Why J-School Sucks

In the old days, someone would become a journalist by working as a copy boy or a cub reporter and working their way up, and they saw themselves as tradesmen.

Now, they get a Bachelors in Journalism, and they fancy themselves professionals, and the contrast is both striking and depressing:

I was talking to this person whom I’d just met. They told me about their job and where they worked. They asked me about mine. I told them I’d worked in public media in Alaska before moving to the Lower 48. I was a couple of months from wrapping up my time as a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford. They asked about what I worked on and I explained my research around collaboration in journalism and that I intended to continue working in this space after the fellowship ended.

“Well, what does your husband do?”

“He’s a truck driver and a mechanic.”


“Yeah, right now he drives for a trash company.”

“That must be…an interesting perspective to have around.”

While they didn’t explicitly say it, the person was very much thrown off by the nature of my husband’s work. I was left with a very strong feeling they were expecting a more middle-class answer than a garbage worker. Their facial reaction has been stuck in my head for a while now. Surprise. A little confusion. And just enough distaste to notice. Obviously, this one instance isn’t representative of an entire industry. But it is a symptom.

The last two ‘graphs say it all:

If that conference interaction is how a journalist responds to my husband’s job while idly chatting, how do they cover the sanitation worker that ends up in a story they are working on? If talking about someone to that person’s spouse isn’t enough to cause one to mask aversion, how do they talk about people to whom they feel even more distance from? What does this mean for our audience’s ability to trust us?

Our industry needs to think hard about the worlds we’re living in, the kinds we’re building with each hire we make and ones that we want to reach with our reporting.

It’s natural for professors to see themselves as professionals, but by inculcating their students in this mindset, they have created a generation of journalists who afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable.

This is not a recipe for good or responsible journalism.

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