July 21, 2005
"We Have Been Bull-Dozed Aside." Orville Schell Says J-Schools Have to Get More Involved.
The Dean of the School of Journalism at Berkeley writes: "What worries me most is that I think one of the oldest assumptions about journalism - namely, if the story can be told, something will happen for the better - is slowly being rendered inoperable."
I asked Orville Schell—a journalist whose specialty is China, but who is also the esteemed Dean of the Journalism School at University of California, Berkeley—if he wanted to reply to my June 5th post: Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion. He graciously accepted.
That post was my response to the news—pretty big news in my precinct—that four leading journalism schools, plus Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, were joining with two leading foundations, Knight and Carnegie, in an effort to “elevate the standing of journalism in academia and find ways to prepare journalists better,” in the words of a New York Times account:
The unusual collaboration, which has been developing for three years, involves Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University; Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley; Loren Ghiglione, dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University; Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California; and Alex S. Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.
Schell is one of the movers. According to the press release from Carnegie, whose president, Vartan Gregorian, is also a key player in the project, the aim of the partners is to “advance the U.S. news business by helping revitalize schools of journalism.” (See his statement here.)
Revitalizing is needed. And in my haste to deliver my opinion about the press think encoded in the Carnegie-Knight project, I neglected to thank the people involved: Nicholas Lemann, Orville Schell, Loren Ghiglione, Geoffrey Cowan and Alex S. Jones, especially, for sticking their necks out and putting their institutions behind a shift in direction, which is also a pause for reflection.
This is wholly admirable and sorely needed, and as far as I know a first for journalism school deans and directors. If I criticize the project here and there (“I share their sense of urgency. I’m not sure they have the right ideas…”) it’s because I am an active participant in the same basic cause, and complicit in the same crime of not building better, more vital schools of journalism in the United States. And we need ours to be better.
I don’t want to sound picky, but… The press release says the idea is to “advance the U.S. news business.” Is that what a university-based journalism school is all about? I think Schell would say what I would say: as educators we have to know the news business, inside and out, and be engaged with it. What the school is supposed to advance, however, is the craft, conscience and quality of independent journalism.
As Schell explains in his response, the concern at Berkeley is not so much with the “news business,” but the vitality and effectivenesss of journalism itself, its diminished place in American life, and the survival of the social practice when fewer employers care about craft excellence and even aspire to a public service standard.
I agree: these are the big issues for journalism schools today, along with what to do about the rise of the Web and the new world of citizens media— the great opening that has come about in the last few years.
In my prior post, I may have given a false impression about Schell and his partners in this project: They’re not putting themselves forward as anyone’s priests. They’re trying to respond to the challenges they see, and asking other schools to join in later.
In talking about a prieshood in journalism, I didn’t make this clear enough. Besides, I know these people. I’m one of them, more or less, having participated in some of the events Schell describes as background to the new initiative.
“Journalism as a whole is clearly in something of a crisis,” Schell said in the Times article announcing the consortium. Here he explains in considerable detail what he meant by that. I am very glad he did.
- Comment on the news: “Five of American’s Most respected research universities unite in a more than $6 million effort to help revitalize journalism education.” (Carnegie Corporation, May 26, 2005)
Special to PressThink
We Have Been Bull Dozed Aside.
by Orville Schell
Dean, Graduate School of Journalism
University of California-Berkeley
It took us three years of e-mails, phone calls, meetings, discussion and drafting documents to come up with the Carnegie-Knight Initiative. It consists of three main elements:
1. A “research and policy” piece that will be run out of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s JFK School. Here, we have in mind a vehicle through which schools can collectively speak out on critical media issues of the day. That means journalism educators can have more voice. For example, as Judy Miller from the New York Times goes to jail over refusing to release anonymous sources and Matt Cooper from Time Magazine does not, or the case of “60 Minutes and Dan Rather’s coverage of Bush’s National Guard service. These would be examples where journalism schools and universities might want to weigh in on the discussion and debate.
2. An experimental curriculum reform element that encourages journalism programs to match-up reporters with scientists, urban planners, economists, historians, social scientists, legal scholars, foreign policy experts or public policy specialist to co-teach courses.
3. News 21 laboratories, or “incubators” at UC Berkeley, USC, Northwestern and Columbia, which will hire our best recent graduates to experiment with new kinds of multi-media reporting that combine television, radio and the web in new and innovative forms of interactive journalism. (Berkeley will begin by coordinating News 21.)
Some wonder if this “initiative” is not just a caucus of self-righteous and self-designated elitist deans forming itself into a priesthood to get some grants to the exclusion of other university programs. I hope that is not the case.
This is not an exclusive club
First, I should say that UC is a public university and that The Graduate School of Journalism there, where I am Dean, is itself far from being a well-endowed (or a well-heeled) institution. However, we do hope that it is at least a pretender to the aristocracy in terms of excellence in education.
Second, I should also note that there are stipulations in the research part of the grants (to be administered by Alex Jones at the Shorenstein Center) that require two thirds of the funds go to universities other than the five initiators. Moreover, Carnegie is also making four $100,000 grants available to other journalism schools each year for the kind of curriculum experimentation that we ourselves are committed to trying. So, in this way, we hope to serve as a prime mover rather than as some exclusive group that brooks no intruders.
In short, we seek to become ever more inclusive as the situation evolves. After all, the object is to gain some kind of broad, critical mass, not limit the effort in an exclusive way.
Speaking personally, I can say that the experience of working with Geoff Cowan (USC), Alex Jones (Harvard), Nick Lemann (Columbia) and Loren Ghiglione (Northwestern) has been a truly wonderful one. Even though we compete for the best students, there has been little sense of competition in our dealings with each other. Instead, there has been much welcomed collegiality, a common recognition that we confront shared problems due to the fact that journalism is rapidly changing and that aspects of “the media” are in a very uncertain, even parlous, state of grace.
“Our involvement was hardly optional”
What we can do to help is uncertain. But, I think we all felt that rather than just whine, we should at least make an effort to form some new civil society-based coalition where the sum was greater than the parts. Moreover, we felt that since we were all from big research universities, which comprise the largest pieces of civil society real estate in America, we ought to do what we could to engage these august institutions collectively in the debate over the media. After all, we are all in education, and the most fundamental job of journalism is to educate the public. So, we certainly have a dog in this fight!
And finally, we recognized that, since there are fewer and fewer workplaces in the broadcast media of such excellence that our graduates are truly eager to join them, we had to either get involved, or in effect confront the prospect that we were training students for the kinds of jobs that did not really exist. So, in a sense, as we pondered the situation, we felt that our involvement was hardly optional. Like it or not, we were involved.
Now, let me address your question about a “New Church” and a “priesthood” marching under the standard of a bogus mythology propagated by Watergate and the kind of hero worship and celebrity kultur that developed around the likes of Woodward and Bernstein.
Frankly, getting this effort together has been a lot of hard work, and usually it hardly felt like an establishmentarian priesthood in quest of a lot of grant money. Yes, these are good universities and excellent journalism programs. But, there are others equally as good. To get this effort organized took thousands of hours of grunt work both on the part of the five universities and the two foundations.
An understandable yearning for press heroes
I think it fair to say that that only way we felt part of a priesthood was in so far as we have truly came to enjoy each other’s company and derived a certain measure of energy and possibility from the thought of working in concert. And, we actually have learned a good deal from each other. But, that was part of whole purpose from the outset.
(And parenthetically, Jay, let it be known that we would wish for nothing more than your presence in whatever watchdog priesthood of media we may come to comprise!)
But, in reading your blog entry, the larger question you address is not so much whether we as the founding schools of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative have anointed ourselves as “priests,” but whether the whole last few decades of journalism have not been ginned up on an almost chiliastic vision of a second journalistic coming in the trans-substantiated form of Carl and Bob.
I take your point about the need for a healthy skepticism about heroes of all sorts who invariably get delaminated from the contexts in which they arise as well as from those others who sustain them. They are often turned into larger than life figures, albeit, with a few toes of clay. But, let’s be honest. There is something about every fraternity, profession, and even society, that does seem to need to lionize and mythologize certain people so that they become iconic hood ornaments. I have just finished reading the Odyssey and the Iliad again, and despite all the mortal flaws of these Homeric heroes – and Greece was the birthplace of western heroes and hero-worship -people seemed to need heroes and to be inspired by them.
In this sense, it may be fair to say that Woodward and Bernstein have become unreal personifications of latter-day people’s yearnings (with a little help from Hollywood and “the media”) to believe that somewhere in the Fourth estate there are/were dragon slayers who are/were diligent, trustworthy, efficacious and often bigger-than-life. This hardly surprises me. People do want to believe. Being able to identify, or create, heroes, helps them believe. It also sustains and exhilarates them.
It is true that much of the rest of the press were less than aggressive about the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Nixon administration. But, then it is also true that they have not been able to get much traction against the shameless spin-mongering and outright distortions of the Bush Administration. And, let’s not even raise the question of the war in Iraq and WMD.
