The mainstream’s new spin

I’ve been hearing this more and more lately, and it showed up again today in a statement from John Lavine, the new dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Medill is, of course, the dam controlling the mainstream, so their new guy ought to have deep insight into where things are headed, right?

He doesn’t.

“There are seismic challenges in journalism that put at risk having an informed society. Moving quality journalism to a new, higher level is an important first step of our response, but by itself that will not meet these challenges. We need to develop a more profound understanding of audiences and consumers, of what they value and of how to present journalism and the new digital media to them. We also need to have a far deeper understanding of media brands and marketing communications and how to use them to engage media audiences.
The new spin is this: the changes in journalism “put at risk an informed society.” It takes a special kind of self-important arrogance to make a statement like that. Think about it for a minute. Does anybody really think that contemporary journalism is what keeps our society informed? If that was truly the case, please explain the phenomenon of citizens media.

It is the first amendment that protects our society from being ill-informed, not the people who work for our culture’s institutional media corporations. What Mr. Lavine (an “expert on media strategy and management”) ought to be weighing is the threat of his own institution against the everyday people who are working to keep each other informed. The people have spoken. There’s no need for further study.

We’ve got it all wrong on this, folks. Moving “quality journalism (what is that anyway?) to a higher level” isn’t the answer. Getting our hands dirty is. That requires climbing down from our pedestals to the land where everyday people live. We have such a sense of entitlement; it oozes from statements like the above. Who the hell do we think we are anyway?

Deeper understanding? Media brands? Marketing communications? I think not.


  1. hey terry, you should send him a copy of cluetrain. 😉

  2. I applied to Medill’s summer internship program and included excerpts and links to my blog in the application.

    It could be the cursing, but I did not get in.

  3. Oh it gets worse, an article in the New York review of books by by Michael Massing (contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review) argues there is not enough bias in journalism can you believe these guys?

  4. Do rest assured, however, that there are cadres of folks inside traditional news organizations who have similar thoughts, Terry. (To wit: )

  5. charlie madigan says

    Well, I don’t know where the idea comes from that Medill is a “dam” controlling anything, because it simply isn’t, and I feel confident saying that since I teach there. You have a strangely childlike vision of the world if you think universities dictate the course of events. But this is what happens when you allow your bitterness to inform your thoughts on the MSM and how it works. What would be involved in “getting our hands dirty?” I ask this as a reporter and editor with 35 years of experience at getting very dirty, and not just my digits, all over the world with all kinds of people in situations you could barely imagine. When was the last time you got your own hands dirty? What “people” are you mixing with? Or are you really saying that citizen journalism means just an authentic blasting away with whatever might come to mind as you look at the keyboard and summon your nascent Ben Bagdikian? What “everyday people” are you talking about? Those who have blogs? They would represent, let me see, those who have blogs! And that’s about all. You should be very careful. What you have written sounds exactly like something that comes from someone on a pedestal lecturing his MSM lessers. Your own words are signs that you view yourself as a member of an élite, a self-selected vanguard that believes its expressions are pure when, in reality, they are just expressions. It’s interesting to watch people slip so easily into the shoes of the enemy they were trying to defeat. Love and kisses. Madigan.

  6. I ask this as a reporter and editor with 35 years of experience at getting very dirty, and not just my digits, all over the world with all kinds of people in situations you could barely imagine.

    Won’t you all bow down to Mr. Dirty? He presumes to know what you’ve done, and oh boy, you couldn’t even imagine.

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