?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, work on September 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm
The Six Ws of Journalism and Police Investigations

The Six Ws of Journalism and Police Investigations (Photo credit: Image Editor)

Does anyone really need to study journalism?

No, says one lifer, Bill Cotterell:

NPR reported early this year that there are more journalism students than there are jobs – not just vacancies, all jobs – in newsrooms across America. It’s not that we don’t need more j-school grads today, though we don’t. It’s that we need more reporters with knowledge of economics, politics, science, business, history and the liberal arts. And they need to love reading.

Far too many of the young reporters I’ve worked with over the past 20 years seem to get their vocabularies from TV and their spelling from text messages. Many regard reading as a chore, maybe even an infringement on their First Amendment rights as j-school grads.

Journalism education is nice, but beyond the basics, not necessary. Anyone who’s smart, cares about news and works hard can learn the five Ws – who what, when, where and why – in a couple weeks. Then, if they learn from their mistakes, they can get good at telling you what’s really going on.

And yet, we still need to agree on a few ground rules — for sources, readers and reporters.

The New York Times has just instituted a  “quote approval” ban, which now means if you speak to a Times reporter, you’re done. No after-the-fact tidying things up or, worst case, denying what you said in the first place.

It’s become normal for powerful people to insist that the only way a reporter can speak to them is if they get to approve their remarks after they have said them.

They have other choices, like:

Get media training, which anyone that powerful can afford to pay for.

Keep a flack in the room or on the phone during the interview.

Tape the interview.

Watch your mouth!

I’ve been working as a journalist since 1978 and it’s been depressing as hell to see how things have changed. I was recently interviewed, by email, by an NYU journalism student and I did insist for the first time on quote approval.

Because…I don’t know her, I don’t know anything about her ethics or values and because too many younger reporters have a very different idea what’s fair game.

And plagiarism seems to be rampant, for reasons every working journalist knows all too well. The latest accusations are against Globe & Mail columnist Margaret Wente, a powerful figure with a sharp tongue.

This comment is from the Toronto Standard:

I bet many an overworked journalist is panicking right now over the thought that, perhaps, in a rush to meet the deadlines that come sooner and sooner, he or she has forgotten an attribution here or there. For too many people these days, being a journalist means a perpetual Please God, don’t let me get laid off next freefall to the bottom of what was once their journalistic integrity.

So, tell me, who in their right mind is going to publicly question Wente and the Globe and Mail when, for all they know, their publication could be guilty of just the same sort of negligence?

I never studied journalism anywhere. I’ve attended many conferences, but they focused on craft or how and where to best sell my writing. I’ve taught journalism, at Concordia in Montreal and Pace University in New York, as well as to adult night classes at NYU.

I have mixed feelings about studying journalism.

I think it’s probably best done as a graduate degree, preferably after a few years in the real world after doing an undergraduate degree (in politics, economics, history, sociology, anything but journalism) or not attending college at all.

I think the most essential ingredient of being a terrific journalist — for print, broadcast, online, books — is a clear understanding of your role as impartial story-teller (for hard news) and well-informed commenter for anything that requires or allows for a point of view.

Attribution — giving full and clear credit to others for their original work — is imperative.

Here’s my list of “what it takes”, which I hand out to my journalism students.

Among the 24 qualities and skills I think every journalist needs are being:

outgoing

passionate

literate

numerate

open-minded

I know some of Broadside’s readers are studying journalism, or have.

What do you think?

Three Days After Graduation, J-Student Scores Interview With Nets' Owner Mikhail Prokhorov

In business, Media on May 21, 2010 at 8:35 am
File photo taken April 24, 2008 shows billiona...

Prokhorov. Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Here’s a story from the New York Observer, for all you fresh grads — a journalism student, who three days after graduation from Columbia J-school, scored one of the most coveted interviews in New York City. Only two outlets got a private chat with Prokhorov:

He is not exactly a bold-faced name.

Two years years ago, Mr. Rotondaro was working in a pizza kitchen. He began writing more and more, and published a few items for The Huffington Post, worked briefly as a crime reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle and then enrolled in j-school.

By his own admission, he wasn’t an obvious choice for the sit-down. He spent the last few months occasionally filing for a blog run by Columbia called Brooklyn Ink. He had five bylines.

Then, there he was, getting one of the most in-demand exclusives of the week and delivering a 2,300 word Q & A with Mr. Prokhorov.

Mr. Rotondaro said that he received an email about three weeks ago. It was light on details. In the note, he was asked if he would be interested in an exclusive interview with someone really important. It didn’t say who. If he was interested in pursuing this further, he should call this number…

Mr. Rotondaro wisely decided to call.

“I was kind of weirded out,” he said. “But they left a number and you might as well call back, right?”

