McGuire on Media

Let's get the journalist part right in student journalist

Alleged student journalists are garnering attention and headlines for all the wrong reasons. Two recent controversies  should remind us of the importance of standards as we sort through the vagaries of a new journalism world order.

Kathleen Parker has never been one of my favorite  columnists, but her piece which appeared in many newspapers Wednesday is an excellent analysis of how freedom of speech is often what the Arizona Republic headline writer termed a “tricky, messy burden.” 

One of the examples of that messiness Parker cited was Andrew Meyer, the student who was tasered by police, for raising a ruckus at  a John Kerry speech. Parker correctly said there should be room for the opinions of  the “Kid with the Big Mouth because America has a demonstrable tolerance for big mouths.”

Parker is absolutely correct. Meyer is free to speak his mind and should not be tasered for it.  I don’t want to taser him for claiming to be a journalist either, but therein lies my rub.  It is fascinating that the student newspaper at Florida, the Alligator, called Meyer a UF student and on second refererence  called him a “telecommunications senior and former Alligator columnist.”  USA Today called him a ” journalism student” and a sarcastic columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News named Will Bunch who writes something called “Attytood” called him a “journalist”

Call this guy a champion of free speech if you will, but do not call him a journalist.  From everything I can read the young man is an angry, attention-starved, demagogue who has not earned the right to be called a journalist. I know there are a lot of legitimate bloggers and commentators out there who do not fit our now tattered definition of a journalist. I welcome those folks who want to enrich the marketplace of ideas in unconventional ways.  This young man does not enrich anything, and we make a mistake calling him a journalist.

I had worked myself into a snit over that case when along comes Joe Strupp of Editor and Publisher with an opinion with which I must argue. Now, before I do, I must admit I have argued with Joe before about various things he wrote about me and mine, and I always found him a stand-up guy.  He always took my sometimes harsh criticism  politely, and then he firmly disagreed.

Strupp argued in a Sept. 26 column   that David McSwane, the editor of the Rocky Mountain Collegian, shouldn’t have been fired  for publishing a four-word editorial that read “Taser This: F— Bush.” Strupp is wrong. Firing is exactly the right solution. 

Strupp’s argument that school is for teaching and learning has definite merit.  And, brother, was this a teaching moment for everyone. The firing is the lesson. You cannot be a bombastic,  knee-jerk ideologue and expect to edit your collegiate newspaper.  Journalism must be about standards. It must be about reasoned response. It is not about the yelling and screaming students see on some cable news shows.

Strupp insightfully relates a couple of stories about young people who have caught a break when they screwed up. Like Joe, I walk in that same group. The truth is, sometimes you catch a break, and sometimes you so seriously cross the line the only effective way to teach everyone the exact location of that line is termination.

Media musings  

I was saddened Wednesday to see that Susan Albright has parted ways with Chris Harte the new Publisher of the Star Tribune. I worked with Susan for about 10 years  at the Star Tribune and I respected her.  I also saw countless people underestimate her.  Susan is incredibly nice. A lot of people got hung up on that and failed to recognize how smart, tough and resolute she is. 

In the memo Chris Harte published today, which can be found on Romanesko, Harte wrote that he and Albright have a “professional disagreement about the role of the editorial pages and how they should be edited. The main shift I want to see is toward even more locally focused editorial pages.”  Then Harte added, ” Our readers can go to many places to get informed opinion on the war on Iraq or on global warming. But there are very few places they can go for local opinion.”

I am certainly not privy to the nuances of the private conversations of Albright and Harte, but I hope that was not an either/or discussion.  Susan and I used to argue over the editorial pages when I contended that rather than taking community dividing positions in editorials modern newspaper editorial pages should facilitate the discussion more often.  Susan disagreed with me resolutely.

I’ve spoken out before against this mad dash to hyperlocal, but it certainly has strengths.  The Arizona Republic does a fine job of localizing opinion to specific geopgraphic areas of the “Valley”. Yet, I blanche at the idea of a local-only editorial policy. I contend the readers do not have good options for finding that kind of opinion.  Most of what people will find in those “other places” is radically polarizing opinion. Further, this trend of sending readers to “other places'” is not serving newspapers well.  Soon those “other places” are going to be more attractive than the daily newspaper.

The belief that a metro newspaper can completely serve the needs of all “local readers” is still an unproven premise. 

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