The P.R. apparatus and the propaganda of the state
Indeed, speaking as someone who has studied China and other Marxists-Leninist states for the last 45 years, there are haunting similarities between the public relations apparatus of the current administration and the propaganda apparatus of Leninist political parties. They include ultra-loyalty and obedience to the supreme leader; extreme party discipline; an absolute imperative to stay on-message (fidelity to “the correct line”); maximizing the use of state organs for propaganda purposes; and a poorly evolved appreciation of the essential role that the Founding Fathers of this country imagined for the press as an independent watchdog over all kinds of power (whether state, ecclesiastical, corporate, etc.)
I am not saying that there is a comparison between our government and that of a Leninist state like China, but I am saying that the role and acceptance by our state of the media as a legitimate and necessary institution is weaker now than ever before. I am also suggesting that because of their commercial/corporate backgrounds, when it comes to the question of “communications,” many in the higher reaches of government have a keener appreciation of public relations than of independent, hard-hitting and often abrasive investigative journalism. Their tendency is to want to use communications as “the mouthpiece” of the state and party, rather than to see the most important role for communications as one of opposition and challenge to established power centers.
This almost religious veneration of Woodward, Bernstein, Bradley, Graham means that people did, and still do, feel a deep need to believe that someone can, and will, stand up to these prevailing centers of power and propaganda. The Watergate hearings were cathartic, because sclerotic Washington did finally rise for one grand moment to dig in the Washington manure pile and get past the spin and PR to search out truth and fact from falsehood. And, yes, by now we have forgotten many of those other figures like Sen. Sam Ervin or Sam Dash who played such important parts in the saga. What we remember instead is their personifications.
“Bereft of good models… despondent about their profession”
Al Pacino played Lowell Bergman (who is on our faculty at UC Berkeley) in “The Insider,” the story of Lowell’s joust for “60 Minutes” against the tobacco industry. And, yes, Lowell, who is an excellent investigative journalist, but still a mortal, comes out looking something like a journo-Godhead. Sure, you can say that Pacino’s version of Bergman—just like Redford and Hoffman’s version of Woodward and Bernstein—is a somewhat glossy, incomplete, idealization of what really happened. But, what else is new?
Are we as citizens not entitled to take some heart in a few inspiring stories of valorous deeds just like all those who have gone before us who believed in good kings, kind monks, patriotic warriors or dedicated political figures? Look at children’s books? Heroes abound! I just read my kids a book on Hannibal as seen through the eyes of his nephew, and it was a terrific story. Is it an historical distortion? Sure! The nephew probably never existed and certainly didn’t write a book! I know it isn’t journalism, but is that impermissibly warped story telling?
From the Bible on down men have sought exemplars. Sure, they may only tell part of the story, and sure young journalism students and acolytes should not be lulled in visionary stupor by such mythologized, heroic examples. But it all seems quite understandable to me, especially in this age of extreme skepticism, doubt and cynicism that people yearn for some hopeful models for human action even polish up, or invent, a few larger than life inspirations.
In any event, I don’t think journalism schools have used this mythology to sell soap!
Indeed, what I worry about is not so much that the next generation of journalists will be swayed by or sell out to press mythology, but that they will end up so bereft of good models and so despondent about the state of their profession that they may lose all hope and idealism. Then what? After all, if you are going to be a journalist, repayment must come in some other currency than dollars. One of those alternative currencies journalism trades in is “able to make a difference.”
“I don’t experience myself as ‘a priest’”
I realize that such a phrase may sound a trifle corny to grizzled veterans, but this is one of the animating spirits of our trade for many good journalists. God knows, most of us are not being paid so well—at least compared to other professions—that we do not look for some compensatory sense that what we do is worthwhile.
In short, I do not share Greg Lindsay’ critique that “journalism school professors” (our professors are almost all journalists!) sell students “a mindset, a worldview, and ideology” that is somehow erroneous and corrupting. (See Lindsay’s essay for Media Bistro.) That is a gross over-simplification. At least here at Berkeley, I do not think our students are all lathered up like religious zealots for “good old fashion shoe leather reporting.” We want them to have good ethics and ideals, but we also want them to be sophisticated, world traveled, realistic and skeptical.
Whatever one believes about the animating mythologies of journalism and its role in society, who among would deny its importance? Who among us would deny that things are rapidly changing and that there are dysfunctional links in the whole food chain of reporting? What I mean by this is that the chain on which information is vectored to the public and then digested by society and the powers-that-be is broken.
As a journalist, or a dean, I don’t experience myself as “a priest,’ much less as a member of some new church. I experience myself as someone who has been around the journalistic block a few times, seen some real problems with our profession; and wants to do what I can to keep this institution in good running order. I also see great uncertainty for our students in terms of where they can expect to matriculate and find dignified places of work that will sustain them, even rudimentarily, in their future lives. If you are about to go into television these days, things don’t look so great.
The assumption that the press matters is under threat
Final thought: As I survey the landscape, what worries me most is that I think one of the oldest assumptions about journalism—namely, if the story can be told, something will happen for the better—is slowly being rendered inoperable. (But, maybe it never was operable, and I am in some mythology myself!)
I prefer to think that the chain once existed, more or less, and now has acquired some major breaks it in. In other words, we can no longer blithely assume that if a reporter does his/her shoe-leather investigations and writes or produces a good revelatory story that an editor will welcome it; the publisher will publish it; producers will air it; readers and viewers will become better informed; the collectivity of citizens will demand action; hearings will be held, commissions formed laws passed, court cases will be adjudicated; and reforms will be made. Isn’t that the way things are or were supposed to work? And, if not, how the hell are they supposed to work?
Alas, we can no longer assume that journalists have this catalytic ability. We have in too many ways been bull-dozed aside. (I think this is the real message of Judy Miller going to jail.) We still can, to some degree, do our thing, but we are increasingly maligned, marginalized and presumed by many power centers (government, state, church, etc) to be troublesome, negative, unpatriotic and unreliable. Now, we are even threatened with jail.
The assumption that the press matters, can have an effect when it does its job and should be protected is what is under threat. Our problem is not so much that we are lost in a mythology of the press. It is that we are threatened with being dislodged from the presumption of Americans that we have a necessary role to play in the life and governance of this country.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
Jack Zibluk, Associate professor of journalism, Arkansas State University, Vice head, AEJMC small programs group, in comments:
While I appreciate Dr. Schell’s efforts and those of his peers, i believe the collective efforts of his group are doomed to failure.
The very elitism and exclusivity of the “club” involved in the project excludes the vast majority of educators, schools and journalists.
This elite group will work sincerely, talk to other elite people in business and government, issue a report, congratulate each other and then wring their hands when nothing happens. I have seen this happen many times of the years in diversity efforts, technology efforts and other initiatives…
Unless some outreach is made to include a bigger and broader group of individuals, and sinstitutions, this group will fail.
I wish them well, in all honesty, but I see the initiative as another “make ourselves feel less guilty” effort by elite institutions than a true effort to affect a positive change in society.
Andrew Cline at Rhetorica, who teaches journalism at Missouri State University, replies:
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.
Terry Heaton, who spent 28 years in television news including news director at six stations, (his blog) says in comments:
It is both my experience and my sincere belief that young people do not get into the news business these days to make a difference. I’ve written about this many times, but the nut of it is that 95% of the budding journalists I interviewed for jobs in the latter days of my TV news career wanted into the business for celebrity. It was rare to encounter someone who genuinely wanted to make a difference, and when I did, I hired them immediately. The people who are armed with this passion today are found in the local blogospheres around the country (and the world).
Orville Schell in a 2002 essay for a special section I edited on J-Schools and their challenges:
Journalism schools can, I believe, fully justify their existences by striving to become workshop-like places where older and more seasoned journalists team up with younger journalists to do actual projects that get published, aired or exhibited. In this sense, schools might aspire to be almost medieval in their conception, in other words, to buddy small numbers of students up with faculty who are still active in the profession to take on projects of a local, national and foreign scope, which can then be injected into the “real” media. In this effort, the division between students and professors should be blurred as much as possible.
A revamped Blog Pulse has been launched by Intelliseek. There’s new data for the top blogs, blog posts, news stories, and news sources being cited, and a new element: “BlogPulse Profiles, which adds metrics to the top-ranked 10,000 blogs, based on citations, posting and linking behavior.”
Recent J-school grad and Exegesis blogger Daniel Kreiss (Stanford) e-mails this reaction:
Of course we learn and are inspired by those who went before us. But I think what becomes dangerous is when J-schools posit these heroes to show how journalism is to be done. By this I mean both the craft (the writing, tone, shoe-leather reporting) and how the journalist herself should act in the world.
Schell writes that at Berkeley they expect their students to be “sophisticated, world traveled, realistic and skeptical.” What I don’t understand is how these four qualities relate to a person’s ability to practice journalism — I, for one, am a believer in many, many things, as are most humans who are “educated” by journalism.
And in the same way that you do not look at David and Goliath and arm
yourself with a slingshot to battle a tank, you cannot look at
Woodward and Bernstein and use their same methods to reveal “truth” in
a world that has drastically changed. Yet, that is precisely what
J-schools teach (and why I think you used the term “priesthood” in
your original post, as opposed to something like “role models” which
would have very different implications.)
