Thursday, July 31, 2003

While usually a fan of Tapped, I have to take issue with this entry about the study of journalism at a university level:

Staffers at The Battalion, the Texas A&M student newspaper, are printing a mostly blank editorial page today to protest the school's plans to scrap the undergraduate journalism program. "The administration says it wants to produce quality journalists, but we think this blank page more accurately portrays their true commitment to journalism," True Brown, the paper's editor, told the San Antonio Express-News.

We appreciate the esprit de corps, but when it comes to undergraduate journalism programs -- and most other pre-professional undergraduate programs -- Tapped says: Scrap away. We can't think of a bigger waste of four years of college than to study journalism there. Journalism isn't an academic subject; it's a trade, one that almost anyone with the basic skill set -- clear writing and aggressive reporting -- can pick up in six months at a small metro daily. Really good journalism isn't easy, of course, but you don't get to be a good journalist by studying "journalism" in college. Better to study economics, or history, or English literature, or philosophy, or one of the other liberal arts. If you feel like you need a little schooling in the trade, spend eight months at j-school when you graduate.
This is wrongheaded, and there are several reasons why:

First, this money isn't going to be going towards liberal arts, and Tapped should know better. This money is going to be going into other pre-professional programs (especially the various business degrees), as those are the ones that get the alumni support, that get the support from administrators who are constantly haranguing (and harangued) about "useless college degrees" and that are chased by students whose interest in university is solely in the amount of cash they can make afterwards. This is entirely counterproductive- it's like a Political Science prof. complaining that studying English and Sociology is unnecessary, blissfully unaware that all their budgets are being cut to make way for a new Business/Economics wing.

Second, Tapped doesn't get to decide what is or isn't worthy of study. I imagine that there are those who think that studying, say, Computer Science at a university level is a waste as well, considering that one can learn to be a programmer in a shorter period of time than one can learn to be a decent journalist. The difference is that of concept vs. execution- a university degree is supposed to delve into the theoretical ideas behind something like journalism. If people deem those theoretical ideas worthy of study (and they do), then to arbitrarily say "it's not worth it" is presumptuous at the least.

Finally, the biggest problem with Tapped's point of view is that we've already seen the result of what Tapped has in mind, and it's the conservative opinion media. One of the biggest charges that Alterman, Brock, and others have laid at the feet of the various members of the Wurlitzer is that they care little for journalism in-and-of itself except in how it supports their ideology and/or their careers. While I don't believe in enshrining objectivity, respect for power of the media is something that all journalists should learn, and there is no guarantee that they'll learn anything like that with "on the job training" somewhere like the National Review, the Washington Times, the American Prospect, or any number of well-paying and well-connected but ethically dubious homes of right-wing "journalism". Besides, without any sort of theory of journalism to base the critique on, attempts to convince young conservative journalists to place their craft over their ideology are doomed anyway; they would be easily crushed by a load of relativist defenses. I don't want to see the Times become the rule, rather than the exception.

(No college worth its salt would allow J-students to only take courses on journalism, so the sort of wasted time that Tapped bemoans is unnecessary.)

Does this mean that I would study journalism, were I an aspiring student choosing a major? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I know that I'd be glad that the option remains available, and I think that if Tapped were in the same position, they'd feel the same way. I support the Battalion, and wish them well.

On the other hand, I entirely agree with their take on those clueless mouthbreathers at the College Republican conference:

"Let's hope these bigoted, pathetic little snits aren't our future."

I wish I were that optimistic.

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