College Journalism

 I am writing this piece in reaction to recent failures of The Spectator concerning the Kim Strassel event held on January 25. This is not about the opinion piece against Ms. Strassel’s talk, published in The Spectator, because the poor quality of that piece spoke for itself. Instead, I am responding to the blatant lack of journalistic judgment that is suggested by its publishing this column without any evidence of thoughtful editing. 

The failures of college journalism, however, do not originate with students. They cannot be blamed for what they do not know. The glaring problem with The Spectator is the lack of faculty input. 

While some students do have great journalism experience from an internship or work shadow program, faculty or staff members with years of experience in writing for publication should teach students how to write well for readers. 

From simple grammar edits to professional coverage of events, limited faculty oversight would ensure both a higher standard of quality in student pieces and the experience, for students, of working under a careful editor. When writing for Enquiry, I receive pages of edits on a 600-word piece (even when it is a good one). Over the past two years, these edits have improved my writing more than any writing-intensive class on campus has. This is the type of editing and writing experience students should seek out in college if they want to go into journalism – tear apart every line of your writing, if necessary, to improve its quality and therefore the overall quality of the product. You rarely, if ever, get the same experience if only your peers are looking over your work.

 Students should also look to “old journalism” to learn how to write, more than taking cues from blogs and “new journalists.” Exemplified by Vox and Huffington Post, new journalism leads the way in fast and thoughtless writing. While this fast writing is very easy to read and accessible, it tends to be less meaningful. Writers for these outlets are under constant deadline pressure to publish multiple times a day, in order to “drive” more clicks. These posts usually lack details about the topic, the structure found in good writing, and any integrity of ownership associated with the post. Writers can simply edit such quick postings to reflect the current “facts,” whether they are confirmed or not. This too-automatic relay of information takes all responsibility out of the hands of the writer and editor. 

In the wake of the 2016 election, there is a special need to hold journalists accountable for what they publish. Is it surprising that every major news outlet seemed to completely miss the signs indicating Trump might win when so much news coverage was fast and thoughtless? Had these journalists acknowledged the facts in front of them and the overall political picture in our country, the election result would not have been such a shock. Maybe better journalism could have changed the outcome. 

College journalists should not emulate these “new journalists,” or those more mainstream journalists who are too much like them. College journalists need to learn how to write and compose a piece before they adopt an easygoing style. They need to master the fundamentals of journalism in college if they ever hope to have a meaningful career in the field. So I urge campus publications: Think meaningfully about what you publish. Your articles and columns are not only for your writers’ benefit, but could significantly affect student life on campus if you use your journalistic tools skillfully and thoughtfully.