Friday, May 19, 2006

The Houseguests and Journalists Are Coming!

In my mind, it rebounds and echoes like Paul Revere's legendary cry about the British, thus the image. For the record, my incoming guests will carry much more compact firearms. But verily, soon they will be here, and I must needs refreshments and comestibles in addition to more bare household surfaces to receive their items.

So, I don't have much time, except to purloin some paragraphs. Long-time editor Jonathan Last, in this subsription WSJ article, opines about the uselessness of Journalism and Communication degrees, particularly in relation to studies of actual knowledge rather than dissemination processes. This has long been a bugaboo of mine, so ROCK ON with it, Mr. Last, especially as the number of J-school graduates is larger than ever. Eeeek!

Those of us saddened by the declining fortunes of the newspaper industry had hoped that shrinking newspaper staffs would have at least one salutary effect: fewer journalism-school graduates. This has not proved to be the case. In 2005, newspapers cut 2,000 jobs; this spring more people graduated from journalism schools than ever before...

The running theme is an emphasis on process and the "craft" of journalism: nut grafs, ledes, kickers, inverted pyramids and the rest. Yet this seems a waste of time. Schooling is expensive...

Yet when it comes to learning about the style and craft of writing, an education can be had for much less. sells the complete archives of The New Yorker on DVD for $63--it's hard to see how a classroom discussion of story structure could be much more valuable than reading and studying the work of the greats, from Truman Capote to David Grann.

Instead of educating future journalists on the nuts and bolts of journalism--because let's be honest, it isn't rocket science or even carpentry--it would make more sense simply to teach them things. Facts, it turns out, are useful.

Most people can write a nut graph after 30 minutes of practice, but comparatively few people can explain, say, econometrics, or fluid dynamics, or the history of the French Revolution. Aspiring journalists don't need trade-craft--they need a liberal-arts education that gives them a base of mastery in actual academic subjects...

If America's universities were providing students with adequate academic instruction, instead of pumping out degrees in pseudosubjects like "communications," then J-schools wouldn't need to adapt at all. They could simply shut down.

This is hardly singing to the choir, but the tune has a beat I can dance to. I'd love to see us all demand more from people who haven't bothered to learn anything, but want to tell us what to think. The lack of basic inquisitiveness about the world among young (and many old) journalismos is disturbingly counterproductive. These new collegians who shouldn't be wasting their time and big dollars in higher education get Communications degrees so they won't ever be forced into the "hard" subjects. Currently, those who haven't learned to think, report instead.

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