Friday, June 02, 2006

Bad news & suggestions for journalism (Gene Weingarten)

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post claims in this column ("Bad News") that he delivered these remarks as part of a commencement address ... and perhaps that's even true. If he didn't make these points, he should have. Selections follow.

--Jeff Weintraub
Washington Post
Sunday, May 28, 2006; W28

Bad News: J-school graduates, commence worrying
By Gene Weingarten

From a commencement address I delivered last week:

I want to congratulate you all upon your graduation from the University of Maryland College of Journalism, and wish you luck as you prepare to embark on exciting careers in telemarketing or large-appliance repair.
My point is, this is a challenging time for journalists.
And because you are word people, you understand that "challenging time" is a euphemism often used to describe disasters of epic proportions. For example, Richard Pryor was facing a "challenging time" when he ran down the street half-naked and on fire.
What are your challenges, specifically? Let us begin with, quote unquote, getting a job. Good jobs in journalism have become scarce as newspapers shrink and die, broadcast media fragment to smaller niche audiences and the public appears more and more willing to receive its "news" online from nincompoops ranting in their underpants.
But, it's not like there is no hope. There are still high-prestige, well-paying positions in journalism. Unfortunately, they are filled by tired old coots who aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Me, for example. It'll take a hydraulic winch to pry me loose from this gig. [....]

Most of all, it is imperative that we journalists state the truth, without fear or favor. We must be prepared to take unconventional, unpopular positions on grave matters of public interest. Accordingly, I would like to leave you with four points to ponder.

(1) We need more Jews in the media. You can never have too many Jews, is my position.
(2) Objectivity is a good thing to strive for in journalism, but not at the expense of failing to confront the obvious. My own newspaper, for example, has written extensively about Vice President Cheney without once pointing out the self-evident fact that he is -- and I offer this as a trained professional observer -- Satan.
(3) You know that guy, Anderson Cooper, the CNN correspondent with the elegant white hair and the really sincere attitude who manages not only to report the news but also to feel the news resonate deep in his soul? Can't we put him in jail?
And, lastly:
(4) Our field is changing rapidly. Technology is overtaking us at an unheard-of pace. The journalists of tomorrow may not look anything like the journalists of today. I mean, literally. For all we know, they might have gills and three buttocks. That's how fast things are changing. But rest assured that, however dizzying the rate of change, when what's at stake is the sacred art of truth-telling, there is always one constant. One thing will always stay the same: Your editor is going to be an idiot.