October 20, 2004

News from the Future

Doug Fisher, former AP editor, now author of Common Sense Journalism and J-school instructor at the University of South Carolina, has his students “chronicling a year in a modern American journalism school” on a blog called, appropriately, A J-School Year.

Let’s see what our replacements are thinking. Beneath some of the bad spelling (“persay” … “the current state of media affairs is a bit shotty”) and youthful expressions (“just the spitfire columnist you'd expect”), is some serious consideration of and telling observations about the state of journalism. Here are a few (all emphasis added):

 The glut of contradictory election polls convinces Graeme Moore that “it's time for journalists to return to what they are meant to do - sort fact from fiction.” Interesting note: When Moore refers to “victims” of “biased news,” he calls them “viewers,” not readers. In his mind, the audience watches.

 I suspect that if Jessica Ponder becomes a reporter she will know how to find a good editor because she has already identified the qualities an “effective teacher” possesses: “He puts you on the spot, he points his finger … he challenges and he forces learning to take place.”

 After meeting Helen Thomas, Allyson Bird felt compelled to read the reporting of the Washington press corps. She found that “a lot of the stories read like insider information -- leads loaded with political jargon and followed up with an obligatory quote. I found myself reading further and further into the stories just to figure out what all that stuff in the lead actually meant. Perhaps becoming a Washington insider is a disadvantage if you lose a perspective readers can connect to.”

 Observing Washington reporters at work led Bird to write this: “The journalists move around in a great network of press conferences and phone trees. They know one another, because they're at the same events. Sources know what to say to them, because they've already said it to plenty of their colleagues.”

 Tecla Markosky experienced the same shock many of us did as we moved from a small pond to a slightly bigger one: “I was the journalism hotshot in high school and college is a big shocker. All of a sudden, everyone knows all the big words I do and they can use them correctly. The editor who critiqued my work knew what she was talking about. And worst of all, she told me to “show, not tell.’”

 Tamika Cody has already learned some of the lessons in her senior semester that we try to teach newsroom managers in my work with Tomorrow’s Workforce: “Everyone has an ego, some larger than others. Communication, communication, communication. Teamwork.”

 Finally, even though Julia Sellers acknowledges that “journalists just leave a bad taste in many people's mouths” she still wants to fulfill her desire to be a reporter because “as a journalist it is your responsibility to report the truth to the public. You have the opportunity to shake things up, hold leaders accountable and make changes possible.”

What a good idea A J-School Year is. The blog gives these students the opportunity to learn something most journalists of my generation never did – self-reflection, a necessary step for evaluation and adaptation, things newspapers and the people who work for them don’t do too well. Institutions cannot change without the people who work for them understanding in an unvarnished manner who they are, what they do and how that fits into the community around them. Newspapers need more people like that.

I would like to see, as I’m sure Doug Fisher would, more of his students contributing to the A J-School Year more often. But the blog becomes a self-selecting experience. Those who feel compelled to write, will. And newspapers need more people like that as well.

Posted by Tim Porter at October 20, 2004 06:16 PM


Posted by: guido spicone on October 20, 2004 09:56 PM

Also Andrew Cline (of Rhetorica)'s class (Introduction to Journalism - Southwest Missouri State University) has a group weblog - at http://rhetorica.net/MT/

Posted by: Anna on October 21, 2004 06:39 PM
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