April 18, 2003

Bollinger’s Statement

I didn’t expect anything earth-shattering from Lee C. Bollinger’s task force statement on journalism education at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. And I wasn’t disappointed. But I do think the thrust of his statement is important: journalists must be broadly educated:

That a journalism school is located within a great university, which houses an extraordinary amount of expertise on virtually any subject, means that it would be an intellectual tragedy not to ensure that students partake of the feast.

If at first this seems like common sense, don’t be fooled. I would assert that the majority of students in higher education miss this feast because they come to college focused on being trained for a job rather than getting an education. This situation may be particularly distressful in regard to the practice of journalism (necessary to the civic health of a democratic republic), which, to be done well, requires not only basic professional skills but the ability to think critically and in context. To achieve this, Bollinger believes journalists need

a functional knowledge of statistics, the basic concepts of economics, and an appreciation for the importance of history and for the fundamental debates in modern political theory and philosophy.

To this list I would add a deeper understanding of language and how it works from the disciplines of rhetoric, linguistics, cognitive science, and psycho-linguistics.

April 16, 2003

Journalist Demographics

Tim Porter, of the First Draft blog, has an excellent rundown of a new survey of American journalists. Demographics, specifically political affiliations, often arise in discussions of media bias. Porter says:

I hate the liberal-conservative press debate since it’s like arguing over the weather–and because I believe most newspaper journalists are reactionary (in the non-political sense) by nature, and therefore a root cause of newsroom stagnation. That said, the survey found that 37 percent of journalists identify themselves as Democrats, moving them closer to the national percentage of 32 percent. It’s the lowest number since 1971 (proving, perhaps, that the greatest Democratic recruiter in the last half-century was Richard Nixon).

Interesting reading.

April 1, 2003

Should the press root for victory?…

Debra Saunders says:

When mainstream journalists report both sides of racism–pro and con, with equal weight–or both sides of having a free press in America, then I’ll believe that American media don’t take sides on issues, and that there is at least a rationale for American media not rooting for U.S. troops to win in Iraq. But that day will never come.

She properly qualifies this statement by observing that there are many issues in which “thinking” Americans agree. I would add that cultural values constitute a part of this “thinking.” For example, there may be cognitive differences between racists and the rest of us, but there are certainly cultural differences. Mainstream journalists are part of a culture that repudiates racism (what to do about it is open to debate).

Can we apply this same thinking to coverage of war? Saunders makes an excellent case. But I am not persuaded because, for the most part, American journalists are not against American troops. And, from the bulk of the coverage I’ve seen/heard/read, they hardly seem against the war. They do, however, fulfill that watchdog function for which they rightly deserve praise.

I don’t want journalists to look the other way when tough situations arise just as I don’t want them to forget they are Americans. Being a good journalist often requires the ability to live with contradictions and irony.

April 1, 2003

Peter and Geraldo…

Howard Kurtz runs down the recent troubles of journalists Peter Arnett and Geraldo Rivera. You’ll also find many links to material on Arnett at Romenesko (scroll down). I have no comment on either case.

April 1, 2003

Freedom of speech…

Is this a great country, or what? Today, thanks to Jeremy Gilchrist, we are free to express exactly what we think…to police dogs. And in their language, too!

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