When he called, a handler said that Mr. Prokhorov wanted a Brooklyn blogger to interview him. The handler had read some of his stuff on The Huffington Post and thought Mr. Rotondaro would be perfect. He said Mr. Prokhorov wanted “to meet up with you. Pick your favorite bar or café in Brooklyn.”

I love that a blogger got the nod.

These sorts of chances are becoming increasingly rare in a world where, in addition to the traditional media outlets of radio, television and print, those seeking PR — and journos seeking an exclusive or a scoop — are playing needle in a haystack. Who to choose and why? Ambitious journalists always need Really Big Stories to beef up their portfolios, especially when they’re just starting out, to prove they’ve really got the skills to snag something great and to handle it well when they do.

People like Prokhorov are surrounded by the razor wire of multiple handlers and minions and flacks. If Vinnie had tried to reach out to him — would he even have dared? — the odds of success would, normally, have been risible.

The visibility of blogs and their writers has changed the game, and this can only be a good thing. The challenge will be for those bloggers, certainly those with no background or training in journalism ethics and practice, to know what to do with the material and avoid manipulation — we work alone and have no backstopping, eyebrow-raised editors saying “Really?”

It’s fun to hit “publish” without interference, but it brings its own specific dangers as well. (Lawsuits, for one.)

The only downside here — HuffPo still doesn’t pay its writers. True/Slant does.

Ten Gifts For The Would-Be Journo/Non-Fiction Writer; Good Luck, Grads — You'll Need It

In business, education, Media on May 17, 2010 at 8:39 am
Cover of "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions...

Cover via Amazon

I never studied journalism, but have taught it many times since; I was an English major at the University of Toronto. But I knew from the age of 12 this was what I wanted to do — and the only thing I wanted to do.

I also knew it would be, as it is and continues to be, damn hard. This industry is filled with rich, connected kids — of all ages — bringing social capital, huge confidence and parental financing that allows them to work for nothing. They, and thousands of others, are your competition.

Today’s fresh grads — good luck! – are clambering into the leaky, sinking lifeboats of our profession. It’s tempting to beat them off with our shredded oars, so few and so precious are the remaining seats.

From The Times of London, in a very long (but very wisely written) piece on why journalism and why it’s so damn hard:

Indeed, Justin Lewis, head of the school of journalism at Cardiff University, says that part of his role is to temper the high expectations of students.

“Some of them do come here with very idealistic notions of what being a journalist is all about,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to hammer that out of them, but we need to be realistic about what those opportunities are. Research we’ve done within the school has shown that each journalist produces three times as much copy today as they did 20 years ago. So it’s tougher. It’s tougher to get a job, and it’s tougher when they’re in a job, and we need to be clear about that.” Lewis, one expects, also tells his students that journalism is often wonderful. Return to the class of 2008, and you see young reporters enjoying extraordinary experiences. Kate Mansey, for example, was sent to Afghanistan in 2007 for a month, where she wrote a memorable story about a family of heroin addicts on the outskirts of Kabul. The youngest addict was a nine-year-old girl.

Jerome Taylor, meanwhile, has talked through the night with asylum seekers in Calais. Claire Newell went undercover to tease prominent MPs into admitting their role in the cash-for-honours scandal and the cash-for-influence scandal which sank Stephen Byers. Helen Pidd spent a day being rude to people in Perth, after it was voted Britain’s most polite town. The list goes on.

There will be those who could think of nothing worse than meeting poor Afghanis, or hoodwinking politicians, or testing the patience of Scotsmen. Fair enough — sell cars. But there will also be those for whom the idea of such encounters is intoxicating, and the prospect of reporting such experiences more thrilling still. These people, if they are lucky and tenacious enough, become journalists.

Yet several of my favorite young journos are doing just fine: one at a website; one at a small newspaper, one as a business writer at the Los Angeles Times and one as a staff shooter for the Denver Post, his first job. Woohoo! So there are jobs and these bright, talented young ‘uns are getting them.

What gifts might I offer a fresh ambitious grad hoping to enter our insane, lovely, terrifying, brutal industry?

1) A really good, comfortable chair you’ll be happy sitting in for hours and hours and hours. At home, alone, in silence. Not sitting in a cafe with with your laptop being groovy and listening to tunes or chatting with your peeps via webcam. Working. Writing is not easily or well done with a ton of noisy people all around you. It is not meant to be something people watch you do and admire you doing. It’s not the Olympics.

2) A bicycle or a good pair of walking shoes. You need to get outdoors often. Fresh air, exercise and sunshine on your face will remind you there is a world outside your apartment or car. Pay attention. Take notes, always.

