Friday, July 07, 2006

Journalism 101

Rather than continue the bloggers/fans and SOUND team vs. Pitchfork debate from earlier in the week (full round-up here), I have to shed some more light about who I am and who I am not.

I did not major in journalism in college; I majored in radio-TV-film and minored in advertising/PR. I have never written for a daily newspaper or a weekly paper. I have been blogging here since October 2004 and had never blogged before then. In addition to writing an article/interview on No Idea Records for them, I have written music and DVD reviews for Punk Planet for almost a year. I have written some concert, movie and music reviews for various online places (from Doomed Moviethon to Jeff's blog) in my time and am currently writing a book of my own, Post. So why am I showing all my writing cards here? To explain why I didn't understand a comment made about "Journalism 101" on the Life of a Zane blog earlier this week.

The "Journalism 101" example was about identifying one's self before publishing someone else's words. Apparently, this action is brought up in almost every introductory class to journalism, but I had never heard of it. I had to take a journalism introductory class in order to be get into advertising/PR, but that was the extent. I never worked at the school's newspaper or magazine. The most writing I did in school was about film and TV criticism for my RTVF classes.

Do I think I missed out on basic rules because I didn't major in journalism? To an extent, yes, but that hasn't stopped me from learning how to write and publish stuff. I argue that there is nothing common about "common sense," so there's going to be some trial and error regardless of one's background in any field.

I pose this hypothetical question: did Ian MacKaye, Jeff Nelson or Nathan Strejcek ever think that because they weren't business majors in college, they couldn't start a record label? I doubt it as their educational backgrounds didn't hinder them from starting and running Dischord Records in 1980. The same can be applied to a long history of musicians. Did any of them, especially the ones that picked up instruments because of punk rock, say, "Well, I didn't learn this in school, so I guess I'm not a musician"? I highly doubt that, but that example is often brought up when one identifies him or herself as a musician or not.

These days, anyone who has the drive to write something online and an e-mail address can start up a blog via Blogger, Typepad, MySpace and so on. I know some people in the professional journalism world are annoyed that a blogger could be considered as legit as what they're doing, but I see blogs, satirical newspapers, fanzines and reputable newspapers and magazines all as parts of various forms of information. Sure, untrue gossip in a newspaper or magazine and poorly worded/written blogs don't have as much legitimate strength as others, but that doesn't stop people from reading and writing them.

My point is this: there's identifying yourself as something because of your actions and then there's just doing these actions without waving titles around. I could be considered a journalist or a critic, but I'm not really focused on what my title should or shouldn't be. I'd much rather write and learn along the way. Call me a writer, hack, blogger, or whatever. Sure, my credibility may be subject to suspicion because I never had a formal education in the world, but that's not stopping me from writing and wanting to write more.


wendy said...

I'm with you Eric...I have my history degree, yet I ended up being a graphic artist, a chef, and now I do music promotion for Indie labels.

Oh, and Sommerset Maugham was a doctor and didn't become sucessful writing novels until his 40s.

Education shouldn't necessarily be a vocational endeavor.

jen medina said...

here's the thing...
identifing yourself as a journalist/writer/etc. when speaking with a person is not an attempt to put a "label" or title on anything. journalism classes don't only teach people how to write (because a lot of people just can't learn anyway), it teaches them the ethics involved in writing. i was originally a journalism major in college, but even before that i knew that if you plan on interviewing and/or using someone's words and ideas in your own print (be it an article, a zine, or a blog), they should know who you are and what you plan on doing with it (not necessarily your point of view per se, but that you intend on using their words at all). it's competely deceitful to aproach a communication that you plan on using without letting the person know that they may or may not be "used". educated or not, a person should find out how to do something properly before going public with it (ie. learn how to play guitar in whatever manner you choose, but at least know how to play it before you get on a stage). call it journalism 101, call it common sense, or call it having respect for what you're trying to produce. i can only hope that, in all of the interviews you've done for post, you've actually told people you're writing a book -- that's something every writer should know.

Eric said...

Eric, I think that for better or worse the internet has become somewhat of an equalizer in ideas vs. mass media. It allows people to write about topics that would get zero coverage in mainstream and even a lot of indie media.

You and I can write whatever it is we feel like writing about, and we can read whatever blogs we want to, but that doesn't mean that anyone will read what we have to say. I don't read poorly written blogs and I also think I'm pretty good at wading through all the crap out there, but that doesn't mean that someone needs a formal education in order to do something.

As for "learning to play a guitar before you get on stage," I think that is bullshit. Punk rock. If someone thinks their voice is important and puts some feeling behind it, good for them. But if they suck I won't bother with it. Formal training has its merits in facilitating the creation of art, music, words, but that only goes so far.

I don't know the rules of journalism 101, but that is my opinion for what its worth.

nosuchluck said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Random Kath said...

I just wrote a long comment which disappeared . . . I'll take that as a sign to be brief . . .

I agree with Eric and disagree with Jen - many fine journalists never set foot in journalism school. They just learned by working their way from the very bottom, by trial and error, by writting with passion and making their mistakes, learning from them and moving on. I would argue that journalism school has taken a lot of the "authentic voice" out of news these days, which is why people scramble to read good writing that connects to them - such as that that can be found in blogs. I love people who just go out and try and do things because they do them and want to learn as much as they can at their own pace. I also think that that is where the most original and creative work can be found - through those who don't know all of the rules, but still finds a way to say what they want to say and get others to be moved by it.

jen said...

let me just clarify: at no point in time did i say or even imply that any sort of formal training is necessary to do anything. unless you want to be a surgeon or something...i was simply stating basic interviewing protocol. nor did i comment on the quality of writing that comes out of journalism programs: journalism classes don't only teach people how to write (because a lot of people just can't learn anyway), it teaches them the ethics involved in writing.

and my actual statement was: educated or not, a person should find out how to do something properly before going public with it (ie. learn how to play guitar in whatever manner you choose, but at least know how to play it before you get on a stage).
"learn" doesn't mean you have to take lessons or do anything formal. learning can be done through trial and error, reading up on something, or just plain old guesswork. but i can't think of anyone who thinks it would be entertaining to watch some guy pick up a guitar for the first time on stage and start playing it. perhaps i should have said "practice"?

Random Kath said...

Jen: Mea culpa . . . I read your statements incorrectly. To me it sounded like you were stating that these things could only be learned in class.

Although, I might be one of those entertained by seeing someone try to learn to play guitar on stage - out of messes sometimes come happy accidents, no? :-)

jen said...

anything's possible -- next thing you know we'll be talking about monkeys and hamlet.

Jackye Chan said...

You know that I have a degree in journalism. I even focused on photojournalism but unfortunately, went to a school that didn't have its own photojournalism teaching staff, just the art department. I never pursued a career in journalism, I always ended up as an assistant to some company, president, etc. The industries varied from electrical engineering, HazMat and niche publishing like newsletters. My writing improved with every mistake I made and when I was fired from my last job, I realized just how important it is to find my own goals and destiny, and not continue working for someone else's goals. This is so true since most people don't put other's needs before their own.

I look at blogs and articles as "snacks" to be consumed between books or "meals." The more snacks you eat, the more weight you gain. What you choose to read influences all that you do later on. Even the small things you do every day from what time you get up, who you talk to, what kind of clothes you wear, what you ate for lunch, etc can have a profound affect on who you become. This may seem trivial, but your subconscious is constantly influenced by what you surround yourself with.

If you want to be true to your calling, whatever that may be, than make some conscious choices to get yourself on the right track. In other words, what do you think about throughout the day and when you first wake up? Small choices can really keep you on track, or slowly nudge you off.