It is this thinking that has allowed the profession of journalism to
be “bull-dozed aside.” The three elements of the Carnegie initiative do not question the dogma of the profession that says that the journalist must be the ultimate un-biased arbiter of the rules and of truth without loyalties, attachments, values, or beliefs.
Posted by Jay Rosen at July 21, 2005 12:38 AM
This is at least the second major false alarm out of the Berkeley jschool in about as many decades. The first was Ben Bagdikian's 1983 book "The Media Monopoly", about how corporate consolidation of newspapers and television was going to drive energy and rebelliousness out of the news media. Now Schell, too, hyperventilates from his supremely haughty perch at North Gate that we're in crisis. What a load of alarmist bullshit.
Just as Bagdikian failed to account for the diversifying effects of cable television, alternative newsweeklies, giveaway newspapers and electronic publishing, Schell ignores the explosion of vigorous, diverse and enlightening information on the Web, in niche newspapers and magazines, on satellite television, even on ipods.
With a record high of three general cable news networks plus CourtTV, the C-SPANs, BBC America, PBS/NPR, sharp commentary on Comedy Central and HBO, one doesn't even need to leave the boob tube to get an exciting new wave of news. Look at the explosion in the documentary form! Who would have thought there was such a huge appetite for Michael Moore's insights or for films like Enron:The Smartest Guys in the Room or Modovino or Journeys with George which have surfed the wave of Moore's success?
Who would have thought Al Gore would be setting up a TV network, Al Franken a radio network, and two competing satellite radio companies competing for talent from both NPR and morning drivetime?
There is an explosion of news media at the moment. On the Web, in print, over the airwaves. And I'm not talking about people blogging about their cars; I'm talking about paid professional journalism, right alongside the upaid watchdogging.
A lot of the technology behind this explosion was invented just a few dozen yards from Schell's office at Cal. Even more of it was exploited and applied to media a few miles across the bay in San Francisco (or down the road in Berkeley). So I can't understand why Schell ignores it. Does he not see it, or does he just not care? Is it really all about the NYT, WP, evening network news and a dozen top magazines for him? Or can he embrace diversity and change? After years as a Berkeley student and years more listening to Schell's pronouncements from a distance, I remain flummoxed.
Well, yes, Jefferson definitely had his problems with press critics. With the venemous attacks he suffered, you can't blame the man for his view of the press.
But that isn't the point, antimedia. Had you bothered to read the post in question, you'd have noticed that calboy was holding the early 20th Century as a model. Journaling, he later called it.
But the media of the 1890s/1920s were remarkable for the fervish partisanship and the powerful dictatorships of publishers, I'm not sure why it would be held as a model
Hearst, for example, had his New York newspaper maintain a list of 2,000 names on its S-List (persons to be mentioned only with scorn. A reporter was assigned to read copy just to make sure mistakes of honesty were not made.
That's not journaling.
Newspapers were split along political and ideological lines both editorially and in the news columns. Facts were subject to intense interpretation. Perhaps you'd be right at home here, antimedia. But it ain't journalism.
The community accomplishments of blacks, Hispanics, Italians, Catholics, Jews, etc. and the poor were largely ignored. As was context and nuance. Crime stories routinely identified suspects as "Negro" or "Jewess." The powerful and friends of the powerful were extolled.
If that's the model, we see that emerging from the increasingly partisan chatter of some of blogworld.
That said - and back on topic - I agree with Daniel Conover. If journalism schools want a bigger role in defining journalism, let them do a better job of providing working journalists.
An analytical mind is fine. The ability to write a simple declarative sentence on deadline is not to be sneezed at.
My first and somewhat glib instinct is to say the best way to reform journalism would be to get rid of the J-schools.
That is not entirely true of course but speaking as a consumer of journalism I think that journalists need a lot more real knowledge, broader experience and heaping helping of humility than more self-absorbed navel gazing.
Most journalists go directly from college where they study journalism or communications to some aspect of the business. Should we then be surprised that they know absolutely nothing about business, science, economics, farming, leadership, war, history, law enforcement or the military? And I am sorry to report, but if your experience of the "real world" is limited to some summer jobs while in college, you are clueless.
As for humility...geez. Let's start with the basic premise that the people who represent "the people" are those who ARE ELECTED TO DO SO. If you want to "make a difference"; walk a beat as a cop for a few years, join the Army, be a paramedic or a fireman, run a small business that provides a useful good or service to your community and provides a living for your employees, grow food to feed us, help build a bridge, a house or a road. These folks make a difference, journalists mostly just talk about it and journalists would be a lot better off if they reminded themselves of this basic fact at the start of every working day.
"Talking about it", is of course, useful and sometimes even important. The Federalist Papers started out as pamphlets, a close cousin to the newspapers of the time. But, I think that supports my point, since the authors were not journalists, they were actors themselves.
The rise of journalism as a quasi-profession and an institution in its own right, had a lot to do with the ecomomics and technology of communication in the last 500 years or so. At a time when over 80% of the population had to work 16 hours a day to put food on their table and a printing press cost more than an average man's yearly salary, it was natural that only a few people had the time or resources to spend a signicant amount of time writing or talking about what was going on. This natural monopoly or perhaps oligopoly created its own values and conventions...and corruptions, just as any other monopoly or oligopoly would.
Happily, those conditions are no longer true. Now anyone has the capacity for mass communication and the role of the institutional providers of news and opinion is less important, and competition is more open....the market for ideas and news is more open. What is the role of journalism and journalism schools in this new environment?
Journalists are experiencing the same diffusion of power that politicians did with the rise of democracy and free markets. Just as ordinary people became their own soveriegns, they are becoming their own journalists. Instead of trying to be the grand "4th Estate" perhaps journalists should think of themselves as individual entrepreneurs in the marketplace for news and ideas. And maybe many of them will find that the best way to make a difference is to build a bridge and write about that.
On making a difference in flyover country.
Yes, one of the reasons I became a newspaper reporter is that shopworn cliche "I wanted to make a difference."
(I also became a reporter because it was an excuse to indulge my inherent nosiness, and it sounded better than getting back on the test and grade treadmill of going to law school.)
What making a difference mean? It doesn't mean that I want to dictate terms to my community. It means that I'd like to help improve it. It means that I'd like public and private institutions to make well-considered decisions based on facts, and that I'd like at least the public institutions to make their decisions after something resembling democratic debate.
I believe there are such things as facts. I believe I usually fail in getting the transcendent truth in the paper, but I am pretty good at ramming the facts in. And if you know that tuition is going up at state U, that your legislator is spending K-12 education money on a tennis court, that XYZ Corp. told its shareholders that the factory's for sale, that there are nasty chemicals in the river, or that the city's behind on trash pickup, maybe you learned something. Maybe it will help you in your daily life. Maybe the next time you go to vote you'll do something about it.
And if not, well at least the comics, sports scores, TV listings and grocery coupons are handy.
Out here in the provinces, civil society is often weak. There is very little good information in circulation for citizens to act on. There are very few interest groups doing serious research. The riotous flowering of blogs that characterizes discourse on national politics, or even journalism, has yet to happen here in my metro area of 550,000 people. There are two blogs I know of interested in the affairs of my community. One hasn't been posted to since May. The other one (horrors) is run by a freelance journalist.
So there's the daily, three television stations, and a few weekly papers. Someone's trying (for the umpteenth time) to make a go of an alternative paper. Our public radio station has no news operation, our talk radio station is kinda lame.
As for the glamour factor in recruting people to the profession, I did encounter that among some of my television counterparts in my J-school graduate program. But while print reporters have big egos, I don't think many of us expect to be a star. If we're talented and work hard, we might win a nice big prize someday and have an upper-middle class life in a big city. But no one will recognize us in line at the store.
And I'd say I'm pretty well in touch with the "real world," although I'm in the John Maher school in believing there's no such thing.
I made $9.50 an hour in 1997 in my first job. I have a wife, a daughter, a mortgage, and a car with 186,000 miles on it. My parents paid my way through an Ivy League undergrad degree for this.
I've interviewed people laid off from the factory, or people still working there who were fatalistic about their station in life ever getting better. I've watched the paramedics scoop up drunk fools who were lucky they weren't dead, had coffee at McDonald's with mommas who knew their teenagers were doing drugs. I've visited the classrooms where public school teachers are fighting the good fight and where college professors were trying to widen the horizons of callow youth. I've walked the field with the dairyman who was struggling to keep the farm.
I'm here at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, trying to live through the editing of a story looking at my county's emergency preparedness. Just the sort of (insert your preconceived notion of what's wrong with newspapers here) that you hate.
And all of you folks who spend so much time slagging me and my brethren, you're welcome to pull up a chair at my cubicle and see how it's done. Shoot me a line.
re: Lovelady and Amy
Does life experience before a journalims career help make you a better journalist? You bet. I'd say that a broad understanding of life would help a doctor, or an architect, or a politician too. Understanding other people is just a good thing.
