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Sadly appropriate,.... - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Sadly appropriate,....

that the only growing section of print newspapers these days seems to be the obituaries.  These go on for far longer, with much more detail, than any of the brief ones I remember from my Ute.  Probably, it's because the content is paid for as advertising, and it's one of the few traditional functions of a newspaper not to be virtually (if not completely) supplanted by electronic media of one form or another.

I spent time this morning weeding our Sunday home-delivered broadsheet into two piles; the much bigger one's the chaff, usually consigned directly to the recycling tote, but which stayed out this week because Eleanor's building and painting a frame for Emily to use for a camera for her senior project, and she needed the extra pages for dropcloths.  Once you toss all those circulars and advertorial inserts and the small remaining classified sections, you're left with about six sections of substance- seven if you count the funnies. They're not as depressingly small as they are in some cities now, but they still pale in comparison to what they were even a decade ago.

One piece, on the front page of Viewpoints, was especially saddening. It's one of the few I didn't see in the paper's online edition, but here's a link to its original posting last week. The author, syndicated columnist Clarence Page, wrote it to commemorate the 99th birthday of "Mrs. K," his high school newspaper's journalism advisor, who's still going strong but who also stands as a living memory of a dying breed- one I belonged to going on 40 years ago:

Opportunities for today's aspiring or potential high school journalists to receive on-the-job learning like that offered by Mrs. K are slim and getting slimmer.

Even in New York, the media capital, only 1 in 8 public high schools have a student newspaper, The New York Times reported in May, and many publish only a few times a year.

Nationally, about two-thirds of public high schools have newspapers, according to a 2011 media study by the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University. But whether on paper or online, student newspapers tend to be absent from lower-income schools and lower-income students.

That's sad because, as Robert Fulghum titled his best-seller, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," I often feel as though I learned all I really needed to know about journalism in high school.

Newspapers of all sorts have been battered for decades by television and widespread illiteracy.

With the explosion of Internet traffic, too few youngsters are learning good news literacy. As Mrs. Kindell taught, you need to be a good reporter before you start giving your opinion. Today's world of blogging and tweeting encourages the opposite. Too bad we don't have more Mrs. Kindells to go around.

It got me wondering about the life signs of my three longtime journalistic proving grounds, at my three levels of academia.  Those signs, at best, are mixed.

My high school had one of the older and better high school newspapers in the then journalistically respected back yard of Long Island's Newsday- I won an award from them at the end of my senior year, for excellence in editorial writing (which they memorialized on a plaque, fittingly containing a glaring composition error in it;).  I did a little Googling just now and discovered that, at least as of the 2010-11 school year, the paper was still going strong.  There are suggestions that it may have become an online-only venture, but that's not as important as the learning and the training that it brings.  (I was also pleased to see that, as of that same year, the school's literary magazine, Perspective, was still publishing. That periodical died of disinterest in my junior year, and I was one of a handful of students who brought it back to life.)

At the college level, The Cornell Daily Sun remains a vibrant, though certainly different, institution from the one I left at the bottom of the hill over 30 years ago.  It is no longer Ithaca's Only Morning Newspaper, as the Gannett competition went to morning delivery ages ago, and The Sun stopped charging for newsstand delivery of its physical product some time more recently. Still, it has a rich history of talented alumni, from E.B. White to Kurt Vonnegut to two generations of Schaaps, and it continues to teach the profession of reporting through what is, de facto, the only journalism department connected in any way to Cornell.

Finally, and sadly, it looks like my law school newspaper may have died.  I co-edited it in my last two years, winning at least one ABA award for the work we did, and it remained as an investigative check on the PR machines of the law school dean, the campus president and the university chancellor who comprised the food chain standing between us and our advanced degrees.  I see no reference to it on the current UB Law School website- but then, I don't see any reference to "UB Law School" on there, either; they've been rebranding it, along with much of the university, as "SUNY Buffalo" after years of trying to drop that as the short-reference term.

In all those contexts, learning to be a reporter was important. It gave you a reason, and the training, to treat your supposed superiors in faculty and administration as equals- and for your questions to them to be as important, and thoughtfully answered, as the ones they expected you to answer when you were in class.  You learned to sense bullshit and not to take it for an answer. You learned, as The Sun's newsroom prominently displayed on a wall, that you should "NEVER BELIEVE A RUMOR UNTIL IT'S OFFICIALLY DENIED." You learned the power of constructive criticism of and by your colleagues, and to stick with them and The Story when you knew it was right.  Most importantly, you learned absolutes that had nothing to do with grades, or test scores, or recommendations or references for the next thing on.  I had some of my best educational experiences in those three "newsrooms" (high school's consisting of little more than a closet, law school's little bigger than that), for which I never received a single grade or a solitary credit, but which remain far more important to me than any of the ones I did receive, forever preserved on transcripts and Permanent Record Cards, that I could care less than a shit about.

I mentioned Vonnegut earlier: he worked for The Sun before going to The War, and never returned to Ithaca after that (he got his degree from the University of Chicago instead) until the spring of 1981, when he spoke to the assembled staff of The Sun at our annual banquet, that year celebrating the paper's 100th anniversary. He ended that speech with these words, since published, that still stay with me as one of the best things I ever heard anybody say:

Next time you consider a local school budget, or set priorities for what media you will follow, remember those words- and remember the importance of student journalism to the writers who blossom in it.

This entry was originally posted at http://captainsblog.dreamwidth.org/155995.html. Please comment here, or there using OpenID.
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drbear From: drbear Date: September 9th, 2013 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Yup, I remember feeling like that in a previous life.
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