Schooling…Necessary?

I overheard my science major (and incredibly loud) roommate on the phone saying to one of her friends that Mizzou had nothing to offer her, because we were known for journalism, and not science. She went on to say that going to school for journalism was ridiculous. It is a type of job that doesn’t need a degree, she claimed. And it sounded as if her friend wholeheartedly agreed. (I promise I was not eavesdropping, I’m forced to listen to the majority of her conversations due to the volume of her abrasive voice.)

But this got me thinking, do journalists really need a degree? Often times, they do not. This blog for instance, I did not need a license to obtain it. I do not have to submit reports about the status of my blog to a higher authority for evaluation. I simply go online, and blog. It’s as simple as that. The majority of the journalism education I’m going to receive will also be obtained through real world models. I will work at a newspaper, that puts out a real live publication daily for all of Columbia, Missouri. Not just my fellow students. Even now, I am doing stories on actual events that are occurring, and they are newsworthy and relevant. Basically, here at the J-school we learn by doing. We’re practically interns our last two years of our degree. But is there really any other way to do it?

In theory, we could just study what the pros do already, examine their work and compare it to not-so-good counterparts. And we can write 5 paragraph papers with a thesis stating how a piece of journalism is or is not excellent, but would that really be beneficial in the long run? Methinks no.

If we were to just analyze pre-exisiting journalism, we would be forever stuck in one model. Our stories would always be written the same way, the same five formulaic camera angles would be used for every news video, and all thoughts of expansion into the digital world would be kaput.

The reason why Mizzou is considered a great journalism school is because it puts us students in real-world situations. We have more than a standard student newspaper, we have a newspaper that is essentially a community paper, along with a radio station, magazine, and TV broadcasting station that all report on and belong to Columbia, Missouri as a community. The intermixing of professionals and students means a lot of good examples are set, and while students are expected to be as professional as well, the pros, there’s more room for critique and learning without say, getting fired.

So our education may look different from some other degrees on campus, but I think it’s just as valuable as a lecture hall, if not more so. We learn to adapt to current events and changes within the journalism community while we’re at school. With a profession as adaptable as ours, that’s a good lesson to learn. Not to mention all of the good contacts and opportunities we’re offered at the j-school are reason enough to pay tuition. A lot of the job hiring out there will be made by recruiters that are familiar with the University of Missouri and the high standards placed on the students there. It’s always a good conversation starter when a recruiter says, “I’m an MU grad too….”

No Shortcuts

As a society reared in the “right here, right now” computer era, my generation has exceedingly sought, and found shortcuts. Our attention spans are shorter, we get frustrated more easily, and we want technology to do the work for us. This may seem like a pessimistic view, but it’s real. Looking around any one of my lecture classes, more than 75% of the class is on their computer looking at videos, chatting with friends, or just glancing through pop culture sites. Students seem eager to cut corners and spend the least amount of time possible doing practically anything. This unseemly habit has extended into our journalistic practices as well.

In lecture we discussed the importance of obtaining all four aspects of Joe Elbert’s Picture Hierarchy. This included the “Five W’s” or the basic facts, picture quality, emotion, and the hardest one to obtain, intimacy. Bea Wallace, our lecturer for the day, said that even as a grad student she tried to rush directly into intimacy, but when has an intimate moment ever been rushed into?

If I were to show up at a stranger’s house, let’s say yours (just for creeper’s sake) and start going through all of your old photo albums, looking for stories like a good journalist, you would probably feel imposed upon, if not violated, and my creeper self would end up in the back of a police car for trespassing. This dramatic image is just to illustrate how wrong it is to force yourself into a story hoping to get all the “good stuff” right away. Wallace emphasized multiple times in lecture that in order to capture an intimate moment, you have to be there, a lot.

When I’m about to enter an intimate moment, I’m usually alone, or with only a trusted, close friend or family member (the ones I plan anyways). I certainly don’t have a camera in my face, knowing that my personal moment is going to be displayed publicly. To let someone into that space, knowing that they’re going to publish this hidden part of you, is a big leap of faith. And trust doesn’t come easy for most. So to gain the trust of the subject, you have to stop thinking of them as only a subject. Get to know them, their routine, their likes and dislikes, and form some rapport with them. Rapport goes a long way with any journalist, but it’s particularly important if you’re going to be reporting on a very intimate portion of someone’s life. They have to trust that you’re going to treat their story with dignity and respect, and you have to give them something to go on. It would be helpful to even disclose something about yourself, show them you’re a vulnerable human being as well. They’ll be much more likely to relate and open up.

In this process of getting to know your subject and letting them get to know you, you gather a lot of essential knowledge (the Five W’s), you take a lot of photos and experiment with different lighting situations that lend themselves to good picture quality, and you capture the emotion of each situation your subject (and possibly even yourself) are placed in. Then, that intimate moment will seem almost natural for you to be there, because you’ve been there. And all you have to do as a photographer is wait for it to unfold before you.

Satire’s Place in Journalism

Would it be fair to say that Stephen Colbert, or Brooke Alvarez of The Onion are journalists? They go through a lot of the same motions, gathering information, disseminating what is newsworthy from what is a pile of rubbish, and then they share it, albeit with a slight bias.

