Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In defence of journalism education | MAD Democracy

Occasionally, I fancy myself a poor man’s version of Robin Williams in “Dead Poet Society.” Along the way of every journalism course I teach, I give a few speeches. I have a routine of AP style jokes and comma rules. I recite from Zinsser and Strunk & White. I remind students the importance of being human in ethical quandaries. And, I always start the course with a moment of de-fearing.

You see, whether the six-credit J202 I teach now, the J3109 and MMC2100 I taught at UF, or the J101 I enrolled in my freshman year at Point Park, the first semester of J-school gets a bit of a reputation. A scary, requires-lots-of-work reputation.

So, I bring it on back to reality. I remind students that nothing in the class is impossible and hard work will earn dividends. Mostly, I tell them that there’s a hidden gem to the class: intangible skills like deadline management, organization, a heightened sense of accuracy and resourcefulness.

Every employer, I proclaim, wants to hire good communicators. So whether you end up working in the media industry or not, the skills you learn here will be transferable to your career.

I am glad to see that message got through. In the semester-end blog posts, students talked about those skills. Megan talked about getting diverse voices to make a stronger project. Michelle wrote about work ethic. Morgan wrote about asking for help. Courtney wrote about being an ethical practitioner.

And, Brian. Well, Brian… It seems I may have scared him off becoming a news writer. I’ll be OK with that. But, I’m a little sad that the man who only five months ago got national attention for his love of journalism is defeated. He writes:

Maybe it is my love of using the first person or maybe it is because I have things to say and straight reporting seems, well, boring and not nearly as rewarding for me as it is to some, that my career in journalism may be over before it had a puncher’s chance to begin.

Even still, I have a response to Brian and the others out there like him. “Journalism can help you too.”

Journalists are writers who find their own voice while giving voice to others. Learning to write in a journalistic style forces clarity, brevity and authenticity into every line. Being a journalist doesn’t mean slashing the throat of your unique style — it means refining it. Being a journalist doesn’t mean you don’t share your story — it means finding a compelling way to do it. Being a journalist isn’t the boring route – it’s the exhilaration of chasing bank robbers through the woods, of finding a number in a budget sheet to hold elected officials accountable, of investigating a cold-case in a way that brings closure to a family.

Choose journalism education because of the skills it totes along. Choose journalism because it will make you a stronger person. Choose journalism because this world needs to hear your voice.

You must strive to find your own voice. The longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.

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