SPidge Tales

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Current State of Journalism

Today, I was reading the First Things daily blog, and Fr. Neuhaus was discussing his interactions with reporters, something that he, as a regulor commentator on religous/political issues, does rather frequently. I was caught off guard by his initial remark disparing the education typical of many of the younger journalists we come across today.

As you might imagine, I spend a good deal of time talking with reporters. I usually don’t mind it. It comes with the territory. With notable exceptions, reporters are people of good will working hard to write a story that will please their editors. It is true that they are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer. These days most of them have gone to journalism school, or j-school, as it is called. In intellectual rankings at universities, journalism is just a notch above education, which is, unfortunately, at the bottom.

I am more than well aware of the joke that is what most Education degrees are. I'll be honest, when I meet someone with an M.Ed. or M.A. in Education (and, this is not meant to put down teachers; I am one--though non-accredited and teaching at a private school with a Bachelors in a real field and a Masters forthcoming (hopefully; cross your fingers) in a real field--and most teachers I know are smart), I do not think of them as really having a Masters, such as someone with a Masters in Political Theory or History or Philosophy or Theology, etc.; i.e. "real" fields.

But, his remark about Journalism schools caught me by surprise. I am no expert, and I have done no research into it, but from my knowledge, Journalism is a strong academic field. It was for certain one of the strongest, if not the strongest at St. Michael's (I am not writing this from the "inside"; I was a Philosophy Major, and my political views were not anywhere near the Left that the journalism school at SMC is). Some of my closest friends at SMC were Journalism majors, and they got as much as, if not more, out of a Journalism degree than they would have as English Majors (and the SMC English department is strong, as well). I'm not even talking jobs, per se. Just a well rounded education. This is something I will have to look into, though. Maybe the SMC Journalism department is an abberation. A Pittsburgh Steeler fish in a sea of New Orleans Saint fish. Or, as Chris Rock would say, a Tom Hanks fish in a sea of Jude Law fish (but of course, only kidding so as not to offend Sean Penn).

To be fair to Neuhaus, his remark about the place of Journalism schools among academic departments was only periferal, more of a "let's jump into this topic with some scary background info before I hammer down my point" kind of thing. His main point was, I believe, quite insightful. He mentions an interview he did with a reporter from a national paper that he leaves unnamed. She asked Neuhaus, "Is this something new?" in reference to another instance of political corruption. "No," he replied. "It's been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden." She responded with (I kid you not) "what garden was that?"

Neuhaus then mentions an interview he did recently with a reporter on Pope Benedict's forthcoming encyclical, the first he will release as Pope (it actually came out today). Neuhaus referred to the Pope as the bishop of Rome. The reporter asked, "Is it unusual that this Pope is the bishop of Rome?"

It is possible that these two reporters represent an anomaly. It is always dangerous, as Neuhaus does here, to pick out a couple rotten apples to show that the apple tree is flawed. It would be nice to see at least a few more apples, or maybe even the tree roots, before making a judgment. But, I think this does highlight an awful cultural ignorance of religious symbols and stories. Even if one does not adhere to Christian beliefs, or Jewish beliefs, etc, it is still important to have a cultural knowledge of those ideas that shaped western civilization. There is a disconnect between people who consider themselves religous and the media, and I don't think the disconnect is mainly that the press does not agree with them, or is to the political left of them. It is that the press does not understand them, does not understand their worldview.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Christopher Hitchens is an atheist, and more than that antagonistic toward religion, yet at least he knows religous history and religious stories, and understands the religous worldview. Unfortunately, I do not believe most people are culturally educated. When Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees, and had to shave his hair and cut his beard, some joked that he may lose his strenght, like Samson. I have often repeated the joke (I love to repeat jokes :-)), but sadly am often met with a blank stare. And, it is not because they are ignorant of Johnny Damon and baseball.

To read Fr. Neuhaus' short four paragraph blog on this, go to www.firstthings.com and read the first item from January 25, 2006.


Blogger Tim Simard said...

Dr. Neushaus seems a little jaded when it comes to journalists and, it appears, rightly so. If he's sitting down with morons who have no idea who he is, then his has the right to make cracks at the journalism school industry. However, he should realize that it's unfair to judge a whole profession on a few bad apples. I'm studying journalism in grad school and in my interviews, I've done extensive preparation. You can't go into an interview knowing next to nothing about the subject or the person. Unfortunately, it happens a lot. That's what separates the good writers from the guys who write for the local free community paper. (I'm sorry, that was an unneccessary slam. I'm not much better, I can't spell all that well.) Anyway, the question is "are journalists ignorant?" I would say that the vast majority are not. But when those idiots show up, they are always the ones that are remembered. Goddamn, I have to find a different career choice!

9:23 PM  
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