Friday, October 08, 2004

Take heart, they say

From Romenesko re: "Columbia J-School Students Terrify Locals"

Those "phony" assignments were great
10/7/2004 6:40:48 PM

From ED HERSH: Just from reading all of these letters, I'm reliving that pit-of-your-stomach feeling of being on a Columbia J-school deadline As a 1976 graduate of the school, I was sent out on all of those phony assignments as part of RW-1 in the midst of New York's first fiscal crisis. And you know what? They were among the most rewarding and exciting times I can remember. What I remember most are the politicians, city officials, and journalists who took pity on me and as a result gave me a front seat to a great story, among them the late Paul O'Dwyer, Harrison Goldin, and the late Jerry Nachman. One day Nachman, then a reporter for WCBS radio, let me come in with him as he interviewed O'Dwyer, then city council president. After Nachman's interview was over, I hung around to ask a few more questions... and got a scoop about some new deadlines in the fiscal crisis. Unfortunately, the only people that saw them were my classmates. But it was a great experience, and I will always remember those who went out of their way to help a student on his first "stories." I hope the school never stops giving those assignments, and that those in power never forget that everybody started somewhere, and a little kindness goes a long way.

Everything's easy after covering beats in college
10/7/2004 3:11:06 PM

From MARK LEWIS, I sympathize with those New York politicos who are regularly harassed by Columbia j-students conducting interviews for pretend stories. I sympathize even more with the students. I was introduced to the joys of covering city council meetings years ago at Northwesten when I took Medill's "Intro" course -- boot camp for grad-school journalists -- during which each student was assigned a beat in a nearby town and required (as I recall) to turn in daily stories. Year after year these hapless suburbs north of Chicago would be swarmed by earnest tyros desperately seeking daily copy in sleepy burgs that didn't even support a daily newspaper.

My own beat was the city government of Northbrook, Ill., where I found the city manager and his staff remarkably tolerant of my attempts to inflate their innocuous activities -- annexing unincorporated land, adding new stop signs, etc. -- into something resembling news. I remember the frustration of churning out story after story that nobody but my instructor would ever see. But I learned how to cover a beat. I don't know if they still run Intro that way at Medill, but if they do, I've a message for the current class: Cheer up. It'll be over soon, and nothing you ever do in the rest of your career will be as hard as the month you just spent wringing daily stories out of unwilling sources in a town without news.

NYO isn't alone in ragging on Columbia j-school
10/7/2004 2:58:48 PM

From COREY PEIN: Trevor Butterworth [letter below] is right. Nor is the Observer the only publication to take a special delight in ragging on Columbia j-schoolers, when Medill grads could serve much the same purpose. So I feel obliged say that what I told Brian Montopoli about many Columbia students could be said about the profession as a whole -- more would rather join the ranks of the comfortable than go anywhere near the afflicted.

Privileged students in underprivileged areas
10/7/2004 2:04:19 PM

From TREVOR BUTTERWORTH: Even though I am an avid fan of the New York Observer, I generally discount its reporting on Columbia's J-School as being inflected with a degree of animus absent, say, from the paper's reporting on NYU's J-School which, of course, has a more "robust" relationship with Observer owner Arthur Carter. [emphasis added]

Yet the recent "where have you gone, Jimmy Breslin" story touched on what I believe to be one of the thorniest ethical problems in journalism education: is it right for largely privileged students to practive journalism on largely underprivileged neighborhoods without giving anything in return?

As one who felt the open hatred of some of the residents of Morrisania for journalism students - "you're all parasites," as one woman put it - I'm not sure that this practice sends the right message about journalism to either the subjects or the reporters. I also can't help thinking that if the demographics were reversed, and a plague of tyro reporters fell upon the more salubrious neighborhoods of New York, this moral dilemma might receive the attention it deserves.

Students should be able to get "real" bylines
10/7/2004 1:54:39 PM

From MARK DALY: Subject: NYO on Columbia j-students. A quick read of Brian Montopoli's NYO piece left me confused. In a city of 8 million souls, why is Columbia assigning multiple students to create beat sheets for the same narrow slices of upper Manhattan and The Bronx? Surely their student-run newspaper can afford to widen its coverage area a bit.

As for students not having their work published, there are abundant opportunities for freelancing and interning at the dozens and dozens of ethnic and neighborhood weeklies in the city. Columbia's new dean should consider making arrangements with these papers so that j-school students can get "real" bylines as soon as possible.


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