“This Is a Great Time to Enter Journalism”

Friday, January 03, 2014

Transcript

Recently, Columbia Journalism School sent an invitation to prospective students saying "this is a great time to enter journalism." But the decline of the old media business model means finding a steady job in journalism is getting harder and harder. Bob talks to Columbia Journalism School dean Steve Coll about his responsibility to students to manage expectations about the journalism job market.

William Tyler - Missionary Ridge

Guests:

Steve Coll

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [27]

reporter from round lake,il

@Ani: Great Point. The journalism educational establishment and by its extension whole "public" media BUSINESS in the US is deformed and compromised beyond repair. Just like Will from Madison said: follow the money.

Jan. 09 2014 04:23 PM
Ani hurwitz

Shortly after the market meltdown in 08, Coll, Nick Leman, and an NYU academic spoke to a group of foundation employees, pleading the case for charitable funding of the news by organized philanthropy. Ignoring the fact that our own portfolios were also victims of the crash, they whined that we didn't provide long-range funding or general support and that they were different (read "more important") than the nonprofits we typically fund. I wondered then how Leman, dean of the Columbia j-school at the time, could, in good conscience, preside over an expensive enterprise that held few employment prospects for its graduates. The arrogance now, as it was then, is discouraging.

Jan. 09 2014 03:56 PM
reporter from round lake, il

Rude to the journalist/panel invitee? I thought in a democratic society the job is to get to the bottom of the issue with all angles covered and reporting that is honest and comprehensive regardless of whom it offends or displeases. Or is it just a social outing sans tea and biscuits? It always amazes me in the US journalism as opposed in other countries when an interviewee doesn't answer the question there is nobody that will confront him/her. OTM is a prime example of that. Will from Madison brings out an interesting point of all: where the careerist priorities and self-interest and self-dealings take precedent over the truth and what was once called "calling" that provides a very interesting pattern for a career trajectory in the media. That is why a hack like Coll has simply cashed in on his Pulitzers for what is a de-facto corporate career. He does what he is paid to do, nothing less, nothing more so if anyone tries to refer to higher calling and/or principle in his business they are deluding themselves. It doesn't matter that Coll and others opinions create a great damage to its consumers (students) long term in shape of debt and career that doesn't pay as advertised.
Well,perhaps there is a small light in the end of the tunnel after all. On Dec 19 Sen. Reed, Warren and Durbin (Go Illinois!) introduced the Protect Student Borrowers Act of 2013. According to it an institution such as Columbia will be fined from 5% to 20% of the amount the students owe depending on the share of the students that default. I bet the educational establishment has already hired a top notch lobbying firm so the legislation doesn't go anywhere and will die the whimpering death in some sub-committee. Hope that doesn't happen and call your own Congressman/woman in support of it.

Jan. 08 2014 02:32 PM
john from ann arbor

To really discuss the issues brought up by this interview would require a more systemic approach by the OTM producers. Given that this was framed as a short discussion with one well respected journalist about his views on professional education, it would have been rude for Bob to continuously push Coll on an issue that is structural to our society. I see no point in singling out Steve Coll when most of the criticisms in this forum are inherent to journalism and academia more generally. I genuinely want to hear the followup story.

Jan. 08 2014 11:16 AM
will from madison,wi

#john from Ann Arbor, I think the comments posted are very much interesting and I personally learnt a lot from them I otherwise wouldn't. So according to you I have to thank Bob Garfield for his wisdom and benevolence? How about "Dean Coll's" role in New America Foundation and why no journalists are following the money trail? Also I hear nowhere about ethics of journalists speaking at all type of industry funded events aka payola, heading variety of different type of foundations, using their personal contacts for fundraising of all sorts, and many working at different corporations as PR hacks. This is a story worth pursuing, OTM but realistically is not going to happen.
Still going to the board meeting.

