Some good observations from John Robinson
I don't get to read the blog of John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro News & Record, as much as I'd like. All the RSS feeds and readers in the world still don't provide enough time some days. In fact, even as I write this I actually should be cooking up some evil lab for my editing class.
But I happened to wander by tonight while looking up something else and found a screen of things to recommend:
- In "Advice from Retired Editors," read why he skipped a speech by legendary editor Gene Roberts. A sample: While good journalism has not changed markedly since the 1990s, technology has. So has the audience. So have people's habits. Not addressing those changes in discussions about journalism and newspapers is like talking about television as if there were still only three channels. (I see at the bottom he points to one of my posts. Thanks, John. I missed that on first reading.)
- In "Piling on the ASNE Census," he has some solid thoughts on why ASNE's newsroom census is of limited value, especially when it comes to minorities. (He also references Alan Mutter, alas another great source that I read too seldom.)
- Robinson also has some interesting thoughts about the perennial piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed or some other organ bemoaning how today's students don't know current affairs, couldn't tell you what the Holocaust was, etc. I thought his observation was thought provoking: We don't hire many journalists straight out of college, but the ones we do either are tuned in, or more important, know how to get up to speed quickly. And that, I think, is the key
But I think there is twofold value in making students keep up with the dreaded "current events."
First, from the viewpoint of an editing professor (me), editors must have little bells go off in their brains when something doesn't quite match what they've heard or read -- or have experienced in life. From that perspective, then, I don't want them so much to memorize it but to develop that warning system, and that means they need to keep abreast (all my quizzes are open book for that reason).
Second goes to the idea of information instantly at our fingertips. It's a wonderful thing, right up there with permanent press shirts and stovetop stuffing. But there is a darker side to it, too -- the tendency to see facts and information in isolation. One hopes that by requiring students over the course of a semester to keep reading about what's happening both at City Hall and in the Middle East, they get the sense of a continuum and of context. And isn't that what we keep hearing that journalism lacks and needs more of?
While it is possible to do that to some extent while "getting up to speed," I think there is more to be gained by a journalist's (and I consider my students journalists) being plugged into, or at least taking note of, the course of events as they unfold.
(There's a third reason in my class -- fairness to the students. If I didn't set parameters, which in my case are all the section fronts and the World/Nation inside pages, I could test them on anything I thought was important, and that doesn't seem fair. So this way reading the paper provides some boundaries. Of course, if they are smart, they can do that without the "paper." The local paper has PDFs of its daily section fronts and .... well we'll let them figure that out themselves, won't we?)