Friday, March 28, 2008

Growing New Revenue Sources

I got back not long ago from a visit to a public university where I was asked to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the journalism program.
The program was a lot like ours at USU. There was a premajor core for students who were trying to get into the program. Then the students had to declare which sequence they wanted to go into.
The program had a relatively small number of faculty, but it was popular with students and there was good demand for classes. The faculty were hard working and dedicated to education.
The big difference?
This other program had a nice, private nest egg. A donor had given a large donation, and the university was able to use the interest off that account to pay for new hardware and software, as well as the salary of a brilliant professional who could teach students how to use the new toys. That donation made a big difference at that university.
Oh, for a friend like that!
It amazes me sometimes how closing the gap between adequate and good, or between good and great, can come down to one or two people who make a difference with private financial donations, or one or two people who make a difference in instruction or administration.
Typical public universities are getting only a fraction -- less than a quarter -- of their operating money from tax dollars. Where does the rest come from? Government grants, investments, and, to borrow a phrase from PBS, people like you.
The hard sciences have an advantage in bringing in a lot of external money. Soft sciences and liberal arts struggle a bit. And then there's journalism. Many journalism programs go begging. Why should it be a hard sell to get people to invest in good journalism? I know journalism has its problems -- what part of society doesn't? -- but I cannot imagine that the world would be better if journalism schools were allowed to wither from neglect.
J-schools now, more than ever, must teach the three R's of journalism -- readin', ritin', and revenue.


Moulton said...

And hence we learn to limp along with otherwise antiquated equipment, fending off the security mavens who cringe at the thought that we might still be using obsolete systems, long after their nominal retirement date.

Cryptic Muse said...


I'm wondering if the reluctance to invest in journalism education might have something to do with the malaise of disillusionment that has pervaded the public's attitude toward the news media. Put simply, our readers and viewers don't trust us.

The Columbia Journalism Review, quoting the findings of a new study last year, reported that "for the heaviest consumers of the news (the more educated, the better-off, older respondents),...familiarity with the news product breeds a lack of confidence (if not contempt) with the press as an institution."

Why bequeath even a small fortune to a treacherous estate?

Moreover, the corporatization of the press has worsened this crisis of image. In their book, The Elements of Journalism, veteran journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil describe what they view as the nine cardinal tenets of the business. Among these: an obligation to the truth, loyalty to readers and a responsibility to "maintain an independence" from sources while serving as autonomous monitors of power.

Corporate ownership casts a dark shadow on these functions. Consider, for example, the tough line adopted by the Tribune Co.'s Sam Zell, who chastised an Orlando Sentinel photographer for worrying about her newspaper's public service mission. NPR reported last month that Zell "derided the photographer's 'journalistic arrogance' — and then cursed at her when she turned to leave."

My point is that it's becoming increasingly hard to do good journalism. And this trend is contributing in no small measure to the public's distrust of the institution.

One consequence of this is the emergence of the Do-It-Yourself citizen journalist, who takes to the Internet with no formal training and discovers that he too can be a scribe. With the proliferation of blogs, journalism – once a somewhat elite and scholarly endeavor – is now a more pedestrian pursuit. And although a fine and cheering thing for democracy, it tends to take away from the seriousness of the enterprise, while also affecting the perception of journalism as a legitimate academic discipline.

In my view, the way forward should involve a massive campaign to restore the public's trust in our profession.