Battlepanda: Recipes for better journalists


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Recipes for better journalists

Is it better for reporters to have formal training and subject expertise in their beat? Or is it better for them to go to journalism school and take courses in media studies and ethics and all that before they're allowed near a press conference?

Well, I guess I don't have a horse in this race. I started with both no particularly applicable expertise for my current beat (health primarily) AND no formal education in journalism. In addition to all that, my paper gave me zero training. I had to look up the page on journalism to get up to speed on the lingo.

But of course, I like to think that journalism where my liberal arts education stands me in reasonably good stead. During my time at Amherst I've taken classes in chemistry, economics, psychology, art, english, anthropology, film studies, and horticulture (at Smith College, thanks to the five-colleges exchange program.) I've read my Freud and Foucault and have written enough papers to know how to communicate my ideas. I've also taken enough science classes to know what stupid questions to ask and not be afraid of numbers. Although I have to say I've probably learned more about economics and politics through my blog than I did (or would have) through my school courses, that's really kind of moot because I don't have to deal with those issues.

When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And thus the wonk thinks that journalism needs more wonks, the j-school major thinks that journalism needs j-school majors and inevitably the liberal arts college graduate...well you know.

Honestly though, good reporting is not rocket science, it's hard work and experience (n.b. I'm not saying that I am a good reporter, by the way. Not by a long shot yet.) I honestly don't think the difference between a good reporter and a bad reporter is the background. Lets just go back to Mark's original example here: how to give context for a statement that is clearly untrue (i.e. "the earth is flat"). The reporter is not allowed to simply say "He lied," but there are a multitude of ways to communicate this sentiment in ways that are more concrete and convincing (not that anyone really need the convincing in this example). Am I the only one left who thinks that it is better for the reporter to back up their statements with sources than to leave things to bald statements?

Labels: ,