By: M.L. Stein
That’s the message delivered by Washington Post syndicated
columnist William Raspberry in speech to journalism educators
TEACH YOUR STUDENTS to be good citizens, Washington Post syndicated columnist William Raspberry urged an assemblage of journalism educators in Atlanta.
Raspberry said he was dismayed by how often reporters, particularly in big cities, “seem not to care about the city they cover. They care about breaking big stories but not about the civic impact of those stories. Indeed, they believe they are not supposed to care. Objectivity, you know.”
Speaking at the 77th annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in Atlanta, the urban affairs columnist offered the view that objectivity is not always a virtue.
“Accuracy is, fairness is, but cynical cold-heartedness masquerading as objectivity is not something I’d encourage,” Raspberry said. “I would want the reporters in my newsroom to care about the people they report on and still retain the capacity to tell the story straight.”
The speaker pointed to the Post sports pages as an example of hard-hitting criticism mixed with optimism about the teams it covers.
Sportswriters, he continued, report “every negative thing about the Redskins: their too-old, tight end, the coach’s bonehead decision, the quarterback’s suspect arm. But you’ll also find the good things . . . . You will not doubt that our sports reporters want the Redskins to win.”
Raspberry recommended that such an approach be applied to metro reporting ? using truths uncovered “not merely to sow discord and to tear down but also to spread hope and to build up.”
With this kind of reporting, he contended, journalism could move from a profession into an “art form.”
However, Raspberry asserted that journalism is a trade before it even becomes a profession, that mastery of craft should be the initial goal of every young journalist. They must learn to be “competent gatherers of fact and skilled interpreters of what they see,” he added.
Raspberry said the hostility in some journalism schools between the “green eyeshades” and “chi squares” ? nuts-and bolts practitioners versus research scholars ? is needless.
He said schools should continue to encourage journalism research but asked them also to “turn out competent practitioners of our craft ? never forget to pay attention to what your students will actually be doing after graduation.”
Favoring the combination of academic instruction with practical experience, Raspberry evoked the words of a Post recruiter, who complained: “I don’t want to talk to any more students with straight A transcripts and zero clips.”
Another AEJMC speaker, Ralph Lowenstein, retiring dean of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, predicted that the future of journalism schools and the newspaper business is tied to the electronic newspaper.
Noting that the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, a New York Times Co. paper, will enter into a joint experiment with his college to produce a city-wide electronic newspaper scheduled for October, Lowenstein asked: “So what does all of this have to do with journalism education? Everything. This is the handwriting on the wall. This is not about hands-on training, although I am sure students coming out of this new laboratory will have more job offers that they can accept. This is not about technology in the newsroom, although I feel in my heart that it’s where newsrooms will be ten years from now.”
What electronic publishing is about, said Lowenstein, is that it will produce “more news, more exchanges of opinion, more photographs and more knowledge delivered in a timely fashion in print ? still the most efficient way of retrieving information.
The electronic newspaper, he continued, also will enhance press freedom and, by multiplying the channels of communication, “give everyone who reads a chance to chime in.”
Moreover, he said, it will help the ecology by saving millions of trees.
Lowenstein assailed what he termed the “inaction” of the newspaper industry to move into electronic publishing.
“Take a look at the national publishers of electronic newspapers and tell me if you see the names of the great newspaper companies in their major ownership,” he said. “No, you’ll see IBM, Sears, Bell South, Bell Atlantic, Time Warner, Motorola and Macintosh, all of whom have about as much obligation to press responsibility as General Electric.”
Lowenstein claimed that electronic publishing is so inexpensive that most journalism programs could experiment with it. He suggested that journalism schools form a network to work together on such a project. The universities of Missouri and Texas already have embarked on developing electronic newspapers, he said.
“Instead of following the industry, which has long been our role in this sort of research, we can lead it,” Lowenstein said.
?( William Raspberry) [Photo]