The return of rewrite

I just attended the first half (of what I plan to attend) of an anniversary conference for my graduate school, SCILS at Rutgers. The panel was “Journalism Education at Rutgers: Past, Present, Future, ad the Challenges for Journalists in the Digital Age.”

Doesn’t sound thrilling, but for someone like me who find journalism education fascinating and frustrating, it is–well, OK, not thrilling, but at least worth a Saturday train ride out to New Brunswick. I was particularly taken with two panelists:

Patti Domm, CNBC‘s Executive News Editor, Markets and Economy
and
Dave Pettit, Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal Online.

They got into a bit of a discussion about journalism education’s dependence on “silos,” meaning that students choose print, or broadcast or “new media” as a sort of major when they study journalism. They seem to agree that silos are bad since the skills of a modern journalist cross all of these categories. I wonder (and asked) if it is the journalism school’s job to teach technology at all. Technically, I was a “magazine” concentrator in grad school, and while I worked for a magazine for a few years, I edited their web site, and any html I know, I picked up somewhere other than J-school. The answer seems to be that student journalists need to learn the core of the profession first–news gathering, analysis, storytelling techniques. But that given a choice between hiring a good journalist without the tech skills and with the tech skills–well, it’s obvious who would get the job. Train for the tech skills of the present, they say, but warn students that the present isn’t going to last very long.

Pettit also said something in passing that I think would make for a great CJR article, and if I can figure out how to pitch it, I will. He was talking about new job categories, and he mentioned that WSJ.com is hiring rewrite people. Just like the 1920’s urban newspapers, where the reporter would run out of the courtroom, duck into a phone booth, and yell “get me rewrite!” Apart from the interesting historical pendulum swing, and the fact that I’d LOVE to be a rewrite man (all the thrill of deadline newswriting without any of the pesky reporting!), this speaks to the separation in skills that I’ve always seen at the heart of journalism: reporting and writing are different things, and there’s no reason to believe that any one person will be blessed with talent in both.

If Mike Hoyt (a former adjunct professor of mine, actually) sees this, he can feel free to offer me a freelance contract.

I’ll end with notes on some points John Pavlik, another one of the panelists, and the chair of the Rutgers Journalism and Media Studies Department (my home department) made:

Four trends in the effect of technology on news (Pavlik, 2007):

1. New tools are changing the way journalism gets done. cf. the reporting out of Myanmar, done by cell phone cameras.
2. Relationships between media and their audiences are changing, in that things are much less authoritarian, and much more participatory.
3. The kinds of stories we tell are changing: look at ChicagoCrime.org, which turns the old idea of a police blotter into something decidedly 21st Century.
4. The management and culture of news organizations are changing. Less hierarchy. Less division between web and print. New financial systems.

AND, Four implications of this for journalism schools (ibid):

1. Move away from silos into more integration of technology into all classes.
2. More collaboration with press associations and the media industries.
3. Facilitation of life-long learning for graduates.
4. Teaching and encouragement of innovation and entrepreneurship to students (teach them how to run their own self-sustaining blog, f’rinstance).

All of this could work quite well as a final chapter of my dissertation. I’ll get back to you on that, I suppose.

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