April 4, 2005

To-do lists…

At the Society of Professional Journalists Region 7 Conference, Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, offered a short to-do list for fixing what ails journalism. Tim Porter, taking advantage of the medium of hypertext, offers a different list ahead of the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

My favorites:

* Don’t Cover the Community, Be the Community. Learn to enable journalism by citizens. Empower readers with the publishing tools. Aggregate their work and their voices. Celebrate them. Get engaged. Lead civic discourse. Be on the side of the people, not the establishment. Dig, dig, dig – into the backgrounds of public officials, civic and corporate institutions and the flow of money. This is a differentiating capability of newspapers. [Read: Don’t Reflect the Community, Be the Community.]

* Hire Do-ers, Learners and Critical Thinkers First, Then the J-School Grads. Journalism isn’t rocket science and a journalism degree doesn’t mean its holder will do work that is interesting, compelling, exciting, innovative or even up to the basic standards of reporting and editing. Some do, but many more don’t. What qualities does a newspaper-based news organization need to chance and succeed today? Here’s my list: Personal drive and accountability, collaborative communication skills, the ability to learn new things with minimal direction, literacy in several media, a sense of adventure and risk and competitive instincts. Let’s get that those people and then teach them the journalism skills.

The first one seems painfully obvious to me. But the second one may seem an odd choice for a journalism professor. I think journalism education, done right, produces exactly the kind of do-er that Porter seeks. What’s done right? For starters:

  1. Teach journalism history so students have an understanding of profession’s context and development.
  2. Teach the basics of journalistic practice, and then challenge every step of that practice.
  3. Teach a deeper understanding of language issues–including courses in rhetoric and linguistics.
  4. Teach the contemporary controversies and criticisms.
  5. Teach reporting skills in various media–especially interactive media.
  6. Teach the art of asking critical questions.
  7. Teach the idea that journalism may be practiced well or poorly at any level (local to national), and citizens of every community deserve the very best effort from journalists.
  8. Teach The Elements of Journalism.

Finally, all of this should happen within a non-comprehensive major, i.e. the student must still take a significant amount of course work in the liberal arts and sciences. I’m also a big believer in minors in journalism.

18 Responses

  1. Sisyphus 

    re: painfully obvious to be the community

    And yet, journalism’s ideology is to not be the community. (LINK and LINK)

    re: What’s done right?

    One of the difficulties at the level of academics that you teach, is differentiating between teaching technical skills and nuturing entreprenurial creativity. The structural biases of academics tend to favor the technical. It is easier to teach, to measure, more objective. Your list seems technical. Porter seems to be talking about proven entrepreneurs, first, then the technically competent.

    re: frustration and “idiots” from the previous thread.

    I’ve counted to 10. Then 10 again. Then slept on it.

    It’s not frustration I’m feeling Andy. Frustration is there, but it’s more, much more, than that.

    Eyes on the Prize
    Pulitzer Award For Photography A Disgrace

    Not “TRYING” to hurt?

  2. acline 

    S- While my list may seem technical (some of it surely is), I can assure you there are several things there that would make many of my fellow j-profs squirm. Look how often I allude to or specifically mention critical thinking skills (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7) –exactly the skills entrepreneurial students need.

    Re: trying to hurt

    Does the photograph represent a salient exemplar?

  3. rgrafton 

    There was a recent column in the Chicago Tribune, which was essentially a puff piece about Ted Koppel, but contained an interest bit of information that I either didn’t know or had forgotten. During the Iranian hostage crisis in the ’70’s, the terrorists were so sophisticated that they were able to play the press like a tune. They were able to chant “Death to America” in Persian, French, English, whatever,depending on the camera crew that showed up. Our US press served up these stage-managed photo opportunities (from reading the press today,I would have thought that GWB invented fake news) and were working in collusion with terrorists, but leaving the US public in the dark. Sweet, huh?

    I’d go Jon Stewart one better—-it isn’t just Crossfire that’s hurting our country, it’s the press that’s hurting us.

  4. Sisyphus 

    re: “Does the photograph represent a salient exemplar?”

    1. I believe so, yes.
    2. It’s won a Pulitzer, so you can argue that it is an exemplary exemplar.

    Murder for Media Wins Pulitzer

  5. acline 

    R- I’ll be the first to tell you that the press should not cover staged events. It does hurt. But they are not TRYING to hurt you by doing it. They kid themselves that they are covering “news.” Different intention if not a different result.

