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Our View: One cut schools can't afford

Posted: August 15, 2009 9:18 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Despite record high enrollment numbers overall, College of the Canyons has decided to throw in the towel on its journalism program.

Even as enrollment has jumped 31 percent in the fall, the college says it's unable to fill its journalism classes and has canceled all but the introductory course, eliminating its award-winning student newspaper and any hope of restoring its defunct but once award-winning student magazine.

Along with those classes goes the best opportunity for a student First Amendment voice on the Valencia and Canyon Country community college campuses.

No more student-written editorials that sometimes nipped like annoying terriers at administrators' ankles.

No more public forum for student grievances.

No more of that admittedly rare but occasional student investigative story that could actually change policy and improve students' lives.

No more pages in which students can practice their craft and - as one former student, now a professional journalist, put it - make the mistakes that'll teach more than can be learned during four years in a classroom.

Then there's the fast talk that college officials will have to come up with when it's accreditation review time again.

Oh, but it's all just a sign of the times, you say? Everyone knows print is dead and the Internet is king, you say?

Not so fast.

Print may now be just one distribution mechanism among many, but it's more than that - especially in a college or university setting.

Nowhere is journalism taught more comprehensively than in association with a college or university print product.

If the Internet is king, print is the joker who isn't afraid to ridicule the king for having no clothes.

In fact, it's for that very role that the Founding Fathers wrote press freedoms into the First Amendment.

Think about it. You have different expectations from a news story in a newspaper than you have for a blog on the Internet.

You expect accuracy. You expect balance. You expect a news story to quote credible sources and omit those without credibility.

You expect fairness. You expect an awareness of audience, that your newspaper won't make mountains out of molehills or criticize people who don't deserve it.

When we mess up - and sometimes we do - you let us know. That's what we expect, and it's what we want - because we're the only people who have higher expectations of our reporters and editors than you do.

Just how important are fairness and balance - that is, journalistic ethics? They're so important that "fair and balanced" have become a marketing slogan for a major cable news network.

And where do aspiring journalists learn these skills?

Not only competent use of the language, but which authority figure to quote in a given situation? Who else needs to be contacted?

How to find the other side or sides of a story, and the proper amount of weight to give to the other sides? How to work as a team with other writers, copy editors, managers, publishers - and getting it all done on time and correctly? Re-evaluating one's stance in the face of overwhelming audience response?

It's a no-brainer, really. Learning is all about "time on task." The more time you spend learning something, the greater your understanding. And a student publication is the laboratory product of that process.

Look at a popular and respected online-only magazine like Salon. All of its writers and editors cut their teeth at print newspapers and magazines, primarily in the San Francisco area.

Everybody in the trade knows you don't apply for a job at Salon unless you've got a solid journalism background with experience in print.

Once in a while an untrained blogger or news aggregator will get lucky. Matt Drudge was bouncing around from job to job until his dad bought him a computer in the early 1990s. He started the Drudge Report and eventually broke the "news" of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Matt Drudge is a natural promoter, but his Report is nothing more and nothing less than a news aggregation site. He imports headlines and stories from actual publications that employ real journalists.

What happens to news reporting throughout America if all colleges and universities move in the direction that College of the Canyons has taken? What happens to the news? Who will be the arbiter?

Do we care if there is any real news anymore? Or do we acquiesce to devolving into a nation of talking heads and text-messaging dorks, signifying little and knowing even less about writing a competent story?

Competence comes from practice, from putting student work out there for peers and others to review, from measuring audience values and meeting audience needs.

It's something you learn in Journalism 115, Journalism 205, Journalism 220, Journalism 260 and Journalism 265.

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