Can Trump Save Journalism
In 'Fake News' Era, J-schools Seeing Enrollment Spike
Journalism is suffering. I hear and read this nearly every day, online, over the radio, and in the ever-thinner publications cast onto my driveway each morning. Schools of journalism are going out of vogue, if not out of business entirely. “Lack of money and interest,” states the Chicago Tribune, has led to the shutdown of some 40 percent of Chicago area schools’ student newspapers less than ten years.
But at the same time, we are awash in multiple media. Young people, in particular, walk about quite regularly with their faces and fingers fused to smartphones, checking on updates to share or re-tweet or otherwise zap through cyberspace. And much of the media that is being so zapped is promulgated by vast numbers of “citizen journalists” with their own websites, blogs, newsletters, and pulpits. It is popular, popularized “news.”
Is this all a paradox? Is it “fake news”? Has J given way?
It certainly perplexes me.
I know, for instance, that ever since the days of pre-Christian Rome, when the Acta Diurna was published on a daily basis to announce to the city’s inhabitants any and all actions that might affect them, including government meetings, gatherings of large and small groups and sub-groups, taxation details, and the like, people have been curious to know what is going on about them; we humans have a nose for news.
I know, too, that, as a late 2017 Pew Research finding put it, “the overall decline in circulation and revenue” for print newspapers had hit 10 percent year over year; The Atlantic has referred to the continuing decrease in subscriptions to hard-copy newspapers and newsmagazines as a “Print Apocalypse.”
But another Pew Research report states that “roughly 9 in 10 (93 percent) Americans get at least some news online.” Fortune magazine adds that people seem to prefer to buy things online rather than to enter brick-and-mortar stores, too; as of 2016, Fortune reports, “consumers are doing most of their shopping online.”
So, people still seem to be interested in the markets around them, the societies that surround them, and the interactions that news feeds may nourish them with.
Continuing with the paradox, The American Journalism Review reported massive declines in J-school enrollments during the first decade and a half of the 21st Century. But now something interesting is taking place. Maria LaMagna of MarketWatch calls it “the latest Trump bump”, and I might be wont to call it “the turning point of the J”: “Applications have jumped at journalism schools throughout the country,” LaMagna wrote in April, 2018. The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, she found, “saw its highest-ever number of first-year applicants this year.” And Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Communications has seen a 24 percent rise in applicant numbers for the upcoming academic year.
LaMagna quotes a J-school student in California as saying: “We as students are concerned we haven’t been paying attention...we have to study the news and how it is made.” And The Independent Media Institute’s Rory O’Connor quotes a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student journalist as having said, “in its own right, journalism is its own form of activism.” Cincinnati’s Elder High School Purple Quill student newspaper reports on itself, stating that the paper “can highlight all the good our school really does, and it can highlight discussion.” A student-run newspaper gives learners practice in editing and proofreading, as well as in learning critical thinking, proper research methods, and objectivity and analysis.
And yet, as the Chicago Tribune article pointed out, and the Cincinnati students echoed in their publication, schools that are hurting for money and that are seeking likely candidates for curriculum cutting have been finding that J-programs are good ones to do away with. This is so, even though, as Stoneman Douglas student newspaper co-editor Rebecca Schneid has said on CNN television: “The purpose of journalism is to raise the voices of people that maybe don’t have a voice,” to make change.
Stoneman Douglas, Elder, the University of Southern California and Northwestern must be seen, I believe, as refreshing trend-turners, schools where J can give students just-in-time justice, a voice that might well not be heard otherwise.
I write this blog entry as a hopeful cry that journalism courses, curricula, programs, and products will be maintained and sustained in the community college. Indeed, as notably flexible and innovate places, we might do well to experiment and to re-experiment, as California’s Mount San Antonio College has been reported to be doing. Mt SAC has launched an online news site about campus events and activities alongside another online-delivered news source with a “Buzz Feed”/”Vice” flavor, as Poynter’s Mullin has written. Mount San Antonio teachers and students in journalism have decided, Mullin writes, “to reach out and shake people and say, what do we need to do to make you care?” This is a pro-active move to save the J.
In one of the districts where I teach, a sister college of mine is being reactive instead. The dean of humanities has decided that the school newspaper will be shut down after more than five decades, and journalism courses from 101 onward will no longer exist. At the college where I teach most, journalism has never been an option for students; it has not been considered to be worthwhile in almost any sense. But at the third college in this three-college district, the student newspaper has remained a strong force for discussion, debate, and cross-disciplinary dialogue since the late 1940’s when the school began.
Elder High School journalist Seth Sturwold summed up a journalism commentary this spring, 2018, by quoting from British novelist and essayist E. M. Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?...Articulating one’s ideas in written form — seeing what one thinks — is the surest sign that one truly understands...Journalism plays a strong role in both writing and the exchange of ideas; its importance, therefore, cannot be ignored.”
For whatever reason, whether it be Trump-bump or the turning point of the J, we at the community college must foster the assiduous news-gathering and analysis that underlie good journalism, teaching students how to be intelligent consumers of the news, how to be skillful and responsible reporters, and how to search and do triage through the deluge of digital data threatening to drown out the real in a fog of fake.
Yea to J.