It’s more suitable to say Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert’s shows are more journalistic than the Onion News Network because they comment on reality more often, but it can also be said that a lot of the satire used in this trifecta of sarcasm is trying to show the truth more clearly. Jon Stewart is constantly making jokes, but he’s showing the real footage and pointing out what that particular footage is missing or blatantly disregarding. Colbert keeps a straight face and exaggerates to show his point, but again, he plays it alongside the actual footage and simply responds to it.

Of course anything that the comedians say shouldn’t be taken as fact, but their hyperboles are often there to point out a lesser truth. When Colbert reports on Arizona Senator Jon Kyl’s “whoopsie” concerning his statement that Planned Parenthood was 90% abortion services when in fact that only accounts for about 3% of what they do, he pokes fun at the senator but makes a legitimate observation that the senator planned to escape criticism by saying he didn’t intend for his statement to be considered factual. By viewing this clip I learned the true percentages of the services Planned Parenthood provides, and that Senator Jon Kyl is not the most unbiased and trusted source of data on that issue in particular. I could, as a concerned citizen, even extend that to presume that Kyl is unwilling to research issues before he makes statements in general, at least on issues that he and his party are opposed to. And Colbert was not just doing a stand-up show, he actually showed documentation for each of his assertions. He had a recording of Kyl saying the initiator, a clip of a CNN reporter saying Kyl’s response for was us not to take what he said as a factual statement, and he had a graphic showing the breakdown of Planned Parenthood’s services.

This new trend in news delivering is a smart idea in my book. Sure, I enjoy it because I believe I share the same sentiments as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but these shows offer a lot more than just biased reactions. Aside from being entertaining to those of us who are critical of political goings-on, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report offer a view of the other side. This way, people who find themselves the butt of the joke or supporters of those made fun of on air can see how their actions and speech are perceived by a different audience. This is an open dialogue for people to give feedback, and prepare better for next time. A wise man would take the criticism and try to work on it, a fool would be offended and ignore whatever it was that was said.

Sadly, I think that this may not be the answer to political bickering, many people will simply be offended or choose not to watch the show at all. But,even a conservative could appreciate the witty remarks pulled off by Colbert and Stewart. So a bigger advantage presented by these entertainment/journalistic shows is that they draw people to issues that they wouldn’t have even noticed before. The Daily Show has tons of staffers going through the day’s headlines to find material for the night’s show; they simply have more hands and brains to consume news than a singular person ever would. They choose the stuff that they can make fun of, but they also choose relevant issues, because relevancy is a factor in humor. If you told me a joke about something President Wilson did during his presidency, I probably wouldn’t laugh. Tell me a joke about President Obama or any of the candidates running for president in the Republican Party and I’m much more liable to hoot and holler. Before I started watching Colbert and Stewart at a tender age of 17 I didn’t consume any news, not purposefully or directly at any rate. Their shows broadened my view of America and the world, and for the first time I was interested in the world around me. Even if a show such as theirs only appeals to liberal-leaning youths, at least it’s getting them out of their world and into ours.

Excuse Me While I Drone

It’s true, I was slightly terrified when I saw a video of smart flying robots in lecture on Tuesday. I did not, however, run for the hills. Instead, I pondered the not-so-ethical uses these little buzzing creatures could possess. It’s scary enough that nations are already developing and harboring nuclear weapons, but when these smart little unmanned drones are added to the mix, all hell could break loose. They’re small which means they’re easily transported without detection and they have the ability to record and track areas with scary accuracy. It’s obvious these bugs are advanced and would be useful in combat situations, so someone is bound to use them. In fact, they already are.

But the journalism implications are far greater. As a profession, our ethics are what make us credible. And these nifty cameras certainly toe the line. Sure, it’s really cool to think that you can get an accurate image of a protest or riot without putting yourself in danger, but if this technology has the capability of seeing things that are often behind barriers, people start to wonder if there’s a drone above their head.

Americans enjoy their privacy, and while our privacy is more important to us than the privacy of say, Iraqis, a lot of people would still whistle blow on a news outlet that used a drone to peer into the private lives of people abroad. Human rights’ groups and right to privacy activists would raise a stink if any organization were to so blatantly ignore the rights of human beings, especially if it were an American organization supposedly known for touting ethics. But the benefits of using such a device are tempting. Policemen and businesses are already vying for their share in the drone epidemic, and especially in the case of the police, these benefits seem to outweigh the bad. Apprehending criminals is made easier by drone technology, and business farmers would be able to view their crops from above for a relatively low cost. So what’s to stop them?

Ethics, that beautiful word, yes. Commercial uses may be innocent enough, but it only takes one bad apple in the whole bunch to use the technology for less than honest reasons for it to become a problem. Releasing these bad boys on the market means that, well, they’ll be on the market. And we all know once something’s in the market place, there’s no turning back. Everyone will get their hands on one, because let’s be honest, they’re pretty cool. But that means that journalists could obtain one, and other, more malicious persons. This may all sound pessimistic, but it’s bound to happen. There are laws in place about gun licensing and possession, but look at how many illegal guns are out in the market right now; regulation is bound to be broken because the temptation is too high.

As far as journalism is concerned, these gadgets should stay out. The technology is incredibly effective and smart, but it’s dangerous and prying. There’s a reason why people aren’t allowed to just fly over any piece of land they so choose. And since these bugs fly, I’d say they should be subject to the same scrutiny. Remember, no one likes a” Peeping Tom”.

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