In the direction of better things

Wallpapering the newsroom.

Clearly, I’m wallpapering the newsroom.

The walls of my cubicle in the Arizona Daily Wildcat newsroom are wallpapered in newspapers from other schools, in notes to myself and giant lists of strategies and goals and things to do. I’m re-evaluating a lot of what the Wildcat has done — both right and wrong — to figure out what the next move should be.

In doing so, I’ve been questioning a lot of what I believe journalism is, what its role should be, how it goes about fulfilling that role and why this column on why a fellow student journalist won’t pursue professional journalism pisses me off so much.

I couldn’t get it out of my head for a while, and I struggled to form a coherent thought about it at first. But I think it bothers me so much because even though the writer begins by saying he has never had formal training in journalism, he seems to hold an old-fashioned view of journalism that I’ve raised issue with in my own j-school training — a view that somehow stifles innovation in journalism even though it demands it at the same time.

The State Press columnist goes on to explain that he sought a profession in which “reporters champion truth in the name of public good,” but he will not continue his pursuit after graduation because he’s grown disillusioned: “From the local and regional level, to national and international alike, pressing issues go underreported every day, if they are reported at all.”

He goes on to cite a bunch of examples of stories that actually are frequently covered if you read more than one newspaper, but whatever. Sanitized reporting is actually a genuine problem (though I wouldn’t argue so by declaring the realities of climate change are “muffled over anti-intellectual cries from the political right”). But then the writer just gives in. Basically says, “Fuck. I’m fucked,” then rolls over and goes back to bed.

But no one ever solved a problem by saying, “Hey, look. There’s a problem.”  The problem with journalism isn’t that six companies — General Electric, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS — are media giants and powerful lobbying forces. It’s that people like this columnist are willing to lay down their metaphorical pens and just take it.

Who decreed that going into professional journalism means you have to become some media giant’s bitch anyway? If the old model for journalism doesn’t work, and the old model doesn’t look like it’ll ever change on its own, then make a new model.

There’s that advice in writing, about how you have to kill your darlings. The same goes for journalism. You have to be brave enough to kill your darlings to make way for better results.

And that provides a nice segway into why it’s desperately important that journalism schools innovate now rather than later. I suspect a huge part of why journalism schools teach to old-media ways is that j-schools just don’t know what or how else to teach, but there is probably nothing more frustrating than being told that old media is dead and then receive training that feels better suited to working in old media. If innovation in journalism needs to happen, then it has to start where journalists start — during their training in school.

I think journalism is moving in a new direction — in the direction of better, brighter things. But that journey requires a boldness that neither that State Press guy nor a lot of journalism schools seem to possess. And that’s the realer threat to journalism.

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