Jan. 07 2014 06:21 PM
reporter from round lake,il

The issue here is not what someone can say ad hominen or ex-catedra (as far as I can remember my Latin) but honesty of analysis and hard and probing questions that make good journalism stand out. Obviously OTM is not a neutral and honest broker here but a platform for expressing its WNYC's cultivated wisdom that is correlated with inter-office/discipline politics and prejudices du jour. It is more often than not ego-driven that brings out outright bizarre and twisted outbursts as Brooke Gladstone's Newtown 911 tapes fantasies . Although not all OTM programs are full of (you know what)they do not reach a threshold of public radio with a public mission as practiced in other countries (Spain, Germany or even the UK , the most American-like of all on the continent). Personally OTM is a great program to be on a private network where entertainment/shock value "qualities" can be best exploited and paid for by willing advertisers and underwriters aka buyer beware. (Believe it or not in many markets NPR-affiliated stations are very commercial looking and sounding entities that would make anyone with prior public radio experience abroad howl in disbelief). The remedy of it is best as Will from Madison suggested: take the bums off the air by becoming active and go to the meetings of boards of affiliated radio stations docs in hand and lay out a case of why they should drop the program. (It happened before when Chicago's WBEZ ultra conservative and corporate board members put pressure on the management to drop Tavis & Smiley show which in itself is censorship of the worst kind).) I am saying this not as fan of this show that nevertheless had much better qualities than OTM for its honesty and bravery to probe where nobody else dared). If the program producers are so dishonest and prejudiced as to spill propaganda outright let them find space in a commercial radio landscape where they belong. It is that simple.
If anyone out there also thinks that NPR stands for something different read the great site www.shameproject.com that shows what is being served for what it is. Focus on NPR's planet money team and the Atlantic shills.

Jan. 07 2014 04:44 PM
john from Ann Arbor

Bob, it is a fair point that many of the comments posted in this forum are logically flawed, and occasionally nasty and inappropriate. Nevertheless, thanks for not deleting them outright, because I think they represent a widespread and growing concern which Mr. Coll (inadvertently) provoked with his optimism about journalism education.

So while the purpose of your interview was not an investigation of the systemic flaws in higher education, the abundance of comments expressing similar sentiments suggests that many OTM listeners WOULD enjoy a more probing examination of the University Industrial Complex (a moniker I endorse, btw). While I would not presume that you are soliciting ideas for future shows, but I would love to hear your team's take on the valorisation of post-secondary and graduate education, and the ways higher education has been depicted in the media since the great recession.

Jan. 07 2014 03:55 PM
Bob Garfield

Just to clarify, yes, Dean Coll and the rest of the University Industrial Complex must think hard about what they are offering, and with what implied promises. That's why we had him on the show, and that's why I asked impertinent questions.

But there is no room here for ad hominem.

Jan. 07 2014 01:27 PM
Monte Haun

"reporter from round lake, il

I can only say this: I wonder if Columbia is also associated with any law school so any enterprising graduate could use its degree right away and sue the school and Mr Coll for FRAUD."

Many years ago, a Columbia University Graduate sued the University for failing to teach him Wisdom.

I believe the Case was thrown out because it would have been impractical to provide compensation for all the Students who might feel the same.

Monte Haun mchaun@hotmail.com

Jan. 06 2014 10:39 PM
Monte Haun

"reporter from round lake, il

I can only say this: I wonder if Columbia is also associated with any law school so any enterprising graduate could use its degree right away and sue the school and Mr Coll for FRAUD."

Many years ago, a Columbia University Graduate sued the University for failing to teach him Wisdom.

I believe the Case was thrown out because it would have been impractical to provide compensation for all the Students who might feel the same.

Monte Haun mchaun@hotmail.com

Jan. 06 2014 10:37 PM
reporter from round lake, il

Great Conversation!!!!! The question is: what is journalism and what are its standards, if any? Is it what H.L. Mencken once stated: "The freedom of the press belong to the ones who own it," on one hand or extreme servility and sycophancy to the nth degree a lais US mainstream media on the other. Check out www.shameproject.com for clues.

Jan. 06 2014 10:14 PM
Lydia Chavez from missionlocal.org

Steve Coll may be right that journalism schools have never been more important, but we will not be around for long if a new business model for journalism fails to emerge. We should be central to figuring that out and it would be lovely to see Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others who rely on content, help fund the experimentation going on at all of the hyper-locals supported by J-schools. (Yes, Berkeley has three and I run one of these.)

The industry is still bleeding and local news – where most graduates have traditionally gone - will disappear without a new business model.

The industry leaders may survive and our best graduates will end up at places like The New York Times and the Washington Post, but that leaves the great majority of the country without anyone holding local officials accountable.

As educators and journalists we have a responsibility to insure that doesn’t happen.