  6. acline 

    S- re: exemplary exemplar

    No. Don’t change the terms. I want to know if it is a salient exemplar, i.e. it is indicative of ALL journalism (local to international).

  7. re: “indicative of ALL journalism (local to international)”

    Geez, Andy, YES! But be my guess to explain how that picture and the ideology rampant among journalism that used it off the AP wire and it represented in awarding the Pulitzer is not a salient exemplar.

    I’m all eyes.

  8. Hey Andy, I’ll do you one better: Here’s the link to the photos submitted.

    Bad News Bias? Is the Bad News Bias a salient exemplar?

  9. acline 

    S- I went on the record against staged news events years ago. And I agree with your disgust over this photo, its context, and its implications. You don’t have to convince me. I hate it, too.

    Bad news bias. Yep. You got that right. And as I have said before, some of the professional practices that spring from these biases are harmful. That doesn’t mean that journalists have nefarious intentions. They are operating within a set of norms. Many of those norms need to be changed. You’ll get a lot farther in helping change those norms by not assuming that every journalist (including the 22-year-old, newly-graduated rookie on her first job at the local weekly???!!!) wants to hurt the public.

    A salient exemplar? Of ALL journalism? Think about what that includes. Man, I’ll bet the guys at Field & Stream just think they’re helping people catch fish 🙂

  10. re: “nefarious intentions” and “get a lot farther”

    What a fascinating statement for someone within the profession to make to someone outside the profession.

    It doesn’t make a whit of difference to me whether the harm is being done intentionally or not by people who claim to belong to a profession.

    No society has a profession that causes harm.

    A profession that is causing harm to their clients, intentionally or not, and losing public trust is in a professional crisis. When they lose their clients and the public’s trust they cease to be a profession.

    Journalism isn’t a profession because the corporate identity is too weak to internally fix what is causing harm.

  11. Oh, and that includes the Field & Stream guys.

    So, don’t tell me you hate it. Tell your professional society. Maybe they’ll write another nasty-gram, like the one about VNRs.

  12. acline 

    re: “A profession that is causing harm to their clients, intentionally or not, and losing public trust is in a professional crisis.”

    Can you point to anything I’ve ever written on this weblog that would lead you to believe I disagree with this? This is what my hammering on the structural biases is all about!

    So what are your intentions? Do you propose to help bring about positive change in journalism and its professional practice? Or something else?

  13. re: my intentions

    Gee, Mr. Cline, I was just thinking movie and a dinner. I swear to have journalism home by 9 and only try for a good night kiss.


  14. acline 

    S- 🙂 Okay, but I do think it’s an important question–in both contexts 🙂 I do not mean to suggest nefarious intent on your part. I would like to know. Let’s put the question in this context: As an MBA member, what is it that you see yourself doing as a media blogger?

  15. Sisyphus 

    Four things.

    1. Carrot
    2. Stick
    3. Competition
    4. National News Council (or something like it)

    I’m trying to figure out what are good carrots and good sticks. I’m trying to figure out how to encourage and promote constructive competition.

    I’m feeling like a lone voice on the NNC concept.

  16. acline 

    re: lone voice

    That’s where good things often start. Keep talking.

    BTW, I’m looking forward to meeting you in person at Nashville!

  17. rgrafton 

    Don’t hold your breath on the NCC, Sis. In an online forum at PBS with Jay Rosen and Michael Getler, Getler came out forcefully against doctrines, regulations, codes of conduct or councils for the press (but not for everyone else, of course!). I’m assuming Getler’s position is the mainstream view of the attempt to bring accountability to the press. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/forum/april05/media_ethics.html

  18. ac, re: Nashville!

    Me too! I’ll be staying at the Courtyard Nashville Vanderbilt/West End. I’ll be arriving Friday and leaving Sunday morning. I haven’t decided when on Friday yet, because the Blogging & Journalism Panel Discussion is still “Time TBA”.

    Do you know the layout of the hotel or Belmont U? If so, and want to arrange a get together, let me know.

    I’ll be “on” the Military Blogging panel, which if I understand how bloggercons go means more a discussion facilitator than an SME. Discussion topics I’m advocating are here.

    R – re: Getler

    I’m pushing a rock uphill (again), I know. It’s not a new idea and I’m not an insider making the case. Maybe it’s the right time to revisit it again? Maybe outside pressure is what’s needed? Maybe, maybe, …. But then, see my blog-handle, right?