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The Evolution of the Reporter



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Jim Addison, writer for Wizbang! Politics wrote this email about Deborah Howell’s column from a few days ago:

When [Deborah Howell] characterized reporters as “… idealistic, who want to right society’s ills and who look upon their work as a calling.”

It is a big part of what has gone wrong with newspapers.

Traditionally, reporters had a high school diploma at best.  Most editors didn’t hold degrees, either.  Reporters often began as copy boys, graduated to writing a bit of copy in house, then were gradually allowed to report on Garden Club meetings.  In the meantime, they learned the craft:  how to relay the story with only the facts, but enough facts to give the reader the picture of what happened.  They gradually worked their way up to the police blotter, and only after years of on-the-job experience under hard-nosed editors were they ever allowed to cover politics.  By that time, they knew how to report without opining.

Watergate changed all that.  Before Woodward and Bernstein romanticized “investigative reporting,” few schools even offered journalism courses, much less degrees, and those came under the English Depts.  After, there was a huge demand for journalism courses and colleges succumbed to market pressures and offered them.  There just weren’t any available professors with experience in the field,  so the courses – and later the separate “Schools of Journalism” – were staffed with English professors who weren’t up to snuff on Shakespeare, the Romantic Poets, or American writers of the early 20th Century.  Naturally, they were among the most liberal people in liberal academia, and took great delight in the downfall of Nixon, but had never worked a day as a published journalist.

With a sudden avalanche of degreed candidates for entry-level reporting jobs who would work cheap, newspapers stopped hiring and training those old high school grads in favor of the “more educated” fresh faces.   The rest is history – all downhill from there.  J-school students were always of the sort motivated to be the next Woodward, to repair society’s defects and expose its injustices.  They did and do indeed see themselves as subject to a higher calling than anything so bourgeois as merely reporting unfiltered “facts.”

The reporting jobs were taken from blue-collar types just trying to do a job and given to college-educated idealists on a mission.  The training of reporters was taken from no-nonsense editors and assigned to liberal professors with no actual experience in what they were teaching.

Which is why we can’t get honest reporting anymore, and why newspaper readership has been declining since 1975.

A sad turn of events.



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