Where Have All the Serious Journalists Gone?

School shouldn't let students do softer stories


I want to talk about news. I feel the need to have this one-sided discussion (though feel free to respond) because I noticed a trend in my print journalism class that…well, let me explain.

Our first assignment was to define a beat that we would report on all semester. Then we had to apply for it. We made appointments with the instructor for job interviews, resume, portfolio, shirt and tie, it was good practice. Prior to the interview, the class reviewed the proposed beats. I noticed a trend. In a class of about 20 students, 17 proposals involved some form of entertainment. Sports beats ruled the day followed by an assortment of music, food, geeks, etc.

There were other relevant suggestions; water, poverty, local government, but they were far outnumbered by culture and entertainment postings.

The interview was interesting. I applied for an opinion writer’s position.

She asked if I had any ideas for columns.

I told her I thought a good place to start would be a commentary on the trend I observed in the “beat” review.

She interpreted my idea as insulting, saying as much in the critique of my session. She almost thought I was too opinionated to write an opinion column. It’s like when I applied for work at Harley-Davidson. I had the qualifications but Human Resources and several department heads worried I was “too much like a biker.”

I got the job at Harley and did okay. Now I got this one. I think I’ll do okay here too.

But I digress.

The entertainment factor is part of my reason for studying this field. I was finding it harder and harder to wade through the glitter and fluff to find relevant information. In this class, I find a propensity to produce the kind of noise I found unsettling to begin with.

Imagine the New York Times having 50 percent of staff devoted to sports. The local daily paper has four people on Packer coverage according to their sports columnist Michael Hunt. Yet, in the last year, they’ve laid off many reporters like every other newspaper. Are sports and entertainment the only safe jobs in print?

The instructor did her best to find niches for all the sports reporters. She offered advice and encouragement. At the risk of another insult, I would suggest that’s just encouraging bad behavior, but hey, I’m the student, and she’s the teacher. Right?

I’ve been surprised by the direction a couple beats have taken, beats I too readily placed in the irrelevant column. The “food” writer seems serious. The neighborhood feature beat took a surprising turn too.

I may be jumping the gun here. I may have underestimated other potential relevancy.I’m learning as I go along. I’m older though, more of a skeptic, and I don’t expect much. I’m just glad to be in school. Learning is a lifelong process. and I feel privileged to be able to participate in the process at this level at this stage in my life.

Even if it’s something as superficial as sports and music, the student will be getting out there meeting people, talking, taking chances and dealing with the unexpected then crafting stories from the experience. That’s practical knowledge.

I still worry about the lack of relevant content though. People, with the skills to gather that content and the ability to recognize and emphasize the relevancy of that information and present it to the public coherently, are all doing play by play for some farm team now. Could be anyways.

Is developing a sports contact similar to establishing political or social connections? Is investigating steroids the same as uncovering corrupt lobbying? How does counting home runs compare to counting Senate votes or counting carbon parts in the atmosphere?

Well, we have to trust our teachers.


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