- Professor Lydia Chávez, UC Berkeley, missionlocal.org

Jan. 06 2014 04:04 PM
john from Ann Arbor

Bob, I am a big fan of OTM, but I think Mr. Coll should be careful about encouraging young people to assume a burden of debt and then suggesting that they should "be entrepreneurial" in their careers. As someone who has had ongoing financial support from reliable institutions throughout his career, Coll came off as flippant at best—or worse, as a biased observer whose own job depends on a steady influx of federal student loan dollars.

I have the utmost respect for Coll's writing, but I am also deeply skeptical about the academic industry and it sounds like Coll operated on your show NOT as an excellent journalist, but as a university administrator. Have no illusions, a Dean's primary responsibility is maintaining the financial solvency of his college through fundraising and enrollment. Coll's comments on OTM seemed to serve both ends simultaneously. I am disappointed that OTM did not push harder on his superficial (arguably self-serving) responses.

Note that this is a particularly personal concern of mine. Despite graduating literally at the top of my class with a professional degree from a well-respected university, I found myself unable to find a job (granted I graduated in 2010). My academic and professional mentors told me to "be entrepreneurial", which was fine until my first loan payments hit. Myself and many of my peers are still living paycheck to paycheck with advanced degrees, accruing interest on loans that we have had to defer and likely will never be able to pay off.

If there is no credible expectation for journalism graduate students to pay off their student loans, we can look forward to a cadre of independently wealthy (or massively beholden) journalists investigating and reporting on our world. Journalism may someday become entirely inaccessible to—and detached from—the subjects it purports to investigate. Mr. Coll's comments seem to confirm that schools of journalism will do nothing to stop this gentrification of the profession.

Jan. 06 2014 03:03 PM

I ground my teeth to nubs listening to Steve Coll. Suggesting that it is a great time to enter journalism is an example of breath taking dishonesty. He knows, as others do, that producing large number of students with little chance of making a decent living is just plan wrong. He is not along in this venality there are many other professions that use sirens songs to seduce young students into programs that do not fulfill career promises [law and library science to name just two.] To suggest, as Elizabeth from Kingston does in her response above, that students are too sophisticated to be sucked into something innocently is to forget the hope that is intrinsically part of being young. Deans and professors owe it to their students to be brutally honest even if it runs counter to their own self-interest. Anything short of that smacks of immorality.

Jan. 06 2014 08:18 AM
will from madison, wi

I have heard the interview with Brooke on WPR's Central Time last week and the reporter from round lake is 100% correct. My station started to carry OTM and I will take time to write to them to take it off. Hell I will even go to the board meeting if I have to as this really got my blood boiling. I think what Steve Coll said is ridiculous and completely false and first and foremost OTM should apologize to the listeners including Bob to the reporter of whom he attacked in a very ugly and personal way. When I read arguments put forward by the people in this conversation they beats your "journalism" 100 times over. OTM doesn't belong in public airways with people who are just using it for their own career and purpose.

Jan. 05 2014 04:31 PM
reporter from round lake, il

@bob garfield
Mr Garfield, I can applaud your personal loyalty that in this case I think is misguided if you actually cared about US journalism and what it is deforming into. Recently your boss Ms Gladstone went on record in Wisconsin Public Radio interview that she actually does not care about what the media coverage is and what is being covered etc. I do appreciate her honesty in this case, though she quipped afterwards "I don't believe I am going on record with this." That Mr Coll is talented and incredibly smart is evident and not disputed. What is,however, disputed is his integrity and internal capacity to tell the truth which in the recent case is very much wanting by his recent remarks that not only defy common sense but go against economic gravity. It is journalistic equivalent of Marie Antoinette stating "let them eat cake," although in journalistic fairness she most likely never said that. Everyone is shaped by institutional instrument they once belonged to and Mr Coll is not an exception here and neither are you or I. Furthermore everyone is entitled to his/her opinion but not their own facts that is why the excuse of timeline you stated does not apply here. As far as you are accusing me of being a psychic it is truly childish and it reflects very much on you and OTM as you don't know anything about me , where I come from etc etc. Also you allude that people with "access" are entitled to speak their minds regardless of professional and personal experiences. Well if this is not Leibovitch's "This Town" defense, I don't know what is. You are not only projecting your own insecurity but also give an impression of prejudice that you as US trained and educated journalist should know better. Instead of barking (there is a Polish saying: the weaker the dog the louder it barks), I suggest the following: let's do the factual US vs Foreign Media comparison. How about a program once a month that covers major story US coverage vs international one. Let's review coverage, context what is being said and who covers 5Ws in more accurate and comprehensive way. I would start with WP and NYT for starters with its chief "stars". I think this would speak for itself. As quatro-linqual journalist I would be very happy to contribute but once again please don't think that if someone lives outside of beltway or NYC bubble they are stupid and gullible enough to be exploited for free. I suggest you contact Nate Thayer for clues.

