Phi Beta Cons

It’s Easier to Learn Writing than Thermodynamics

Jesse Saffron was right to comment on the lack of subject matter content in journalism schools, as addressed by Jay Schalin in a recent Pope Center commentary. But there may also be another way to go after the problem of inadequate subject matter, this time from the demand side of the equation.

In my experience in the business world, we placed a priority on effective communications, and those employees who could write well always managed to move higher in the organization. Communicating effectively with customers, suppliers, regulators, and legislators was always an important part of any business enterprise.

I can understand why students attend graduate schools that focus on broadcast journalism. The electronic media demand technical skills in production and editing that need to be taught in an environment that reflects the digital newsrooms of today. Indeed, many of these students actually work for local or national broadcast news networks as part of their training.

But I think that print journalism requires deep subject matter experience. Print journalism is designed to treat complex issues in depth, so who better to research and report on these issues than people who have actually worked in the field for a long period of time?

Who better to write about health care issues, for example, than employees of the medical and health insurance industries? Who better to report on the debate over higher education than somebody who has actually served on the faculty or administration of a college or university? The list goes on and on.

In my view, a print journal or other publication can be more effective by attracting not only people who have deep subject matter experience, but who can also write well. Believe me, they are out there, many with advanced degrees in science and business. With coaching from editors, they can quickly improve their writing to mesh with the journal’s specific style. Editors should be working to attract veteran employees in major industries, who can write well and would welcome a second career in print journalism.

If this were to happen, the demands of the market place would address the curriculum issues in journalism schools more effectively than house-to-house fighting over specific course inclusions. 

Vic Brown had a thirty-year career in the chemical industry with FMC Corporation, where he held senior positions and worked internationally in sales, marketing, manufacturing, information technology and procurement.


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