But Steve and Jeff make great points. If you care about the what you do, and if you stay with journalism long enough, and you remain curious and vulnerable to new experiences, your career becomes a never-ending post-graduate education.
We don't enter the business knowing stuff, and I think most of us can point to plenty of examples of veteran reporters and editors who have lost their curiosity, who have learned to pick sides (not always partisan sides, by the way) and to become invulnerable to unpleasant surprises. They're called hacks. But the ones who retain their integrity, compassion and fascination with the world? Such people can be good to have around.
Everybody talks about how arrogant we journalists are, how we don't know the stuff that we think we know. But I find the job endlessly humbling and instructive. Every day I get to talk to people who know more about their subject than I do, and every day I read more and more material on an ever-widening circle of topics. Some of that sticks.
We're not always popular, but popularity shouldn't be our goal. And that's one of the places where I think we've gone astray. We want personal respect from and the social perks of the people we cover. This is a natural thing, and I've felt its pull, too, but its our Dark Side. In the end, what are you about? Getting at the truth and living up to your responsibilities? Or weilding clout and power? You gotta chose.
Jay says that journalism is a religion, and I think he has a great point (although he overstates it). If that's the case, then one of that religion's greatest saints would be I.F. "Izzy" Stone, and this passage would be carved in a mountain somewhere: "To be regarded as nonrespectable, to be a pariah, to be an outsider, this is really the way to do it. To sit in your tub and not want anything. As soon as you want something, they’ve got you!"
Is that the whole picture? No. I get that now. But if you don't have Stone's warning stashed away in your head somewhere, you're doomed.
Good thoughts and great attitude. But, there is a big difference between reporting on stuff and doing it.
One of the things I liked about Louis L'Amour's stories is the Mr. L'Amour not only read voraciously about war, the west, the maritime trades and lumberjacking, mining; he actually led men in combat, worked as a miner, seaman and lumberjack. He had been stranded in the desert and nearly died of thirst. He had been shipwrecked and been around the Horn. So when he wrote a story about those things he had insights that no one with merely academic knowledge could have.
BTW. I think it is highly ironic that you cite IF Stone in a discussion of honest journalism. The publication of the Venona Files has revealed a great deal about Mr. Stone. Here is just one discussion of his links to the KGB and his intellectual dishonesty:
Please note, I am not saying he was a "spy". But, I think it is proven that he was dishonest and a Stalinist and apparently he did take money from the Soviets and hid that from his readers.
Ms (Jenny) D. You are right that I was making a point about who actually makes a difference. But, I was also making the point that Mr. Lovelady disagreed with. First time in my life anyone used my name and subtle in the same sentence.
Mr. Lovelady. I will grant that more times than not you may know more about the paramedic business than the normal carpenter (although I know several pramedics who are pretty fair carpenters themselves). But, not to oversimplify your argument, I have just seen too many articles about my areas of expertise (military, project management, business) written by people who think they can read a book, do a few interviews and know enough about the subject to criticize people who have been doing something most of their life. They can't. The people from that business know it, and now, more and more often they are able to make sure the reporter's audience knows it.
But even beyond the knowledge of a specific field; working as a reporter simply isn't part of the real world, even in a small town. Watching baseball is not the same as playing it. Being a voyeur...well you get the idea.
Reminds me of the George McGovern story or how when he got out of the Senate he went in to the motel business and lost his shirt. During an interview he said something like how he wished he had know how difficult all the regulations and taxes he passed as a Senator made for a business to succeed.
Mr. Amy. Sounds like you already have the attitude I was encouraging, which is a realistic understanding of your role in your community. Print the facts, carry the adds and announcements etc.
This is an important function.
But, I think even you will have to admit that it is a lot easier to talk about say, the municipal sewers that empty into a watershed, than it is to figure out how to replace the thousands of miles of sewer lines laid over the last century without bankrupting the county. And no matter what you say about it, you're not the one who will get voted out of office, sued by the EPA, or have your business shut down as a result. I also think that you would have to admit that if you sat down to plan your 550k community and make a list of occupations that needed to be filled, in priority, (lets see we need food, clothing, houses, water, sewers, teachers,...)reporters would be somewhere down the list right?
Sorry you're working so late, I used to do that all the time myself until I got laid off. But, as a good reporter, you know that you are not the only one working that hard/late, right?
There is a certain irony that Mr. Walsh castigates reporters for writing about lives and jobs they haven't lived, while showing that he hasn't a clue what reporters do.
Jeff Amy isn't asking for pity. Of course we know others are working late. We're out there talking with them. That's where we learn the stories of people. Not from reading books. That's where we learn about their jobs, their families, their concerns. We're out there talking to the families who have lost a child to war. Or to a drunk driver. We don't merely observe their pain, often we share it. Comfort where we can, dry our tears and tell the story.
As others have noted, reporters aren't specialists. We have to know a little bit about many things. We have to know how the cops work, how the courts function, who does what to whom at City Hall, while keeping an eye out for the occasional tornado or hurricane or flood.
We are not supposed to be the definitive experts on anything. We do have to know how to find the experts who are. And how to separate the BS from the practical. We have to know how to condense the information down to the space available and do it on deadline. And do it day after day after day.
In the planning of his hypothetical community, Mr. Walsh should make room reporters. Assuming, that is, he wants someone to sit in the courtroom for him. Or find out if that sewerage spill was simple accident or the result of two decades of municipal fraud. I assume he wants someone to find answers why lead-based paints were used in the school and why no one did anything about it.
Reporters are the witnesses for the community. Oh, yes, they get it wrong from time to time. And sometimes, especially in the learning stages, they don't know how things work. But they learn. But in our better moments, we get it right enough that we can all learn something, make corrections and, dear God, improve things for those who follow us.
Making a difference.
I want to do that. I want journalists who want to do that, too. But I want journos to be honest about what difference they want to make; and what differences they do make.
HUGE DISHONESTY above -- talk about Nixon, no talk about Vietnam. The press hated Nixon; the press wanted the US out of SE Asia. The press got rid of Nixon, got the US out.
The world got Pres. Ford (stumbling off of planes); and SE Asia got genocide.
I hate Nixon for so many reasons (lying about bombing Cambodia, for instance) -- but his 1972 wanting to win in Vietnam is not one of them. Like in the case of Bush today, what is the Big Deal about being anti-Nixon? He leaves office in disgrace some umpteen months early. Beeeg Deal. He was gonna be gone after 76 anyway. Big "make a difference" deal.
What about the US out of Vietnam?
THERE is a real difference -- like between S. Korea 15 years ago and Vietnam today. Like the difference between 3 million mostly non-resisting unarmed civilians being murdered and the US supporting a Pinochet or Park Chung Hee dictator who could command a S. Vietnamese army able to fight off the N. Vietnamese.
Winning the fight against commies -- or the US losing.
The press was in favor of Nixon losing, of the US losing.
The US media gave the world the Killing Fields -- that's the Big Deal that All the President's Men covers up.
Jay thinks: "one of the oldest assumptions about journalism—namely, if the story can be told, something will happen for the better—is slowly being rendered inoperable." Sorry Jay, do you really think SE Asia genocide was for the better?
Of course you don't -- so you lie to yourself that it wasn't the media. It was Nixon's bombing. It was Kissinger's Paris talks. Yada yada excuse.
Press policy prescription: US out.
Why can't media accept their responsibility? They have the same blame/credit as for booting Nixon.
The great, important issue of Myth has been raised: "Are we as citizens not entitled to take some heart in a few inspiring stories of valorous deeds just like all those who have gone before us who believed in good kings, kind monks, patriotic warriors or dedicated political figures?"
Indeed we ARE, and DO take hear: Lord of the Rings; Star Wars; Harry Potter (just finished #6 9 hours after midnight; Islamofascists are Death Eaters).
But there is Myth Missing. Where is the Good Strong King against weak bad guys?
We have good weak kings, and strong not so good kings, but when there's a "good, strong" king, there's not supposed to be any more bad guys.
Kind of implies that the existence of bad guys means the king's not so good -- especially if it's clear he's very, very strong.
There once was a strong knight name Nix, whose village had sent him to fight an evil dragon across the sea, a dragon threatening to destroy a village and all around it. But the dragon was a hydra, and when Nix chopped off a head, another one grew. For years and years Nix chopped of heads; going out, chopping a head, going back to the village at night, and finding another in the morning. Like knight Lyn before him, he kept sending messages home that he was sure the dragon/ hydra was about to die, so his village DID need to send him food. The village of Nix was beginning to wonder if he realy wanted to kill the dragon, or if he could kill it, or even if it could be killed.
Nix found, as his predecessor Lyn had, that some of the local villagers were actually feeding the dragon -- sometimes because the dragon threated them with specific death if they didn't -- and the villagers were terrified. Sometimes Nix would even kill villagers feeding the dragon; even women and children. At least once Nix had even raped a villager, M'la, and there were rumors of more rapes. Nix was ordered to come home, and even leave the dragon alone.
The dragon ate half the men and a quarter of the women after Nix left. But many say the village of Nix was good to call Nix home.
