July 21, 2005

What role for us in fly-over land?…

Orville Schell, Dean of the School of Journalism at Berkeley, writes a guest column on PressThink in response to an earlier column by Jay Rosen regarding the announcement of a consortium of journalism schools dedicated to revitalizing journalism education.

My first reaction zeroed in on a quote by Schell, in which I detected one of sources of journalistic arrogance.

I’m glad to see the members of this consortium plan to encourage other schools and scholars to participate. I plan to participate. And I’ll spend the better part of next semester figuring out what kind of role I’d like to (try to) play. My most serviceable contribution may involve the idea of arrogance as it intersects with local journalism and where our students are likely to work.

The big j-schools can reasonably suppose that their best students will start at “good” jobs and progress to the “highest” levels of the profession. I want to challenge those adjectives because 1) most of our students will not practice at the “highest” levels, and 2) people who read newspapers or watch local news in fly-over land deserve good journalism, too–practiced by journalists who are not simply using the local news organization as a stepping stone. That’s a recipe for disengagement by the reporter who disrespects the community and the community that feels disrespected. Such disengagement, I would think, is anathema to the Carnegie Corporation of New York–one of the funders of this $6 million project.

(I know about such arrogance and disengagement. I was one of those smart-ass young journalists who took a job at a medium-sized southern daily and couldn’t wait to get out of there from the moment I hit town. I realize now what an opportunity I missed to do work that really mattered.)

Here’s what I wrote when this consortium was first announced: “The only size that matters in journalism is community assessment of its quality (does it help do what must be done?) and not its bigness in terms of national influence or circulation.”

So my questions (for now…more to follow) to Schell et. al. are these: What role can a school such as Missouri State University play? What role can I play? Is there room in this grand plan for making local journalism better–the kind of journalism practiced at small newspapers and local television stations?

2 Responses

  1. Lex 

    Having followed that same career track without the same mindset, I’d like to make what I think is a crucial point: You can fall in love with a small town and its paper and want to spend the rest of your career and your life there, and you can even do really good work there, but if you live modestly and still aren’t making enough to pay the bills, what you WANT really isn’t going to matter very much.

    I was at my third daily paper before I ceased to be eligible for food stamps. And adjusted for inflation, my student-loan payments were nowhere near as onerous as those of many recent graduates today. Such conditions have a way of (re)focusing your priorities. Even the cash accompanying a Pulitzer Prize isn’t enough to pay the rent.

  2. acline 

    Lex… Cerainly. My remarks re: my first job should be read as confined to smart-asses like me 🙂 I was lucky; I only had about $1,000 in student loan debt.