The Bias of Journalism (Education)

Originally published on Culture Shock.

“You have to go out. Walk the streets. Talk to people. Make contacts. Go to meetings. You have to be constantly on the look-out for stories. You never know when they’ll pop up.”

I felt it again: The anxiety growing in my stomach, making me want to spew my half-digested breakfast. I looked down at my syllabus and grimaced. I knew I was going to dread every moment of JO310: Beat Reporting. I’ve had this feeling before in other journalism classes, and I knew the stress and grief that awaited me in the pressure to find a “news worthy” story.

photo credit: Signs of Recession go Global... via photopin (license)
Traditional, current affairs journalism. | photo credit: Signs of Recession go Global… via photopin (license)

For a field that lauds balance and impartiality, journalism is taught in an extremely one-sided manner–at least at BU. While the professors and instructors are experts with years of experience in well-known publications such as The Boston Globe, they all seem to have one view of journalism.

To them, journalism is all about the hard-hitting stories and the front page articles, the current events and their fallout. Journalism is about going out with an inquisitive nose and an empty notebook, digging deep into a neighborhood and writing about “what’s really going on.”

Journalism, to them, is made up of the traditional archetypes, the journalists portrayed in movies and TV shows (most recently in Spotlight). And this is a worthy aspect of the field. The people who fit this mold–the Ida Tarbells, the Walter Cronkites, the Woodward and Bernsteins–are admirable and courageous. They are a necessary part of society.

But they are not the only people who populate the world of journalism. Take me for example. I want to take my time, observe and watch. I want to write about and photograph the small stories, the ones that aren’t labeled under current events, the ones that aren’t always deemed interesting or relevant enough. I want to capture stories like the history behind the little dioramas in the corner of the third floor of the Boston Public Library or the subtle way a neighborhood builds its culture and what that means in the grander image and history of the city. These are stories that aren’t event-based and don’t have specific timelines. You can tell them now or tomorrow, and it would hardly matter.

The story of the BPL dioramas was originally shot down by my professor because it wasn't dynamic or interesting enough. © Violet Acevedo
The story of the BPL dioramas was originally shot down by my professor because it wasn’t dynamic or interesting enough. © Violet Acevedo

So when I’m forced to go out and find a traditional news story on a deadline, I feel like I’m shoving myself into a mold that I don’t fit into. I’m uncomfortable with the pressure and the format of current affairs reporting. I tried to work with the curriculum before, thinking maybe I could learn something. While I did learn in the end, every assignment came with a deep anxiety and a tight feeling in my gut like the class was a bad piece of fish, and I needed to purge it from my system.

I ended up dropping JO310: Beat Reporting. I didn’t want to push myself through the same emotional and physical struggle like I did in my other journalism classes. I didn’t want to go to meetings and write crime stories and make contacts and find the latest “truth.”

By dropping that class, I dropped the major. Beat Reporting is a requirement, something that, in the eyes of BU, is necessary to become the journalistic archetype they expect us all to strive towards. But I don’t mind changing my academic path. I know, even if BU doesn’t, that journalism covers much more than just the traditional, current events. And, as I’ve been told recently, you don’t have to be a journalism major to capture the stories that you want to capture.

(I’m not alone in my feeling of frustration with the way that journalism is taught. To read more, check out my classmate and fellow alt-journalism cohort, Danny McCarthy, and his blog post about the subject.)

Feature photo credit: The Reporter via photopin (license)


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