I'm lucky in that I had a lot of life experience before I went to work in a tie for the first time (as a reporter in 1990), but as Dave has pointed out, you seem to assume that all other experience EXCEPT reporting have validity. I patrolled the East German border, commanded a tank, drove a cab, raised crops, built houses, worked as a commercial artist. All of which builds my bone fides (supposedly)... but NONE of which gives me a better grasp on the truth than anyone else, regardless of their background, who happens to see things more clearly than I do. We must not get into the position of saying "It's a (blank) thing. You wouldn't understand."
Reporting is a strange life, but when you live it head on, reality steps up and slaps a fish across your face on a regular basis. Publishing every day to an audience that doesn't necessarily like you gives you a great education in what is real and what is illusion, and not all of it is pleasant.
Teddy Roosevelt spoke to the spirit that I think you're referencing when he talked about the man in the arena. Much truth there, but it isn't the whole truth. I can be a huge TR fan and still understand that he didn't have the whole picture there.
I believe much of the disdain that is directed against my profession is earned, but I also allege that much of it is manufactured, marketed and sold by people who despise the idea of any authority that isn't subject to their control or influence (and o, how I wish we were truly not subject to their control and influence). Intellectuals. Elites. Arrogant. "The Smartest Guys in the Room." It's popular to believe that journalists are effete cowards who snipe from behind high walls on secret orders, all while looking down at the good, REAL people. But that's totalitarian kitsch.
The claim (and I'm hearing it a lot in the past month) that journalists don't have a right to criticize elected officials because, well, they weren't ELECTED, is absurd. A county commissioner might serve only those people whom he considers his constitutency. But when I'm reporting, I'm trying to consider as many positions as I can hold in my mind. He might be thinking first and foremost about the donors who put him in office. Me, I'm supposed to be thinking about YOU, because I'm not supposed to be beholden to anybody else. And you want to change that?
Regarding Mr. Stone, if it's true he was intellectually dishonest, I'm saddened by that. But that shouldn't be used to disparage his lessons. George Washington was a slave owner. You wanna go down that road? Let's take wisdom where we can find it.
Journalists aren't superheroes. We're not all wise, brave, smart, fair or ethical. Thing is, we're called to be all of those things by our job, and to do our jobs well, we have to reach for each one of those goals. Let's not change the goals -- let's just accept that human beings aren't going to reach them each time out of the gate.
I know I'll regret this. I have absolutely no desire to redo the ‘60s. Once was enough. But this new spin on ‘the press lost Vietnam’ is absurd enough for a comment or two.
First, the press didn’t take down Nixon. Nixon took down Nixon.
Until recently, only the diehards held on to the argument that the press lost Vietnam. That particular debacle was host to a great variety of causes.
Joe Galloway, in his 1998 New York Times review of “THE WRONG WAR: Why We Lost in Vietnam” by Jeffery Record, notes that Record minimizes the role the American news media and domestic peace movement had on the outcome of the war.
Instead, Record, who served as a State Department advisor in the Mekong region, writes: “I contend that, whereas the primary responsibility for the U.S. share of the war's outcome clearly rests with civilian decision-making authorities -- which were, after all, constitutionally and politically responsible -- the military's accountability was significant and cannot and should not be overlooked.'' The generals fought the war they wanted, Record writes, “rather than the one at hand.”
Johnson nor Nixon ever made a concerted effort to present a convincing argument to the American people why it was important to spend our treasure and blood in Vietnam. McNamara micromanaged the war long after he realized it was unwinnable.
At no time, despite evidence to contrary, did the Joint Chiefs advise a reduction in force or a phase-out of Vietnam. They just kept asking for more troops.
As for Nixon, he had developed his plan for Vietnamization in 1969, long before the media “got him.”
So please, let’s stop deluding ourselves.
Good point about "its a ____ thing" you wouldn't understand. Time, space and my lack of communication skills prevented me from adding the caveats I should have. Everyone has a right to comment/report and "even a blind pig finds an acorn ever' now and agin". And other professions are as likely to develop a "priesthood" as the church or journalism and so we all have to remain open. The law doesn't belong to cops and lawyers, the military doesn't belong to soldiers etc
That said, you may think that your experiences don't give you a 'better grasp of reality" but they do give you more credibility with me. I don't think I am alone. Yep, if I am dealing with arguments, I have to deal with the argument and not the person. But, if I am deciding whose account of the facts to take on trust...I trust someone who has more diverse experience, especially life and death experiences, and real business experience than someone who does not.
Re: TR. Yep you got it. Man in the arena. With all the caveats but yeah I believe that. You probably have all seen the commercial for the financial services company where five people watch someone choke and talk about it eruditely until someone comes up and gives the Heimlich Maneuver. Who made a difference? That doesnt' mean don't talk about it...talk "pour l'encouragement l'autres" etc etc. But talk didn't clear the airways.
C'mon. You telling us that you haven't ever looked at one of your less experienced collegues and said either to them or yourself: "Man you don't know what you are talking about?"
Stone vs. Washington: heck ya I want to go there. Stone was a liar who told people to tell the truth. He lied in defense of a monster, in an attempt to inflict that monster on us. He wan't accountable for his writing. Nothing happened to him for defending the show trials, the massacre of the kulaks, or the invasion of Hungary. Washington told the truth. He was a man who had a large role in founding the first modern democracy at the risk of his life, his fortune and his family. He was accountable to his men, to Congress and if he lost, to the King. He was born into a despicable system of slavery, which was universal at the time and had the courage and honesty to see it for what it was. Despite considerable cost to his family, considerable opposition from the society around him, and considerable legal red tape, and some difficult ethical issues to work through he freed his slaves. He walked the walk. Here is a good summary.
Again my inarticulateness (sic?)might not have made it clear...but I never meant to say that if you aren't elected you can't criticize politicians. It is the right of all Americans to do that. What I did mean to say is: It is absurd for a reporter to say they represent "the american people" or the "citizens of Hadleyburg" or whatever. They may sincerely try to do that but they haven't been elected or appointed to that position. They have been hired by an organization or they may write a blog or put posters on a wall...but they don't represent much beyond themselves or the organization they work for. If you want to represent me, I have something to say about that and no news organization has ever asked me to give my opinion regarding a new hire or a promotion.
I did not mean to castigate. As part of a discussion of what journalism and J-schools needed to do to imporve the profession, I offered the opinion that journalist need more diverse experience doing something other than journalism, remember the limits of what they can really accomplish, and reflect on others who I think make more "of a difference".
Your complaint regarding my familiarity with journalism is noted. Just remember that all the irritation you are experiencing now is mirrored by nearly every subject of a news article or show.
As it happens, I wrote for my high school and college papers and have a close friend of 30 years who is an editor at a semi-big city paper. I 'interview' him regularly and occasionally "interview" his colleagues. If you are like the majority of today's journalists you have no experience in the military or in business (hiring, firing, managing a profit/loss statement). If this is the case I have more familiarity (however slight) with journalism than you do with either the military or business. I promise to never write about journalism again if you promise never to write about military or business subjects. If I am wrong about your background, you got me, even though, you and I both know that you would be in the minority.
I didn't exclude journalists from my priority list...I just didn't put them in the top five or six. Are you suggesting we should fill the journalist slot before the farmer, the homebuilder, the doctor or the cop?
Obviously this is only a thought experiment and not a real choice. But after reading a lot of articles (including notes in this thread) about how vital the role of journalism is and particulary how they protect us from...well, from cops, businessmen, politicians, the military etc and how journalists should be "making a difference" I thought I would point out, just to add some context, that a lot of folks make a more concrete "difference" on a daily basis than journalists do.
I also wanted to suggest that maybe the direction of journalism was moving towards more part time journalists who use the expertise from their primary occupation to commit journalism...making more of a difference in both roles.
Re: reporters, life experience, finding experts, etc.
I really want to say this somewhere, in context, and this seems like a pretty good place.
In some subject areas, many reporters are really uninformed, and their reporting suffers as a result. My latest peeve is education. I just read another news story about a school where few kids are succeeding on tests that demonstrate proficiency in basic subjects. And the reporter never asked any of the educators what exactly they do to try to get kids to learn that isn't working. Instead, the reporter talked about the neighborhood, and the broken families, and so on. But the educators were off the hook, never really pressed on why they fail to get kids to learn.
Imagine a news story about a hospital where most people never got well, but stayed sick no matter how long they stayed. Wouldn't a journalist question the doctors about their work and practice and procedures? Or would they write off the medical failure, and blame the neighborhood?
In story after story, journalists stop their reporting at the classroom door, except when they do some nice story about some unusual lesson, complete with big feature photo.
It's really hard to dig deep into what educators do, and you have to look closely and ask questions. It's hard to get access because many teachers are wary of being observed and questioned about their practice. But some journalist probably could make a difference if he or she was willing to get in there and report on this.
There's a mid-career journalism fellowship program at my university, and the reporters who come here and really take advantage of it can learn a lot. I've seen a couple of education reporters absorb a ton of new information, ideas. They attend classes with the doctoral students and if they stick to it can learn a lot. I've seen others come and never really engage but use the year to do something else, I guess. The program has the potential to do what we've been talking about here....take folks who know how to observe and report, and then give them some in-depth education in whatever subject they report on.
