When I try to wrap my mind around the frustrating and often-asked-at-family-gatherings-now-that-I’m-graduating-and-somehow-qualified-to-answer question, “What is the future of journalism?” my head feels like it may just explode. As a journalism student, about to graduate in May, I am absolutely terrified. But this column is not about the fact that the majority of my fellow graduates may be working as admin-istrative assistants or living at home.
On Monday, Kevin Bargnes, one of my colleagues at The Badger Herald, whom I will refer to as KB, wrote an opinion piece constructing and deconstructing an image of the School of Journalism’s foundation course, “Journalism 202: Mass Media Practices.” Yesterday, Professor Greg Downey, director and professor of the J-school, fired back a somewhat contradictory response.
When I first read KB’s column late Sunday night, as it was being placed on the page (in none other than Adobe InDesign, a program taught in 202), I was pleasantly surprised. What I expected to be a rant against Katy Culver and the TAs of 202, was more of an extended class evaluation (and for a journalism student, a creative way to continue the dialogue).
The more surprising part of this, for me, was the rebuttal from Professor Downey. He correctly called for an open conversation about improving the course, but seemed to imply he’d rather those discussions take place internally, within the J-school, via e-mail or visits to his office. “We in SJMC absolutely welcome civil and constructive student discussion… However, I do not welcome mean-spirited attacks on our work,” he wrote. In other words, be critical, but not too critical. Isn’t journalism about starting conversations, making waves, stirring the pot? I thought that was the kind of journalism that brought about real change.
Word of KB writing this column made its way to me sometime in early January. Last semester, J202 was full of Heralders. And while I won’t go into the details, it is safe to say complaints filled the office on a frequent basis. As one of the lone defenders of Katy Culver, how hard she works and the fact that she’d cut off a limb to help a student, I found myself often reminding my co-workers that 202 is a love-hate relationship. Concerned about the risk of libel with this column, I sent a mom-like “maybe you should rethink your approach” e-mail to KB and left it at that.
While the tone of KB’s piece may have come across whiney, and despite the fact that he just finished the course and has a fresh grade (whatever it may be) sitting at the top of his transcript, he definitely did his research.
He examined 202 reviews dating back to 2003, which he obtained through an open records request (a feat that is about as easy as opening a door without your thumb), sought out a wide range of opinions (Heralders, other past J202 students and friends studying journalism at other Big Ten schools) and told me he “had a nearly 40 minute conversation with Katy, as well as discussions with an adviser at Indiana.”
I do disagree with a number of the claims KB made. J202 is not a “convoluted mess.” The amount of work is over-whelming at best, but considering it is 6-credits, you have to remember: you signed up for this shit. And considering it’s not a 5-credit Biology class, the work (in my nerdy journalist mind) is not shit.
However, splitting up the course isn’t a bad idea, and certainly many more J-schoolistas would be able to fit it into their schedules. Even if it would mean having a harder time deciding whether or not to spend six months drinking red wine and going to discotecas until 6 a.m. (which I still would have done, regardless).
The issue does come down to funding. The elephant in everyone’s room. Katy knows that, Professor Downey knows that, we all know that. And KB clearly stated that point, if you happened to make it to the end. (Which you probably didn’t because based on what they’ve taught us in the J-school, 99.9 percent of readers don’t make it past the first three paragraphs.)
Everyone is just trying to make it work with what we have and if J202 is what we have, I’m not complaining. It’s a hell of a course and I was damn proud to be part of it (when it was all over, of course). Perhaps, one day KB will be too. But I see no harm in him expressing his opinion in a well-thought-out manner. Especially knowing that he didn’t just hot-headedly fire off all the things he hated about the course.
So with the hopes that one day I’ll finally be able to answer that frustrating question, “What is the future of journalism?” I’m going to go out on a limb and say, perhaps this is exactly what we needed. A conversation about how we educate and are being educated to be journalists.
Becky Vevea ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and Spanish.