Posted by: mobrienweiss | February 1, 2013

Are journalism students & faculty too idealistic? One former reporter says, ‘yes.’

american thinkerStudents and journalism professors routinely ignore the realities of the news business and focus too much on idealistic notions, so says former reporter, editor and publisher Theodore Dawes in an essay in the American Thinker.

Not only do most journalism students and their instructors fail to acknowledge the whole point behind publishing newspapers (to make money, he says), but Dawes adds, “They live in never-never land, where the facts of life are secondary to ideological engagement.”

What kind of “ideological engagement” are we talking about? To “take verbal arms against the world’s injustices, as defined by the world’s professors,” Dawes says, noting that “most American newsrooms” are populated by liberal-leaning folks who opp0se guns, support Democrats and think businesspeople are greedy.

Dawes also takes aim at the notion of journalistic “objectivity,” at the so-called impenetrable wall between the business side and the editorial side of news organizations (“to ensure the reporters aren’t influenced by the grubby exchange of cash going on elsewhere in the building”) and suggests that the reason newspaper reporters are paid so little in comparison to other college grads is because “reporters aren’t working for similar rewards as those in business. They are out to save the world.”

Take a gander at his arguments in “The Fall of Journalism” on the American Thinker‘s web site. Do his assertions have merit? Why or why not?

Image credit: American Thinker.



  1. What he’s doing is lampooning the idea of being a journalism student at all. I mean, it is kind of an irrational path to follow – careers in journalism don’t pay well and j-school degrees are often ludicrously expensive, and you can’t really ignore the fact that there are way more j-school graduates than there are jobs out there in traditional media. We’re all idealists, basically, because we have to be. We love what we do, and are willing to be paid almost nothing to do it.

    It’s something I like to call the “airline pilot paradox”. Pilots are paid an incredibly low salary for the amount they work – something like $20,000, depending on who you ask – especially considering the fact that their job involves literally taking the lives of several dozen people in their hands. But pilots love flying, so will do it anyway. A lot of them would probably do it for free. Because airlines know this, they pay pilots as little as they can get away with, and no one says anything about it, for fear of losing the ability to fly large aircraft all over the world.

    Check it out:

    Journalism is different, obviously, but the paradox is the same. Both do what they do because the love it, and would be crazy to do it otherwise. But I don’t think enthusiasm and optimism makes “objectivity” impossible. I’ve interviewed people I disagree with strongly, but pride myself on being able to stay cool in those situations and then write about them fairly. I’ve chosen a career path that doesn’t really make financial sense, yes, but, for as long as I can, I plan on doing it well and telling stories honestly.

    I guess my point is, contrary to what Dawes seems to be arguing, you don’t have to be bitter and jaded about everything to tell it like it is. You can be hopelessly idealistic – like me, I guess – and still tell the truth.

    • I’m well aware that advertising is the moneymaker for newspapers and that I won’t be making very good money working in the field of journalism. It’s something I think about a lot, but at the end of the day, I know I’m doing the right thing studying and practicing journalism, because it’s something I love. Growing up, I was taught to do what makes me happy, not to focus on how much I’ll be paid.

      I realize that as Dawes shrewdly points out that newspapers are meant to make money, but I’d argue that if that is to remain the case, advertising can’t be the only aspect of newspapers heavily relied upon to make money.

      I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about using journalism to change the world either – of course I take pride in informing readers of issues and newsworthy events, but after taking a sociology class last semester, I honestly feel relieved that I get to write about what’s going on in the world, instead of challenging problems in “sociologist style.” Writing is what got me into journalism in the first place, after all. And that brings me back to the moneymaking aspect of newspapers.

      Good writers – novelists, children’s literature, and non-fiction authors, etc. also make money for publishers. If their writing and creativity are relied on for profit, why can’t journalists’ reporting be more heavily relied upon to make money? People gladly buy books to read for pleasure and realize that the authors of those books rely on that money. I know plenty of people who read newspapers for pleasure and who pay to do so because it’s worth it to them. Perhaps if readers were more aware of the work that journalists put in to produce those newspapers, they’d be even more willing to pay, and maybe even willing to pay a higher price for newspapers.

      In terms of being “liberal-leaning,” of course I agree with Dawes. We’re talking about people who are paid very little for what they do and who tend to uncover what can often be described as the ugly truth about the world. Personally, I’m studying journalism at a state school in Massachusetts. I think I’d be among the minority here if my views were to sway more to the right.

      As far as objectivity goes, I only feel that I am doing what’s right by fairly assessing all sides of a story. If that makes me too idealistic and feeling that at the end of the day the truth is more important than the sum next to a dollar sign, then call me a journalist.

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