Okay, I've gotten my complaint down and I'm done.
I agree: one of the best PressThink threads ever.
I don't care what you put in that blog, Conover, you have plenty more to say on the politics of the press and of the press critics themselves. Plenty that is descriptive, and aggressively anti-ignorance in media talk. You would be a great talk show host. Of course, we live in a world where you can be.
For sure one of the things I was trying to say to Orville Schell and partners is: Hey, be realistic with me. J-School never before faced a world where many, many, many people in the public once served by the press can bloody well be the press. Don't tell me you know about such a world and how to educate for it because you don't. We don't. I include myself. It's beyond educating for jobs that don't exist. How about educating for a notion that doesn't exist? Would you agree that it might be possible?
That is what I thought I suggested in my original post, which asked a question I still think important: how do you (the nation's Leading J-Schools) know you have the religion right?
I didn't say, "journalism is a religion," or if I did it was for effect. The point is professional journalism as practiced in American newsrooms has a religion, a belief system. It's neither scandalous nor unique to journalism that this should be so.
Still, the religion isn't exempt from criticism, either. Has to be examined. It can drift off its mission and start adding things that shouldn't be there, it can fail to change when the world does, it can suffer from faulty leadership or bad vision. It can think itself covering more cases than it actually does, and in this way misunderestimate its own worth.
I wasn't pointing at journalism and squealing: it has a religion. I thought it was a practical question: how do you know that in a changing world you have the religion right?
I like Kreiss's direction a lot. I've been deep into that zone a couple of times myself when I was chair (five years 99-04.) I have a feeling the way out of the cave is found there.
One reason I started PressThink was simply to prove my J-School could make high quality something-or-other on the Web that would have a significant enough audience to qualify as what Kreiss calls "public media." Next step: figuring out how to teach from that.
As I said, you got me, in your case.
I base my opinions about the background of people in the news media, which I still believe is correct, on personal experience and research. But I would be happy to see any evidence that I am wrong.
As I mentioned above I have a close friend at a newspaper in a mid size city. He and most of the senior members of the paper walked out of college (at different times!) and into the building where he/they have worked for over nearly 30 years. Literally the same building.
Some folks have come on to the paper from other papers or other fields but you can go down the masthead and check off the folks who have done nothing else but work in the news media. Same thing for the on air reporters on the local TV and radio. Ditto for most of the national press corps that I know of.
Another guy who went to high school with me went right from college into newscasting. Two of the guys I row with, have basically the same career pattern, although they have moved around a lot more than my buddy.
When I read an article or watch a show, I try to read the bios of reporters and analysts whenever I can. They seem to fall into two categories: One group goes to college, often J-school and thence to an entry level position in newspaper, magazine, tv or radio. Some stay as reporters, others move on in to editing.
The second group start out as lawyers/political activists/or in a technical field. So you get Nina Totenberg, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, George Stephanopolous and their counterparts at local papers/stations or you get the guy who worked in the computer/showbiz/food service field until he decided to become a writer for a niche magazine, or get picked up as a reporter for that field in another media. The major TV and Cable channels have all hired a bunch of ex-military guys to be analysts for them as well.
Research tends to bear my impressions out. The survey cited in the article immediately below shows that in 1996 73% percent of working journalists who responded to the survey had either majored or minored in journalism. I have to presume that if someone is working in journalism now and majored in journalism in college they went from college to the media with very little other experience. The author of the essay which cites the survey is surprised the percentage isn't higher. Keep in mind that 73% represents only those who took journalism classes. I have to presume that some of the 27% who took no journalism clasess still went directly from college to a first job in journalism.
As for lack of military experience, well, by definition if you follow the normal academic path to college and then go to work in the media, you don't have any military experience.
Beyond that, I can't find any statistics on the percentage of veterans employed by news media.
So, my empirical evidence starts with my own observations of the reporting the last 30 years which reflects utter cluelessnes on the part of most of the authors. And I have read or viewed a lot news reports about the media. This also includes the three or four times I have been interviewed. It is especially includes the reporter who told the cameraman to make sure he got a good shot of me because "he has really cool makeup" (camouflage face paint). Specific examples would require a separate article.
I also think of who works in my local news market...including the folks I met at my buddy's parties. None with any military experience I know of except for a single columnist they recently added.
I note that the New York Times has recently pondered publicly whether it needs to have affirmative action hiring in order to get some military vets and Evangelical Christians on their staff.
I read comments by reporters like Karl Zinnemeister: "Most of the reporters who shape today's national news now come out of institutions where they have not a single friend or acquaintance or relative with military experience." For the original article go here:
Similiar comments have been made by others including the late Michael Kelly and the reporter and reserve army officer Austin Bay.
I read the testimony of reporters who encountered the armed forces for the first time when they were embedded with military units in the last year or so. And so on.
So, I conclude that military veterans are pretty darn rare in the newsrooms of the Mainstream Media.
If anyone has any definitve statistics on how many vets are in the newsrooms, I would love to see them. I am willing to bet a total cumulative amount of $1,000 that the total percentage of reporters (nationwide not just on the Columbus, Georgia, Ledger-Enquirer) with military service is less than half the national average (not applicable in those states or jurisdictions where this would be illegal!).
Re: Business experience. Ditto most of above. If you go to college and then go to work as a stringer somewhere...you haven't run a hardware store or a construction company.
Once you are in a news organization, it is my understanding that there is a pretty strict divide between the business side and the news side. Reporters and editors have written and said repeatedly that they don't make decisions based on how it will effect circulation or advertising rates. Editors, as I understand it, have a budget but not a profit and loss statement, except at very senior levels (Director of the News Division)or in very small operations where they are multi hatted.
Mr. Lovelady has been the managing editor of the Philadelphia Enquirer so I think his experience is fairly rare. And by the time he had that experience he probably was not writing too many stories or directly editing them.
Very few people who actually produce news have had to calculate the billable rate of a new hire, calculate their probably annual utilization rate and then figure out the upper limit of the fully loaded salary you could offer that person and make a profit and still have them on the customer site in a week. Very few have gone a sales call to a new client or a damage control visit to an existing client to explain why they should continue to do business with you, with hundred of thousands of dollars annually, riding on the outcome. Very few news producers have had to deal with OSHA, Unions, Health Inspectors, EPA, building code inspectors and negotiate with and manage vendors or with customers. Even fewer have had to meet with a board of directors or deliver a multi-million dollar project on time, on budget or have your whole team, including you, get fired. Very few have put together a business proposal to install a software application, build a power plant, bridge or road that if it is too high the customer won't accept or too low might lose money...in either event breaking the company.
Mr. Lovelady fired two people. When I was in college, the restaurant I was working at had to go out of business because the city decided to make street repairs on their corner that didn't allow customer access for a month. The owner's son, who managed the place for his dad, had to fire 30 or 40 employees...many who were middle aged waitresses that worked there for 20 years. Lord knows the consequences for his own family. If he was like my Dad, he stood to lose his house, his car and his dog. That's business experience.
So what percentage of people reporting news stories have any real experience in business? Again, I would love to see any definative statistics but I would bet that same $1,000 it is less than 5% even including the guys on the financial segments (void in jurisdictions where it not legal!).
So, that is the answer to your question. I may be wrong, but I didn't make it up out of whole cloth. If you have any different data, I would love to see it.
BTW. The first article I cited also shows that people who don't take journalism classes win a much higher percentage of awards for journalism than their percentage of the total population for journalists.. I think this tends to support my orginal argument.
you wrote: You learn, you say, about journalism by talking to journalists. Yet you find that more meaningful than a journalists' ability to learn about the business world by asking questions. We ask a lot of questions.
First point. Yep, I am wrong about you. Your two years in the military trumps my meager knowledge about journalism.
Second Point. Despite your and Mr. McElmore's honorable military service and other valuable life experiences, I still contend that such experience is extremely rare in the news profession. I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary.
Third Point. I don't mean to give the impression I consider myself an expert on journalism. I wouldn't even dare to write an article on journalism. But, I am an expert on my own consumption of journalism and what I think about it.
So, in my capacity as an expert on my own consumption of journalism I say that when I see a lot of journalism about the fields I am an expert in...it is pretty poor. Basic facts and basic concepts are wrong. Subtleties such as which facts are really important and which sources are telling the truth or know what they are talking about...forget it. My thought is this is due to a lack of knowledge about a specific field and also a more general experience about "the way the world works" in general. Maybe it isn't.
But, when a reporter for the Washington Post writes a laughably innacurate article about Ranger units, demonstrating that he can't even compare their organization tables to other units, and then compounds it by demonstrating that he can't even read a map to see how close Alabama is to Georgia, I gotta think that if someone who could even spell Army had been in the reviewing chain of that article they might not have embarassed themselves in front of the entire country.
When an AP reporter writes a story on Social Security and says the current return on investment for a social security contibutor is 5% then I gotta think that if someone who had taken Finance 101 had reviewed the story, they might not have mislead several million people about how to manage their life savings.
