Recently journalism school alumnus Jon Turner wrote a letter
to the editor of The Daily Gamecock, USC's student newspaper.
Turner described his five years of newsroom experience
and his reasons for leaving. His prerogative. But he also summons
all journalism students to join him in abandoning ship:
As journalists well know, there is usually more than one side
to a story. Daily Gamecock managing editor Thad Moore invited
me to respond to Turner's letter that appeared in the
September 27 edition. I accepted. Here's my response
from the September 30 issue.
Alumnus Jon Turner laments the state of journalism in his
letter (from Sept. 27), suggesting journalism students would
be better advised to "follow the money" rather
than their passion for journalism. Following the money is
itself a good journalistic practice. It's what Deep
Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein to do in unearthing
the details of the Nixon Watergate scandal. It's the
money trail that often brings politicians, shady corporate
types, deluded athletic stars and the occasional despot to
heel. While Turner appears to be suggesting that our school's
1,500 undergraduate students — in journalism, public
relations, advertising, visual communications et al — may
be wasting their time and money, there are valuable suggestions
in his letter.
He tells students interested in journalism to "specialize
or double major in fields such as history, economics, statistics
and the sciences." Absolutely. Set yourself apart from
the field. It's why we are introducing more business
journalism, big data and other specialized courses in the
school's newly revised curriculum.
He quotes a "cynical friend" who acknowledges
that "a degree that requires and shows a person has
writing skills can prove useful." Hard to argue with
that. Those skills can be applied pretty much to all occupations.
Ex-journalist Turner appears to have taken them with him
when he left the newsroom.
He writes a good letter, provides illustrative quotes and
appropriately cites his sources. None of that "some
say" or "everyone knows." That would be
He credits senior journalism instructor Doug Fisher's
admittedly daunting copy editing course for the skills he
continues to use. How is that wasting money?
Turner is correct in noting that newsrooms are more thinly
populated than they once were, that some organizations seem
to have made a trade-off of experience for entry-level salaries: "devours
its young and abandons its old." Hyperbole? Or the
plot line for some new macabre entertainment hit?
Perhaps the latter half of the 20th century was the heyday
of journalism, particularly with the advent of television.
Earnestly competitive, an illusion of glamour and statistically
skewed high salaries at its peak.
The transformative effect of digital media, the Internet
and global communication has had a bifurcating impact. Some
of what we encounter is journalism; most is not. Turner writes
that "(t)he media is not ‘in transition.'" I
disagree. The media are in transition; media are always in
transition. We're not dealing with hot type, cold type,
Gutenberg's type or Moses' stone tablets. There
is undoubtedly more journalism being done today in more venues
The impact of the new media paradigm is that we all can
do it — whatever "it" is — but we cannot
all do it well.
Want to write? Want to tell stories? At its essence, that's
what journalists do. Want to convey what is vitally important,
of momentary significance or just plain fascinating?
I'd still study journalism. (I also studied Russian
and it led to a career that had East-West, Cold War dynamics
as its core for more than 30 years.) I'd combine skills
and subject knowledge into a desirable package that would
enable me to deliver content to whatever platform reaches
attentive audiences. I'd also be sure I had the entrepreneurial
gumption to sell those stories myself if needed.
In the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, we
guarantee our students a career that leads to a Pulitzer
or Emmy. But the university's science programs can't
promise a Nobel. The arts disciplines can't assure
To our current and future students, I would say there are
graduates of our program who have intriguing jobs in journalism,
in the broader communications industry and in disparate fields
where their skills are still valued, even if the product
is something entirely different.
It's not yet a reason to be euphoric, but it is an encouraging
sign for those of us who think journalism is still a worthy