Friday, September 21, 2012

Quotable: J-schools and PR

From Bill Cotterell, a retired longtime reporter who, in arguing that a journalism degree is of marginal value, also reflects on the value of teaching public relations:

But newspapers are cutting back, and most local broadcasters are making do with one or two inexperienced reporters. They can download junk news off the Internet or fluff up public-relations handouts to fill time and space.

Dreaming up publicity gimmicks and putting smiling faces on real events is how a lot of these fledgling journalism students will wind up, at least those who land jobs. But for a university to excel in the teaching of PR is like boasting that its law school produces the best mob lawyers.

Just something to think about.

Meanwhile, let me add this from Felix Salmon:

When journalists apply for jobs today, they’re usually given some kind of writing test. Certainly the people hiring them will look at their clips. Everybody cares about how good a writer you are. So long as you write well, it seems, that’s all that matters.

But if I were hiring, the first thing I’d look at would be the prospective employee’s Twitter feed. What are they linking to? What are they reading? If they’re linking to great stuff from a disparate range of sources, if they’re following smart people on Twitter, if they’re engaged in the conversation — that’s hugely valuable. More valuable, in fact, than being able to put together an artfully-constructed lede.

One of the best new media properties to come along in recent years is the Atlantic Wire. It’s run on a shoestring budget, and staffed by young, smart, hardworking kids with fantastic reading skills. Many of them can write, too — but they write short and punchy. Which is something else Old Media needs to learn how to do: it’s always much more fun reading a Gawker pickup of a Washington Post story than reading the original piece.

The biggest shortage in journalism right now isn’t good writers, or even enlightened proprietors willing to fund investigations. It’s critical readers – journalists who can see when they’re being snowed, who can read between the lines, who can pick up information from across the blogosphere and the twittersphere and be able to judge it on its own merits rather than simply trusting the publisher.

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