The Academization of Journalism

Friday, August 10th, 2007 1:52 pm by Neal

If you read only one essay today, make it this one at powerline: “William Katz remembers: Stop the presses! Just kidding.” William Katz discusses the impact of academia on journalism since the sixties due to the influx of college grads. It’s an indictment of the MSM’s disconnect with reality and the blind elites in ivory towers. This is an excellent read.

But there have been, especially since the sixties, disturbing trends in journalism. Just as Hollywood, in its hiring practices, has replaced talent with education, journalism is in danger of replacing experience with report cards. Journalism is not a profession. There is no specific body of knowledge required, and there is no licensing. What is needed is a sharp set of skills, high powers of observation, and a humility about how much we can understand quickly, and these come only from experience. But when you’ve gone through Yale or Stanford, when you’ve been told how smart you are, when you got 700s on your SATs, you start to believe what mom has whispered in your ear. You start to think that you “know.” It’s a kind of self-inflicted grade inflation. I’m bright, therefore I’m right.

The impact of this attitude has been profound. As reader Sparks said, there has been a separation between journalism and its audience, and I believe it derives directly from the separation between our universities and the nation. College graduates, especially from supposedly elite schools, see themselves as a class apart. They are encouraged to do so, especially by the sixties crowd that still patrols the hallowed halls. (Well, let’s not say “patrols.” It’s so Marine-ish, my dears. )

I recall editing a story about the Soviet Union for The New York Times Magazine. It was written by a Canadian professor. I made my notes on his first draft, then waited for his second, which came in due course. As I read it, though, I realized something odd had happened. The professor had changed all his conclusions, making them more pro-Soviet. I called him, not hiding my annoyance. How, I asked, could a scholar flip all his opinions between the first and the second draft? His reply was direct. “You don’t understand,” he said, “peer pressure in universities.”

It was an admission that’s stayed with me my entire career. “Peer pressure in universities.” It not only affects what goes on inside those institutions, it has an impact on alumni. It helps shape our lives, our world view. We feel it every time we go to the mailbox and find a copy of our alumni magazine. There are certain ideas we’re simply expected to embrace, an outlook that, we’re told, defines us and our crowd. It twists how today’s journalists see their country and the world.

In the years since 9/11 we’ve become accustomed to the torrent of abuse directed at the president, and the country, from inside many of our institutions of occasionally higher learning. Even more insidious is that notion of separateness. “We’re the good people,” they seem to be saying. “We’re not part of you. We’re separate, and you’re not equal.”

It just doesn’t get any more accurate than that.

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