Friday, February 1, 2013

Whither Journalism?

Well, it's time to reminisce about my J-School days in the 70s. We all smoked, drank, and typed on clunky old Remingtons. We were fast, accurate typists, because backspace wasn't the same as erase. The profs told us the school was on the ragged edge of being disaccredited, because it often failed to meet the university's academic standards. So, they were going to flog us until the School of Journalism was back in its good graces. It worked.

We learned to cover the courts, review music and movies, and write features. We learned about the great journalists and freedom of the press. My favorite journalist was E.B. White, the "Sage of Emporia." Never cared much for "Charlotte's Web," though. Too scary, like "Alice in Wonderland." We learned about history. I knew why Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves before Spielberg made the movie. Did you? We learned we could get out of jury duty simply by saying we were journalists. We learned to copy-edit, and committed Strunk and White and Fowler to memory. They told us not to get cocky about being writers--journalism was a trade, not a profession. A low-paying one, at that. We got jobs with the local newspapers and drove around collecting ads for the supermarkets and buying beer for the typesetters as they put the paper to bed. I still cherish a Linotype slug that Marlon tossed me. I caught it without thinking. Aiyee--hot lead.

This year, CU closed its Journalism school. Now Journalism's just a major in the Arts and Sciences School. Apparently accreditation was in danger again, and the school wasn't keeping up with rapid changes in the industry. One of the major Denver dailies had just closed. Whatever. Enrollment in the major is higher than ever.

This is not to say that journalism isn't experiencing hard times. Even if the Journalism School wasn't highly respected back in my school days, it was everyone's duty to stay well-informed. My Sociology Prof Howard Higman (founder of the Conference on World Affairs) required us to read Time Magazine cover to cover every week (Newsweek was kind of right wing for our tastes). Although I later moved to Newsweek, I kept the habit.

Now Newsweek has gone all-digital. I've read a couple of issues on my laptop, but it's not as convenient as having it delivered to my mailbox every week. The New Yorker ran an article, "NEWSWEEKLY," by Mark Singer, about a reunion of Newsweek staffers from the 70s and 80s, which they described as "more of an Irish wake than shivah." Things were better in the old days, all agreed, and they had expense accounts. In the same New Yorker spread, the Dept. of Cute featured a piece called "PUPPIES!" by Andrew Marantz, about how anchorman Brian Williams and his pretty daughter Allison (a star of HBO's "Girls") were taping a show on Animal Planet to be shown against the Super Bowl, called "Puppy Bowl IX." (Nine?!) A more blatant blurring of the line between news and infotainment I've ne'er seen.

NPR interviewed humorist Dave Barry last week, who's got a new book out, Insane Miami. He no longer writes a column for Miami's great daily, the Miami Herald, and observed that journalists were tweeting 53 one-liners rather than writing 800-word columns. Writing articles takes time, and who's got that? True, but I have to say I see Neil Gaiman chirping his head off, and he still manages to write books.

I face a dilemma. Which of my remaining hardcopy subscriptions am I going to read cover to cover now? The Atlantic? The New Yorker? Science News? Scientific American? Discover? Consumer Reports?  It probably won't be Newsweek.

1 comment:

  1. Ah what a fun read! I also wonder how people like Neil Gaiman do it. Maybe they've secretly invented a time replicator and only a select few are permitted access. Or maybe, it's interns.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your reminiscence very much. You surely have evoked a mood and a time. Nice piece!