Posts from March 6, 2005

So much for journalism, education, or academic freedom

So much for journalism, education, or academic freedom

: Rutgers University did something shameful last week: It ordered an investigative reporting class not to report on the university itself.

Here’s the NJ.com background; here’s more background from Inside Higher Ed; here’s a Star-Ledger editorial; and here’s NJ.com blogger David Liss’ exclusive: The article that got the student and teacher in hot water and that the student paper killed.

It’s an article about all the perks that athletes get but other students don’t: tutoring, special gut courses just for them, scheduling privileges, added health insurance, special meals, even a squad of students paid to make sure the jocks show up for class. I think it’s a good story.

The university says that some were complaining about the students’ interviews. Well, that’s not surprising for reporters practicing investigative journalism. Most people aren’t happy to see Mike Wallace knocking at the door, either.

Why shouldn’t the university be the subject of reporting as well? If someone doesn’t like the way an interview is going, they have the same right anyone has to end the interview. If the story is bad, it not only will get a bad grade but won’t get printed (the student paper didn’t print all the stories out of the class).

Is this a good lesson and a good example for a journalism department and a university to set?

The other complaint from the student paper is that the reporter who wrote this story has a bias against student athletes. Well, that’s another issue — one that is being debated in the halls of professional journalism as well, one that could certainly stand to be debated in the hall of journalism education. In fact, I was part of an argument about this very subject — passion, bias, perspective, call it what you will — at this week’s journalism symposium at Harvard’s Neiman.

In the old days, the way the reporter could have masked her passion/bias/perspective would have been to find people who agreed with her and quoted them.

These days, I’d say, the reporter should have revealed that viewpoint and then gone with it — it’s a lesson of transparency. And then she should have gotten response from those who disagree — it’s a lesson of conversation.

And there’s one last lesson in this: Universities and newspapers and authorities of any stripe can’t control content anymore. Even though the story was killed at the paper, it still appeared in public. Where? On a blog, of course. The powerful need to remember that everyone owns a printing press now. So whatever you kill can come back to life. And isn’t it better to teach the best way to report than to teach how not to report? [via Joe Territo]