Jan. 05 2014 11:16 AM
G Button

I have nothing but the greatest respect for Steve Coll as a journalist however I find his defense rather disturbing.
As an academic I can assure you that one of the most controversial debates in university circles today is the recruitment of graduate students. While many university administrators advocate continued aggressive recruitment despite the increasing difficulty of graduates obtaining jobs (in all disciplines) many professors consider this approach unethical because while universities may benefit from higher enrollments far too many students are graduating from graduate programs with increased debt and little chance of obtaining a job in their chosen profession regardless of their disciplinary focus.

Jan. 05 2014 11:07 AM
bob garfield

@reporter from round lake

none of your ramblings address the simple fact you used a nasty and ridiculous epithet to attack an extraordinarily talented journalist whom you clearly know nothing about.
obviously you are psychic, because you have cited the motivations of people and institutions you otherwise have no access to, but you don't seem to know how to operate a calendar. your bill of indictment on the WP covers exactly nothing that occurred during Steve Coll's long and laudable tenure.
just apologize to the man, for goodness sake -- using your own name,if in addition to oodles of free-floating contempt you have any courage.
bg

Jan. 05 2014 12:28 AM
reporter from round lake, il

@bob garfield
It always amazes me that in the US media the Pulitzer is considered almost a holy grail farce taken live from Monty Python's sketch. It is like respect for the institution outgrows logic and common sense and show me your Pulitzer line is a moral equivalent of propositional phrase at the local truck stop (5Ws need not apply)!. Another is Nobel but the brand has been on sale from day one (someone had to supply III Reich's armaments industry) neither it has been free from political maneuvering in the dark aka Obama's "Peace Prize" in most recent times. So next time someone shouts Pulitzer, I prefer to turn my head away and recall great souls that paid their dues standing for something (Russia, Chechnya, Mexico, Iraq) rather than OTM that stands for nothing.

Jan. 04 2014 11:54 PM
reporter from round lake, il

Mr Lamont brings out a very good point. Unfortunately in our "new and improved" reality having conscience and being truthful is a very unfashionable proposition. It is not only that Coll and others are not impervious to Maslow's hierarchy of needs as their viewpoints are determined by their own circumstances aka self-interest. Their responses are very rational but they have no place in professions that used to be characterized by the so-called "calling." This is exactly what now happens in other professions aka medical, faith dealing, counseling etc. The fact that kids are asked to take on burden of debt that in the same time is used to control them amounts to perfidious fraud and is unbecoming of people who know better. Or at least have enough common decency to remain silent in face of the obvious.

Jan. 04 2014 11:16 PM
reporter from round lake, il

I think Mr Garfield is referring to the same Wash Post that had a great idea to sell access to its journalistic stars in pay to play scheme a couple years back. Frankly speaking in the age of other great corporate initiatives such as Chicago Tribune Journatic adventure (hey you can be a local "American" journalist based in Manila for 30 cents per story under false byline) or long line of other embedded journalistic "heroism-zeroism", aka Green Zone Baghdad and AfPak. In reality there is really nothing new under the sun. And if you think otherwise please google Volkischer Beobachter (WWII dispatches from Die Wehrmacht) or Komsomolskaya Pravda from Soviet Invasion of 1979). The story keeps going on and on.
The American journalism nowadays reflects its society and its divisions and where it leads it bleeds: aka follow the money. You have a connected and accessed aristocracy courtiers (W.Post, NYT and few others) and then there are pretenders to influence peddling scheme and other media jesters (OTM included in the latter). As far as being the BEF label is concerned (best editor forever) I suggest one gets a reality check of who actually is paying the bills and where does the buck starts and stops. I thing Jeff Bezos recent acquisition is a new step forward into the shining path of shill-ing and press-titution. Isn't it the same Washington Post Garfield refers to that refused to publish Manning's leaks when originally approached by him (ditto NYT) thus the whole thing became a WikiLeaks extravaganza? Yes it is. And how about Wash Post that sat on the story of Pakistani killings by CIA contractor few years back (ditto NYT) although the story was widely reported internationally? Please Mr Garfield, if the shoe fits......

