Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Monday, August 01, 2005

From One Point of View, Journalism is Just a State of Mind

No no no, you don't have to be a working journalist to come in and play. Five years after graduation, a majority of journalism students are NOT working in journalism. Some have tried it and didn't like it, while others never had any intention of doing journalism but enjoyed their journalism study nevertheless.

(And some of you are working in some form of *public relations.* Oooooooh. What's it like over there on the dark side? Yet the force is still strong in you.)

For many USF students, the study of journalism is just another emphasis, just another path through the mindfield -- accidental wordplay; let it ride -- of requirements on the way to careers that, superficially, have nothing to do with the collection of information and the production of news. And that, of course, is fine, since I would argue that journalism trains us in analysis, sharpens our abilities to focus and summarize and certainly is one of the best ways to sharpen our media literacy.

The study of journalism builds citizens, right? From one point of view, the problem right now is not that "better" news is not being offered to the public; the problem is that the public does not want better news. We need educated motivated consumers. We have plenty of competent makers -- if the public decides it wants what they make.

So this is also a place for those of you who aren't journalists and want to talk about the big picture and how USF fits into that picture.


TJ Jackson said...

Well said. And thanks for the official invite to all of us post-grad journalism drop-outs. As it turns out my journalistic glory came on a "research" trip to San Jose in preperation for my Magazine Writing final assignment - I wouldn't have had it any other way ... at least that's the way I remember it.

Lia Steakley said...

From what I can tell people committed to a career in journalism have are sadomasochists, especially those of us at daily newspapers.

I think most students go into journalism thinking they'll land at a glamorous magazine a la Les Shu :) and go to fabulous parties in between writing witty copy. But those are just your internships.

The ladder to Pulitzer Prize has steps made of knives. I say make USF's journalism major every bit as tough as the real thing...and the Texan in me says make it tougher. But I'm not sure that's possible.

Make sure to have a class in computer-assisted reporting, which largely deals with extrapolating data from massive spreadsheets or efficiently searching databases. A class on public record and open meeting laws is a MUST and so is a class on Freedom of Information Act and First Amendment law. USF has a law school make the newbies take it there.

Copyediting should stress Chicago manual of style and AP style. And this time, Robertson, make those AP style quizzes count. The newbies will thank you later.

Load USF computers with industry preferred NewsEdit Pro software and Quark. Make the students learn HTML and Web editing just ask Leah Hitchings at NYTimes.com how much she needed to learn how to make a table using HTML to land her job.

I know USF is all about philosophy and big ideas. But tell those lofty big thinkers that the students need a vocational journalism education if they want to land one of the two jobs that will be left at the last standing media conglomerate.

In reporting II, make the students write on deadline even if class has to be three hours once a week. Let the students report for the first few hours and write the last hour. Make them spend more time at boring meetings like the school board and city council. Hell make them go to the city planning meetings and watch their heads spin while zoning labels are tossed about like slang and half way through you'd swear meeting officials were speaking a foreign tongue. Then make them write a story. And require an internship...even if it just means you can't graduate with honors or something without one. They're not THAT hard to get.

Post students stories online, include their email addresses and make their phone number for sources to call and bitch about mistakes. Make then write corrections. Encourage all sources to read the stories and provide feedback.

For the journalism major choose a rigorous curriculum and then you won't have a problem with people thinking journalism is all fun and glamour with a salary of $50,000 or more. Instead, it's stories about wastewater connection charges, land use issues, school board and city council squabbling, local elections and more mentally insane people calling you at 9 a.m. then you know what to do with for about $30,000—before taxes. Oh, and your newsroom is in middle America not major metropolitan areas.

One ace in student’s pockets is if they speak a second language fluently, which can get you into a larger newspaper newsroom quicker. I'd suggest a Middle Eastern language if you want to work at the New York Times and Spanish for most California dailies. Another way to launch your career is to go work in China, where I hear dozens of English language newspapers are hiring like mad.

With all the rude awakenings of a career in journalism, I think the one thing that keeps us in it is the euphoric feeling of writing a really good story. Every once in a while you write something so well it gets picked up by other publications or you end up breaking a story that is later picked up by other publications. And the adrenaline numbs the knife of the career ladder you're standing on long enough for you to continue climbing. When you're lacking that feeling have a cocktail and try to make it to Friday. I hear if you're at the New York Times cocaine is the choice drug.

I say do the students a favor and weed out the future flaks early. Oh..and another trick for students is to go to journalism conferences with all the other struggling writers. I went to one in Seattle that had tons of annoying Ivy leaguer student journalists there. But it's still a good way to mix with journalists. Just make sure the students don't ask the editors for jobs.