James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist

  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘journalism education’

Media organizations: Why you should hire my journalism students

Posted by James McPherson on March 5, 2009

Obviously in many ways this is not the best time for a wide-eyed change-the-world college journalism grad to venture forth into a changing media world. Newspapers and local television stations–the two places that grads traditionally might start (and perhaps spend) their careers–are suffering. One of my students has spent a lot of time and effort blogging about the state of the industry.

Yet that blog also helps illustrate one of the reasons that the many media organizations that do need help should be trying to get my students to go to work for them. Those students realize what the current media world looks like (for proof, see their video evidence below), and yet still feel that they can use media to make a positive impact on society.

And they’re already using their skills to do so. They produce an award-winning and technologically multifaceted newspaper, the Whitworthian. Most of the members of the editorial staff have already done professional internships. They are bloggers and Twitterers. Despite heavy course loads and long hours putting out a newspaper, 10 of those students also have taken it upon themselves to do an independent study program this semester, in which they devote two hours per week to learning (largely by researching and taking turns teaching) and improving more technical multimedia skills.

Obviously, unlike some of the flabby technophobes now cluttering newsrooms (while more recently hired people with more imagination and enthusiasm are let go, under “last-hired, first-fired” policies that also reduce diversity), the soon-to-be grads bring a wide range of the kind of skills that might actually save American journalism. Exactly how they might do that remains to be seen–after all, dozens of media professionals in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere have told me and my students during the past couple of months that they (the professionals) don’t have a clue how to go about it.

But counting only on middle-aged media folks (and I happen to be one of those) to fix things would be like bringing back the Bush administration to save the American economy. Those who were in charge when things fell apart–regardless of whether they were at fault–are not particularly likely to be the best pe0ple to put it back together.

Rapidly changing technology isn’t the only issue, of course. Though our students tend to have an advantage in that area over many students elsewhere, they may be a bit behind students in programs that place most of their emphasize on “tools and toys.” But the tools and toys keep changing, and the media need employees capable of changing with them. The liberal arts-and-skills emphasis of our program turns our student journalists into good writers and creative thinkers, not just technicians.

That same emphasis also means that our students develop needed interests and skills outside of journalism. Many have studied abroad, and most are at least somewhat fluent in more than one language. They study philosophy and math. Many double major, typically in areas such as business or political science. All take courses in literature and history (and are required to take a course in media history, so they know where the industry has been).

Within our program, we place a heavy emphasis on ethics–so much so that an ethics class (offered as an elective at some schools, if offered at all) is the senior-level capstone class for all of our majors. At a time when American journalism gets about the same level of trust and respect as Congress, journalists who understand and apply ethical considerations should be in high demand.

Obviously professional news organizations need people who can do the job of putting together meaningful and well-researched stories in various ways. To help illustrate that my students can do that, too, I’ll share a few examples of what they’ve produced (you can see others on the Whitworthian site). It is worth noting that these examples were produced by so-called “print journalists” who recogize that media are undergoing vast and sometimes scary changes–and yet still want to be involved with those media. The industry needs them–and society as a whole needs them, too.

Voices of Inauguration“:

The Journalist’s Digital Dilemma“:

“Media Impact Sights & Sounds” slideshow:

“STA World Traveler” (Note: Checking out this video may actually improved the student’s chances of getting an internship):

Posted in Education, Journalism, Personal, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Newseum and the First Amendment

Posted by James McPherson on June 23, 2008

The greatly expanded Newseum, which calls itself the “world’s most interactive museum” has finally re-opened. The museum about journalism has moved from an out-of-the way location in Arlington, Va., to Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. Symbolically, that’s a good place for journalists to be, or at least it was when Congress actually performed its oversight function of the White House and the press served as a watchdog over both.

You’ve seen the $450 million project if you watch “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on ABC on Sunday mornings. It is drawing mix reviews, drawing some complaints about its pricing ($20 a head) and its failure to be current enough. In an American Prospect article titled “This Old Medium,” Anabel Lee (listed as an intern, so I’m guessing she’s young) complains that the Newseum devotes too little attention to the Internet. Frankly I have little problem with that perceived neglect of a not-very-historical medium (and I write that as someone whose latest chapter in a journalism history text actually is about the Internet age). No, I’m more concerned about Lee’s other main point, when she writes:

But it fails to tell us how we got from point A to point B, from the country’s first partisan newspapers to the World Wide Web. It fails to show how journalism has evolved. And by fetishizing newspaper relics and touching on major developments like new media in only a cursory manner, the Newseum unwittingly declares the death of the newspaper. It is at best a poorly executed history museum and at worst a news mausoleum that will, at the very least, provide a beautiful resting place for that final newspaper 35 years from now.

She’s right, of course, but perhaps such a shortcoming is appropriate since journalists themselves also fail far too often “to tell us how we got from point A to point B.” Historical context usually goes lacking, a situation seemingly bound to worsen as journalism schools more and more emphasize the “tools and toys” of journalism over its history. When I was seeking academic jobs, positions that included the teaching of media history–while never as common as I’d have liked–could be found throughout the country. Now virtually every journalism opening seeks someone who can teach media technology and/or public relations (an areas that in itself would have been kept away from most journalism programs, but those programs have long since become “mass communication” departments

Even the old Newseum was a great place to take journalism students, and I’ll take a group to the new version in January. I did geta kick out of it in 1999 when one of my my students noticed that an exhibit repeated a common myth that I had previously discussed in class, and I found the facility helped students better understand the business they hoped to enter. I also bought one of my favorite neckties there.

I am a bit troubled that almost every exhibit is sponsored by a major media corporation, including News Corp, NBC, Comcast, Bloomberg, Cox, Time Warner and the New York Times. With 250,000 square feet and 6,000 journalism artifacts inside, one of the highlights of the new version is actually etched onto the outside: a 74-foot-high engraving of the First Amendment.

Too bad the media themselves don’t spend more time discussing the reasons for a free press. Back when I did my master’s thesis, I found that throughout key points in recent decades, the press has virtually ignored the First Amendment except as a feeble expression of self-defense.

Like many journalism historians, I fear the demise of newspapers. But as an American, I fear even more the demise of the First Amendment. At least we’ll be able to read it in granite, as we walk by on our way to the Drudge exhibit.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »