Fri, 07/21/2017 - 04:51

Posted by Tamara Baluja on June 03, 2014


Honest question: how can journalism schools lead if students understand the web better than the instructors? Curriculum can take years to change. The world and technology doesn't wait.

Grantland. Jezebel. The Daily Beast. Fark. Deadspin. All interesting sites that are more popular with younger generations, yet their content is never discussed in class because instructors are usually a) unaware they exist, or b) don't read their content. Technology and web is for the young. They've probably spent more time on them than anything else, and in all likelihood are more literate in that sphere than their instructors.

Postmedia, G&M, CBC are like the old grandpas and grandmas who try to be "hip" with their new layouts (gimmicks) and click bait (the transformation of Rob Ford from disgraced politician to worldwide celebrity is on them, and I wouldn't call that an accomplishment), but these things get sniffed out easily. Look no further than the Star's feeble attempt at Game of Thrones episode recaps.

Newsrooms and other agencies would be also wise to NOT give the doom and gloom story about journalism to visiting students. Think ahead, be entrepeneurial and be willing to adapt.

"What's wrong with journalism education?" - probably take a lot less paper to describe what was 'right'. Well, a check around the CBC and other major Canadian mainstream media might give some clues to anyone who understood what real journalism was supposed to be and do, at least if we assume most of the people working at these major Cdn media organisations had some 'learning' in a Cdn 'journalism' school. If so, one would be led to the conclusion that you apparently graduate all kinds of people who don't really understand what the very idea of 'journalism' is all about. Listening to the CBC these days, or reading the major dailies, you get the impression that they think that gossip is a central part of 'news', witness the utterly pathetic paparazzi-like mobbing of Rob Ford for the last year by pretty much everyone. Or human emotion is 'news' - after any tragedy, almost the first inevitable questions from the excited child-cub-reporters sticking their little microphones in someone's face and asking 'Oh wow! How did you feel when you learned some tragic thing happened and your loved one got killed (or maimed or whatever)?!?' - they seem to think they are doing especially well if they can push someone into crying on camera or tape - such things certainly get lots of air time anyway, though they have nothing to do with real 'journalism'. The tragedy was 'news' sure - but how the 'loved one' reacted is not, it's just more gossip. Please tell me they aren't really learning this stuff in 'journalism school'.

Maybe when you go on to analyse why the current bunch thinking of themselves as 'mainstream media' are having troubles, you might get this into the equation. Gossip tabs don't have much of a reputation among the 'learned' classes who actually try to turn to the media to learn what is important in their world and country, things they need to know to make decisions about what is going on around them. (You might notice the mainstream media don't actually have a very good reputation these days either ( Perhaps these things are related.)

Your grads don't seem to understand either that propaganda is not 'journalism', and being a part of the 'corporate government secretariat media' demonizing whoever the US wants to demonize so they can go on their latest regime change mission does not make one a 'journalist'. And more and more, esp on the CBC, they all seem to have the idea that their opinions somehow qualify as 'news', the editorializing in the 'reporting' is really very bad, completely amateurish, almost every day there are examples, the last few years, getting worse all the time (I forget the exact situation, it was something like some CBC person 'reporting' as part of a 'story' of some kind a few years ago that 'the Chinese government is well known for its brainwashing of all its citizens', but I wrote the CBC ombudsperson saying this kind of 'editorialising' is not really very 'impartial' or 'good journalism', and s/he wrote back that, well, if we all know something is true , then it's not 'opinion' or 'editorialising', it's 'fact' - and since it's well known by everyone that the Chinese do, indeed, engage in brainwashing (or whatever it was), that there's no problem with the CBC in reporting it as 'factual'. Completely clueless about the point I was making - as it seems most people running around calling themselves 'journalists' these days are about any of the basic premises of 'real journalism'. (we might note in another story in the CJP this issue that another CBC person is defending the massive imbalance between rightwing-business propaganda by rightwing commentators they feature daily, and the almost non-existent chance for people sort of towards the left to respond, and no regular 'labour-worker POV' segments, ever, at all, as 'balanced'.)
Kind of ironical in a way that so many young 'wannabe but aren't quite there yet' journalists are complaining the media are not 'internet clued in' enough - they don't seem to understand the two most important things about the net, as regards 'news' - a), twitter, facebook, and the endless number of gossip places you can find might be endlessly entertaining and distracting to the child mind, but they are **not** 'journalism', and b) the net is, however, where the quite substantial number of 'real' journalists can be found - those who don't get any time on the CBC et al any more, who understand what true journalism is, challenging power, rather than being its enthusiastic secretariat, as pretty much all 'reporters' in the Cdn media seem to think their job is these days (clarity explanation - gossiping about the latest Rob Ford 'OMG we caught him drinking again!!!' vid, or all a-chatter about uncovering the Big Scoop!!! that some politician had an affair (OMG!!! giggle giggle) or a $16 glass of orange juice, or Mike Duffy's minor expense cheat, is **not** challenging power, or digging into serious places the rulers of our society don't want dug into, as real journalists do. Check out a place called 'the Real News' ( ) for some people who understand what 'real' journalism is really all about.
(well, we know the Twitter followers don't have much time for lengthier comments as who knows WHAT important gossip, sorry 'news', they might be missing, and this is getting to be one of those, so I'll leave it here - but a somewhat more detailed critical look at the CBC and their so-called 'journalism' in a letter I wrote last year - never answered - )


I believe it's a hasty generalization to say students understand the web better than the instructors. Many of my students struggle to see and use social media as journalistic tools. But you're right: We educators should be stepping outside the traditional CP/AP/Reuters kind of journalism to at least critically assess newer formats and in particular learn something about why they have been successful in building relationships with their audiences.

We still, however, must train them to be journalists and devote most of our analysis time looking the best journalism. Today, the top story on Jezebel is about Game of Thrones; the second top story on Jezebel is about a Sharknado 2 movie trailer. I don't think I'll be spending too much time discussing that site with my students.

Frank Carroll
College of the North Atlantic

J-Source and ProjetJ are publications of the Canadian Journalism Project, a venture among post-secondary journalism schools and programs across Canada, led by Ryerson University, Université Laval and Carleton University and supported by a group of donors.