Jan. 04 2014 10:53 PM
D F Lamont from Manitoba, Canada

I found the comments by Steven Coll incredibly frustrating. He asks who wouldn't want to live the life of a journalist? The answer is someone who wants to make a living - at least enough of a living to pay off a student loan for Columbia journalism school.

I love the show On the Media, most of all because of its commitment to journalistic ideals of accuracy and truth-telling.

The challenges to business and public figures he describes require risk-taking on the part of the journalist. Part of what has kept journalists safe in the past, and allowed them to take risks, is knowing that their publisher or media outlet will support them on a story that threatens vested interests or speaks truth to power.

My frustration is that Steve Coll, whether he realizes it or not, seems to shrug at the fact that a younger generation of journalists (and a jobseekers more generally) have had the ladder kicked away from them. He has moved from one previously stable workplace, to another one, and he considers steady jobs and decent wages in the media industry an anomaly in social history.

Steady jobs and wages were not just an anomaly: they were a choice. One of the reasons I get so concerned about the demise of news gathering is that propaganda serves the interests of power while impartial reporting does not, but impartiality needs resources to sustain itself, and those are threatened by "disruption" in ways Coll seems not to take seriously.

Dougald Lamont

Jan. 04 2014 05:39 PM
Bob Garfield

@reporter from Round Lake:
Shameless hack? Yeah, with two Pulitzers and one of the best CVs in journalism. In the middle of his career he was editor of the Washington Post Magazine, where I was a contributor. Apart from Brooke, he was the best editor I ever had. In short: shut up.

Jan. 04 2014 10:47 AM
elizabeth from Kingston, NY

While I can not judge the quality of Columbia's program nor am I knowledgeable about journalism I was disappointed in the host's interview. His goal seemed to be pre determined with an aim to prove that journalism is a hopeless career. This is, I believe, a demonstration poor journalism. All of his reasons sited, conflict of interest financially, unsecure earnings, changing consumers, and changing values appear to be true and were addressed in todays program. It struck me however that many professions face the same issues, think medicine, law and government contractors. Also, any graduate considering additional schooling particularly journalism is most capable of researching the career and all of its good and bad. Suggesting that a person with the academic skills to get into Columbia will be bamboozled by a form letter is perhaps a bit condescending. The reality is that our academic institutions are very different today and are more profit driven (again think medicine. This is yet another story in need of a good journalist to keep us on our toes in the very very fast changing world.

Jan. 04 2014 09:47 AM
elizabeth from Kingston, NY

While I can not judge the quality of Columbia's program nor am I knowledgeable about journalism I was disappointed in the host's interview. His goal seemed to be pre determined with an aim to prove that journalism is a hopeless career. This is, I believe, a demonstration poor journalism. All of his reasons sited, conflict of interest financially, unsecure earnings, changing consumers, and changing values appear to be true and were addressed in todays program. It struck me however that many professions face the same issues, think medicine, law and government contractors. Also, any graduate considering additional schooling particularly journalism is most capable of researching the career and all of its good and bad. Suggesting that a person with the academic skills to get into Columbia will be bamboozled by a form letter is perhaps a bit condescending. The reality is that our academic institutions are very different today and are more profit driven (again think medicine. This is yet another story in need of a good journalist to keep us on our toes in the very very fast changing world.

Jan. 04 2014 09:47 AM
Sam Prenduzal from Takoma Park, MD

I'm on Facebook with quite a few ex-journalists who were forced out of the profession or took buyouts. Seems to me that while it has never been easier to "do" journalism it has never been harder to get paid a living wage for doing it. Thank Heaven I left Newsweek for academe years ago. Maybe Steve Coll knows something I don't know.

Jan. 04 2014 07:43 AM
reporter from round lake, il

I can only say this: I wonder if Columbia is also associated with any law school so any enterprising graduate could use its degree right away and sue the school and Mr Coll for FRAUD. Mr Coll has always been a shameless hack and this is why they hired him. As parent of upcoming university student I can only feel for the parents who spend their hard earned money for the subprime career in subprime profession that produces increasingly subprime product.

Jan. 03 2014 07:47 PM

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