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:
I know some of Broadside’s readers are studying journalism, or have.
What do you think?