And when almost all reporters consistently say that your employer pays half of your social security taxes I gotta think no one writing or editing that story has ever hired anyone and calculated their loaded rate...or the cost of hiring them. Because if they did, they would know that employers base their hiring decisions on how much the employee costs (including the Social Security, benefits and other taxes cost) and not on what their salary is. And therefore all the money that goes to SS is coming out of what the employer is willing to pay for your services...if it wasn't going to the government at least part of it would go to you.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the Washington Post is chock full of vets and they were all out writing other stories when that one from the Washington Post was filed. Maybe all the finance majors and ex-investment councilors who work for AP were busy that day..
Doesn't matter to me. I go somewhere else to get my news about business and military affairs.
Steve's "So you can't find out what the hell is really going on when you tune into the national outlets ..."
Like the 800 or so murdered folk in Thailand, as Muslim terrorists are establishing a Fear society, ruled by death squads. Nearly censored by CNN, BBC, etc -- because there's no Bush-bashing angle.
Like the recent draft Iraqi Constitution articles: why isn't the news talking about THEM? (if it doesn't bash Bush it's not news.)
US unemployment so low? US growth so high? US productivity increases? So many in the world still wanting to go to the US? (not news because...)
What if the BEST case for Iraq is US military presence and support for the next 6 years? Does that mean Iraq is "unwinnable"? -- yes, if the media-influenced politicians demand a schedule of the US leaving before that (unknown) date.
What the Dems are calling for today, in Iraq, is why the past mistakes of Vietnam are so relevant.
[Neither] "Johnson nor Nixon ever made a concerted effort to present a convincing argument to the American people why it was important to spend our treasure and blood in Vietnam. McNamara micromanaged the war long after he realized it was unwinnable."
Vietnam was winnable -- but far more costly in TIME, especially, than Johnson or Nixon was willing to publicly state.
Only a military idiot would say an unbeaten, and unbeatable, military force is incapable of winning.
It might have taken a nuke of Hanoi, or mining Hai-phong harbor. (Winning may be too costly politically is different than unwinnable.)
It might take, after Tet in 68, another 21 years of occupation/ support for corrupt, boot-licking S. Vietnamese neo-democrat neo-dictators. 68+21=89 ... when the Berlin Wall came down; with US soldiers still in Germany after 1945 WW II occupation.
I think greater local autonomy, and more S. Vietnamese in planes bombing N. Vietnam, would have allowed a 3-8 year transition to 95% S. Vietnamese soldiers using US supplied equipment to fight the commies, and keep winnning the battles -- but nobody knows what would really have worked.
The Leftist claim is that not knowing in advance what will really work, and how long it will take, is the same as the war being unwinnable.
This idea is terrible. This idea creates defeat.
The USA was not prepared for a 30 years war, nor a 100 years war -- but the Cold War was a 45 year war.
Go back and read Bush about the War on Terror. We are in for a long struggle. I think the fastest way to win is to create functioning democracies, with Free Press and Free Religion, in every country; and our own national defense demands it among those countries that export oil.
[What is "really going on" might also be code words for "what the future will be." And it's always true that no amount of news today brings accurate knowledge of the future. Opinions are all just infotainment.]
While I appreciate Dr. Schell's efforts and those of his peers, i believe the collective efforts of his group are doomed to failure.
The very elitism and exclusivity of the "club" involved in the project excludes the vast majority of educators, schools and journalists.
This elite group will work sincerely, talk to other elite people in business and government, issue a report, congratulate eachother and then wring their hands when nothing happens. I have seen this happen many times of the years in diversity efforts, technology efforts and other initiatives.
By including only the elite institutions in such efforts, the schools end up furthering the divide between rich and poor, and elite and non-elite in society.
I have tried to contact members of this group to ask how my institution can help and found they have listed no phone numbers or e-mail addresses posted. I guess they are too important to talk to journalists, journalism professors such as myself, or members of the public.
Unless some outreach is made to include a bigger and broader group of individuals, and sinstitutions, this group will fail.
I wish them well, in all honesty, but I see the initiative as another "make ourselves feel less guilty" effort by elite institutions than a true effort to affect a positive change in society.
John B. "Jack" Zibluk, PhD
Associate professor of journalism
Arkansas State University
Vice head, AEJMC small programs group
(Now, a minor point, but one that bewilders me: where in the world did you get that I fired "two people" in my checkered career ? Were it only so ! Once I reluctantly let go, or nudged out, five in one afternoon ... and that wasn't the worst day of that year.)
My mistake: I read this too hastily and took "both" to mean two instead of "two types of multiple firings" -- My apogogies.
And in 20-plus years as an editor, I've hired dozens, fired both people I wanted to lose and people I didn't, and managed more profit/loss statements than I care to remember.
But why should a reporter (as opposed to an executive) need that experience ? The reporter's job isn't to know what internal hoops the executive has to jump through daily; the reporter's job is to determine if the executive is producing results; expanding or shrinking the community's employment pool; pumping money into the local economy or suctioning it out; holding his own against competition, or not so much; and so on.
You don't have to be a carpenter to determine if the house is shoddily built or well put-together.
And you don't have to be a colonel to determine if the the strategy worked, if the battle was won or lost, and at what cost, or if the colonel himself was sandbagged by shifting directives from above.
I have to disagree with you on this...And I am think our exchange is a good example.
When you think of the newsroom and when I think of it we have two very different pictures of it in our mind.
It is like you trying to explain red to a blind man.
And in that respect you are in exactly the place I have been in a number of times when reading stories about the military or business.
I am going to stop here. I looked back over the thread and I have taken up way too much space. And I keep having to resist the temptation to exhume and conduct an autopsy on particular stories to illustrate my point.
I have enjoyed the exchange immensely, learned a lot, and appreciated the chance to get some things off my chest...but even us gentlemen of liesure have to feed the cats, take out the garbage and prepare for our next cosulting gig.
Excellent questions all, antimedia.
1) Why can't journalism schools partner with other schools to produce journalists who specialize in the field the school has partnered with? (E.g. computer science + journalism = technical reporter with knowledge of his/her area of coverage)
That's the precise nature of Columbia's new Master's program, in which journalism students concentrate on one of four possible disciplines -- politics and government, business and economics, science and medicine, or arts and culture -- and the school cross-pollinates with others schools on campus to devise a curricula.
Will it work ? The jury's still out.
2) Why can't the media cooperate on a database of facts that can be accessed by all media (on a fee basis, perhaps) so that the information gathered at the site of the incident can be cross-correlated and confirmed more easily? After all, it seems the media either reinvents the wheel (by reporting the same event) or regurgitates someone else's work in a lot of cases.
Some larger papers do maintain an internal database of facts that can be accessed by all reporters and editors.
I don't know of any efforts to cooperate with other news outlets along that line; most are too concerned with a competitor getting out in front on a story to share information. (A silly fear, I acknowledge, based as it is on a child-like kind of oneupsmanship, but it's real, and possibly drives the pursuit of more stories than any other single factor.)
3) Does the media do audits to determine factual accuracy of reporting? (I'm asking if it's an organized activity, not a random check.) If not, why not? What about having colleagues evaluate other colleagues work (both sides anonymously) and grade them on specific areas - factual accuracy, writing style, adherence to company standards, etc.)
This kind of thing is in its infancy, but several papers are starting up programs along those lines.
4) What about creating a database of "buzz words", perjorative words and "emotive words" and cross check articles to ensure they aren't overused? How much electronic checking is media using to ease the burden of editing thousands of articles daily?
Most papers have them. When I was managing editor in Philadelphia, I had a list of banned words I didn't want to see in news columns -- although I was as concerned with hackneyed cliches as I was with perjorative words.
It's a Sisyphian task at a big paper. (I found that by flat-out "banning" a word I could reduce its use from, say, 400 times a year to, maybe, 29 times a year.)
I have been reading the various postings precipitated by my own words on journalism schools and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on Journalism Education, but due to the fallibility of Comcast and my Internet connection, I have been unable to reply until now.
There is far too much begging response here for me to do more than hit a few points. So, here are a few thoughts...
About all the comments regarding the need for journalists to avoid ideological bias or seeming to be overly anti-government or anti-corporation, I would say this: It is not the job of a responsible journalist to be pro- or anti- anything. Every subject should be approached with the hope of discovering and learning something new, of changing one's mind, and then of being able to teach something truthful.
This does not mean that the journalist should personally resist conclusions or forming points of view, which would be impossible. But, journalists should always strive to remain open to course correction and revision. Deng Xiaoping always used to say, "Search Truth From Fact." Not a bad approach. Conclusions should never be in search of corroborating facts. Facts ought to lead to conclusions.
I also firmly believe that the very best journalists seek to deftly present a situation the better to let people make up their own minds.
I covered the war in Indochina from 1961 through the time of the Tet offensive. I came into it during the period when Americans had discovered Mao and guerrilla warfare, of Lansdale's much vaunted theories on counter-insurgency (learned from the Brits in Malaya) and the "strategic hamlet." I began rather optimistically. I was for the war, hoped that these new tactics and strategies would help us contain "communism."
