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The Latest In Fear: Journalism Professors

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The rise of blogging coupled with a growing distrust of traditional media may be causing palpitations in the hearts of journalism’s ivory tower university dwellers.

The Latest In Fear: Journalism Professors
The Latest In Fear: Journalism Professors

It’s not easy watching one’s fiefdom being broken into shards by uncontrollable forces. Dr. Norm Matloff at UC Davis has written frequently about outsourcing’s effect on technology, and the impact it has had on computer science departments.

Fewer students means less clout in the labyrinthine power structures of higher education. It’s happened with computer science, and maybe it’s happening with journalism programs as well.

Recently, Elon University journalism professor Michael Skube, a Pulitzer Prize winner for Criticism, brought his view of blogs to the Los Angeles Times. He argues that bloggers aren’t journalists, no matter what legal protections or press credentials have been bestowed upon those who don’t work directly for a traditional media organization.

While it’s true many bloggers don’t plumb the depths of stories they cover, many have figured in greater stories. Skube gives bloggers credit for bringing abuses at Walter Reed Medical to public attention, but reserves deeper praise for the deserving investigative reporters who covered it in depth.

Fair enough. But why the attack on bloggers? We can’t help but feel that The Fear may be slipping into campuses, sliding up ivy-covered walls and into the minds of young, inquisitive students. Why sit through semester after semester of lectures and tests when you can dive in and make a journalistic splash?

The problems with blogging that Skube lamented ended up having a minor role in the piece he contributed to the Times, a long-time name in professional journalism. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo didn’t care for being lumped in with hobbyist bloggers, and called Skube out on his assertion.

One problem: Skube didn’t put Marshall’s name in the op-ed piece. The bastion of "thorough fact-checking and verification and, most of all, perseverance," the LA Times, did:

So against my better judgment, I sent Skube an email telling him that I found it hard to believe he was very familiar with TPM if he was including us as examples in a column about the dearth of original reporting in the blogosphere.

Now, I get criticized plenty. And that’s fair since I do plenty of criticizing. And I wouldn’t raise any of this here if it weren’t for what came up in Skube’s response.

Not long after I wrote I got a reply: "I didn’t put your name into the piece and haven’t spent any time on your site. So to that extent I’m happy to give you benefit of the doubt …"

This seemed more than a little odd since, as I said, he certainly does use me as an example — along with Sullivan, Matt Yglesias and Kos. So I followed up noting my surprise that he didn’t seem to remember what he’d written in his own opinion column on the very day it appeared and that in any case it cut against his credibility somewhat that he wrote about sites he admits he’d never read.

To which I got this response: "I said I did not refer to you in the original. Your name was inserted late by an editor who perhaps thought I needed to cite more examples … "

And this is from someone who teaches journalism?

One would expect someone who argues so passionately in favor of rigorous, professional journalism would go the extra step of making sure his words were not being altered. It’s a sterling example of why people view journalists of all stripes with varying measures of distrust.

In many ways, just as shown here, that distrust has been earned. All a blogger like Marshall has to do is be transparent with sources and reporting for people to perceive value in blogging.

If enough future journalists embrace that perception, they may be more likely to spend their college tuition on a laptop, a video phone, and a fast Internet connection, rather than four years of education for an uncertain future in traditional media. If that happens, will universities start trimming their journalism programs?

It’s enough to make a professor mad at the blogosphere, isn’t it?

The Latest In Fear: Journalism Professors
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  • http://cronkite.asu.edu/index.php Leslie-Jean Thornton

    Chances are, Michael Skube didn’t get a chance to know how his article had been edited before it showed up in print since that’s the “normal” process. The editor who inserted the examples, however, would have done well to check with Skube ahead of time. It was a good instinct to want to make the article more specific, but not so good to just go ahead and do it. That kind of editing goes beyond what should be done without the author’s knowledge. Perhaps that attempt was made and the piece was published prematurely — which is a whole other can of worms.