3) A fountain pen. Writing is still a sensual activity. And being able to inscribe your beautiful signature will be so useful when you’re signing autographs and books.

4) Thick, lovely stationery, or a gift certificate for personalized cards and envelopes; try Papersource.com. When it’s time — and it often is — to write a thank-you note, or an attaboy, using good stationery offers an elegant, immediate point of difference from your many competitors when your recipient gets a lovely real letter, sent within a day or two of your meeting. Email, schme-mail.

5) Great business cards. Thick stock, letterpress, with your name, website(s) and phone numbers. Not: cheap, shiny, cheesy. You don’t need a job to have a card. You don’t need someone else to decide you’re a writer. Networking will open many, many doors and part of your lasting first impression is having a card and having a memorably stylish one. Just don’t call yourself a “wordsmith.” Ever.

6) A gym membership. You need to stretch, run, sweat and tap into some endorphins un-related to staring into a computer. Some of your best ideas will come when you are least focused on your work.

7) A gift certificate to a terrific bookstore, preferably a great local indie like Posman in Manhattan or Munro’s in Victoria, B.C. or The Tattered Cover in Denver. Make it as big as you can, so the pile will include reference books, a good dictionary, thesaurus and at least a dozen books of inspiration, whether Follow The Story, by James Stewart, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Random Family, by Adrian Nicole Leblanc.

8) The offer, when it seems right, to send your young writer to the conference of his/her choice. That’s where they’ll meet agents, editors, fellow writers of all levels. It might cost $1,000 if they have to fly/stay in a hotel and pay conference fees. Yes, a string of pearls or a handsome watch are more traditional choices, but this is one (costly) thing s/he really needs.

9) A passport and plane ticket to somewhere more than a six-hour flight off the continental United States: Mexico, Central or Latin America, Asia, the midEast, India. Anywhere but Paris/London/Prague/Berlin. They’ll get there on their own. When you’re young and (somewhat) fearless is the best time to try something new and scary. No mortgage, no kids, no spouse. Go!

10) A really good atlas. My favorite reading. Helps to know where you’re going and gives you places to dream of visiting or living in or working in. Reminds you the world is a large, complicated place.

Plus: a Teflon soul, the utter determination to get it right, compassion, a sturdy and unshakable sense of humor, a good set of fall-back skills (carpentry, languages, a teaching certificate, anything!), some money in the bank, the ability to discern a story from corporate BS. Here’s my list of “what it takes”.

What would you give? What, writers, have you gotten that you loved?

I loved this list of 10 gifts for the budding novelist by Margaret Atwood.

True/Slant Crossover Event! Heading North To Meet Two New Colleagues

In education, Media on April 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm
Boston in 1772 vs. 1880.

Image via Wikipedia

What I enjoy most about True/Slant is having been invited not simply to write, and grow an audience, for a new, lively, smart group of readers. I’ve also met, by phone, email and face to face, great new colleagues, some of whom have become friends — people of all ages whose wit, insights, wisdom and passion can be amazing.

Tomorrow morning I’m on a train up to Boston at the invitation of Jerry Lanson and Jeffrey Seglin, both fellow T/S contributors, who teach journalism at Emerson College. I’ll talk about the ethical issues involved in writing memoir to a class there. I came to True/Slant after a guest lecture last year in April to an NYU class of journalism students that included fellow contributor and Canadian Katie Drummond. Talk about luck.

I’ve emailed T/Sers in China and Canada and have met a few in Manhattan for coffee or lunch. One of them (small world) is the niece of one of my editors from The Globe and Mail, my first journalism job. I hope to get out to Chicago someday to see the cool women who blog from there: Fruszina, Megan, Marjie.

In a time of chaos and upheaval within print journalism, it’s rare and great to find new, collegial peers, even — especially — scattered across a dozen time zones and continents. This visit is a bit of a blind date for all of us, but that’s the T/S spirit. I know it’s going to be fun.

Yeah, Forget J-School. You'll Learn on The Job. What Job?

In business, Media on July 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm
A picture from the top of the Geoman Press at ...

Image via Wikipedia

Journalism school, says freelancer Richard Sine in today’s Huffington Post, is an expensive waste of time.

“You can pick up most media skills on the job, or with a few hours of instruction. If you screw up, nobody dies, and nothing collapses. This is why so many — perhaps most — journalism pros have built successful careers without touching J-school, and why many of them considered a J-degree a dubious credential even in the field’s heyday,” he argues.

I agree with some of what he says in the piece, but then I never went to J-school, like many of my co-horts. We studied English or history or politics or economics and went straight into writing for a living, whether staff or freelance, confident we’d made a cool, fun, challenging career choice. We would, as Sine points out, learn on the job, and we did.

That’s because there was a job. Read the rest of this entry »

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