But, over the years we messed that war up so badly and were so dishonest with ourselves, that by the time I fled its utter and total madness in the late 60s and vowed never to go back, there weren't more than a handful of correspondets of my acquaintance who were feeling hopeful and positive about the future. That end-game was the result of a long process of facts speaking out over all too much US government propaganda.
I always tried to be an honest and "impartial" observer, but much of what I saw made me very indignant, even outraged, simply because I do believe in reason, honesty, humanity, etc, and there was precious little of that be exercised. We became ensnared in a naked attempt not to win, but simply to not be defeated. Above all, we wanted to avoid embarrassment... a terrib;e motive force for war.
Whether Iraq will end up in this syndrome, I do not know. But I find a lot of haunting parallels. I am very eager to see dictators toppled, tortuers jailed and authoritarian regimes replaced with democracies. But, I want us to have a chance of actually accomplishing these noble ends when we set out.
So, it may now seem that I sometimes write out of "bias" or "ideological prejudice." I prefer to think of it as writing out of experience. Honesty does compell one to use one's judgement, which is invariably formed through experience.
As to Kilgore Trout's query: "How will Schell's program counter" the woeful tendency of "the media( (I do not say "the press") to substituted Darfur with Michael Jackson, et al? Frankly, I don't know. We can, and do, train young journalists to cover things like Darfur in a comprehensive and well-informed way. But, if there is no outlet for them to air or publish their work, what is to be done?
We as yet have no remedy for this sad dilemma... except for the Carnegie Knight Initiative, which seeks to interface with media outlets wherever they may be to get such programming out. Check with us later on how well we do.
I might add, as Jay Rosen has written, that this is the whole theory behind our Frontline and Frontline/World office here at the Graduate School of Journalsim. Since there are less and less broadcast outlets willing to cover Darfur and other similar problems, we thought it better to try and elaborate a new kind outlet - in this case, to help breathe more life into a TV show and it parallel web universe - than curse the darkness. I put great hope in the web. But, as of yet, it's still hard to feed a family by blogging.
In other words, we recognize that there is not only a dearth of outlets, but also a dearth of media organizations willing to spend the time and money doing thoughtful global stories on what one of our faculty members, Mark Danner, calls, "nasty places." (He teaches a course on covering "nasty places.") Our answer is to partner with and help build up such outlets wherever and whenever we can.
We do this, as well, with investigative journalism program, under Lowell Bergman. In effect, Lowell runs a team of young reporters who work with him vetting investigative stories, researching projects that he is working on for the NY Times, Frontline, CBC, etc, and doing a lot of the kind of research and leg-work that mainstream media outlets have less and less stomach to do. The watchword is: "Learn by doing." I don't think incipient journalists learn very much listening to lectures.
I was intrigued by this comment:
"... It is both my experience and my sincere belief that young people do not get into the news business these days to make a difference. I’ve written about this many times, but the nut of it is that 95% of the budding journalists I interviewed for jobs in the latter days of my TV news career wanted into the business for celebrity."
I cannot speak for all journalism schools, but this does not describe our students at all. But, then we do not train "on camera talent." We train reporters... of all kinds. And our graduates are more like colleagues than students, just at a slightly different stage in the careers. But they are incredibly dedicated and most, I am proud to say, feel a deep sense of committment to and responsibility for the fragile societies in which we all live. In some very esteemable way, they do, indeed, "Want to make a difference, as I said in my original entry. And, I am proud of them for maintaining a sense of possibility and idealism in a world which is otherwise awash in cynicism, commercialism and greed.
I should say that we have no undergrad program, and frankly speaking, I'm not really convinced that most undergrads should "study" journalism. I think most would do far better to study history, literature, politics, or even science. One does, indeed, learn to do good reporting by reporting and editing... a lot But one also one learns to know what is worth reporting by having other kinds of life experience and gaining other kinds of knowledge. A deeply believe that a journalistic curriculum itself is insufficient to create truly great journalist. There is something important to begained by being organically connected to non-journalistic or academic life. It's worth a lot to have been in the military, work manual labor, be a nurse in a hospital, or a farmer. (I ran all aspects of a ranch or 20 years, and it was invaluable in shaping in how I now see the world.)
Now, finally, a word about my allusion to Leninism and the current state of political grace in Washington. Some took offense, as if this comparison was some odious form of lese majeste. But I have been studying, travelling, working and living in China (and Marxism-Leninism) since the late fifties. I have been in and out of Asia since the early 60s and China since 1975. My wife is Chinese and grew up during the Cultural Revolution. Her family, like everyone else, underwent many travails.
In China, I myself have been criticized, followed, intergogated, thrown out, denied a visa, all of which has helped me understand something of Leninism, democratic centralism and the habits of Communist parties when it comes to a free press. So, in a quite personal, but nonetheless concrete way, I myself have been able to search out truth from fact. (What I mean to say is that I did not learn all of what I know from books.) And what I see going on in this country today in regard to the political process, the press, and to our nation's abiding belief in freedom of expression gives me real pause. This is not an ideological statement. It is an empiuracl statement born of watching other situations elsewhere. And, I am in no way apologetic to be counted among those who side with our Founding Fathers in a deep belief that every democratic society needs a vigorous, independent and free press.... even one that can ruffles feather and that sometimes steps over the boundaries of propriety. After all, we in the press are no less mortal than the clergy in the Catholic Church, CEOs in corporations leaders, or officials in government.
One can only do so much about such titantic problems. But again, rather than whine, I would much rather try and do something to stem the tide. Let us hope that the Carnegie-Knight Initiative - all the criticisms not with standing - will be have a positive rather than a negative effect, that it will leave this nation somehwat better able to talk to itself, to be reasoned and to become better informed.
I'm not arguing against better accuracy in the media, antiM. I'm for that. I'm simply saying that the the media already fuzzes up things like death tolls, particularly those that escalate horrifyingly fast.
Let's take the tsunami coverage. These are excerpts from AP reports immediately after the tsunami struck. The reports dealt with the chaos of the story as best possible.
Tidal waves kill 160 in Sri Lanka
12:31 AM CST on Sunday, December 26, 2004
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- An extremely powerful earthquake rocked northern Indonesia Sunday, sparking massive tidal waves and potent aftershocks across the region, killing 160 in Sri Lanka.
Death toll from tsunami reaches 22,000
06:15 PM CST on Monday, December 27, 2004
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Rescuers piled up bodies along southern Asian coastlines devastated by tidal waves that obliterated seaside towns and killed more than 22,000 people in nine countries, and officials indicated Monday the death toll could climb far higher.
Tsunami toll surpasses 52,000
03:09 PM CST on Tuesday, December 28, 2004
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Mourners in Sri Lanka used their bare hands to dig graves Tuesday while hungry islanders in Indonesia turned to looting in the aftermath of Asia's devastating tsunamis.
Asia death toll approaching 77,000
04:20 PM CST on Wednesday, December 29, 2004
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – As the world scrambled to the rescue, survivors fought over packs of noodles in quake-stricken Indonesian streets Wednesday while relief supplies piled up at the airport for lack of cars, gas or passable roads to move them.
To date, the death toll is estimated at 230,000. A final, definitive count may never be known.
The point isn't that the reports got the facts wrong. They reported what there was the report at the moment. I don't see a specific figure anywhere and I never have in these kinds of stories. If you have some specific examples, I'd like to see them.
Speaking of specifics: What exactly has your knickers in a twist, kilgore. Coverage of the trivial - and I'd place the extremes of coverage of Michael Jackson and Katy and Tom's undying love trivial -- undercuts the harder-edged news far too much.
But what specifically got you going this time?
Mr. McElmore and Mr. Lovelady,
Mr. McElmore wrote:
If that's what you believe exists in newsrooms, Patrick, than it's you that has the perception problem, not journalism.
Well, actually, My most recent comment was a link to a post by Callimachus, who says that he is a reporter and who describes his own newsroom. So, it is not my problem in any respect.
Beyond that, I am not the one that has declining circulation and vierwers.
I am not the one with declining credibility among their customer base.
You have all seen the surveys, the figures on circulation and viewer share and public opinion of the Main Stream Media, so I am not going to look them up and link to them.
I told you the basis for my comments which included my own observations of the news product, my conversations with practitioners, the surveys of news providers that time after time indicate a very homogenous group of people whose, experience, values and views are significantly differnt from the American average. You are aware already of the surveys that show most Americans put the creditability of journalists somewhere lower than used car salesmen, plus I linked to the anecodotal evidence from other practictioners. I asked for any evidence to the contrary.
In return I get a "it doesn't pass the smell test". And, that I have a problem.
15 years ago, I had a problem. Today I have choices. So do the majority of your potential customers, particularly the ones your advertisers care about.
If you are a senior journalist either drawing a pension or a few years away, you are good to go.
But if you are mid career and trying to make your living from full time journalism and losing readership to a bloggers doing this as a sideline; or you are a professor in a journalism department hoping to sell a degree in a declining proffssion for 7 to 10 k a year; well, I think you have a problem.