The best kind of journalism education

Simon Owens passed along this follow-up about the New York University student who protested the lack of digital media courses in its undergraduate program. One of her professors, called out by name as not being particularly Web-savvy, barred the student from further blogging, Twittering and other online communications about the class in question.

The professor’s rationale was that the privacy of the students was being violated by such reportage. But surely the frank and blunt post Alana Taylor wrote for the Media Shift blog to sum up her underwhelming response to the class raised the most hackles:

“I am convinced that I am taking the only old-but-new-but-still-old media class in the country. At this point I may not learn too much I don’t already know about my generation and where it’s taking journalism. But one thing’s for sure — I’m certainly going to gain some insight into what exactly they mean by generation gap.”

Chillingly, Taylor is reluctant to blog further on her class for Media Shift. Casting aside for the moment questions over privacy and whether students should blog or use mobile devices during class, the issue of challenging authority in a J-school environment is what struck me reading all this.

When I was in college — long before the advent of the Web — a few of us on the student paper challenged the university administration on a range of subjects. Not a new subject there. But these were the days when visceral memories of Watergate were fading as the Reagan era of cheerful conformity took hold. Visiting professors to the journalism school were of a type — the likes of Pat Buchanan, as one example — and we complained about it in print. These were the days, in fact, when the “liberal media” meme was being fashioned into a convenient, and effective bludgeon against journalistic vigilance.

“This is a newspaper, not a viewspaper!” howled the dean of the J-school at one point. Even though we did our complaining on the editorial page.

We had our funding stripped for a semester. When I was editor, the dean approved all editorials. Getting haranguing phone calls at the crack of dawn on publication day of my senior year was not how I envisioned making the transition to my professional journalism career.

Yet it was the perfect, most fitting educational experience I could have received. I attended an average small public university in a sleepy town in the Deep South and wrote my stories pecking away on a manual typewriter. Alana Taylor goes to a well-heeled private university in Manhattan and blogs and Twitters in class (well, not in all of them).

The compulsion to shut down individuals who don’t behave themselves knows no generation gap. And it’s still thriving in the laboratory of journalism schools.

I had to submit to the most egregious kind of censorship. With in-class blogging on hold, Taylor on her own blog says she’s “still watching, listening, observing. Very much a learning experience.”

You wonder if those in charge of Taylor’s education, which presumably does not come very cheap, will ever learn this age-old lesson: That punishing students for questioning authority contradicts the entire exercise of training journalists.

Taylor gives a damn about her future profession and how she’s being prepared for it. She’s giving herself a better education than any of obtuse adults insidiously trying to silence her.

Read her full list of grievances here. And Mark Glaser’s summary of the saga. The comments section at the bottom of both posts seem to more well-rounded than anything Taylor’s been taught in her classes.

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