Monday, May 30, 2005

"Caste and Class" Pt. 2

I enjoyed reading "Caste and Class" (refer to previous entry for link) because of its relevance to some things I've been thinking about lately. I've started to think seriously about what I want to do with my expected journalism degree. It seems that in any sort of privileged setting, everyone there is expected to have ambitious career goals. I did choose New York University partly because the media industry is so concentrated in New York City. But I think from the beginning of grad school I had the sense that I might not stay, and the longer I'm here the more I feel that way.

In "Caste and Class," Goldman writes about working for the Washington Post. He came from a working-class background and felt like an imposter at the Post, where, he says, "I was surrounded by reporters, male and female, who were younger versions of [executive editor Ben] Bradlee. ... Other younger employees could find mentors in the upper reaches of the Post to help them through difficulties, but I had no idea how to do any of that." Goldman decided to leave the Post and eventually became a boxing writer.

Now that I think about it, maybe his article isn't as relevant to my experience as I thought it was. He seems to regret what he did, after realizing why he felt the way he did: "There's something called the imposter syndrome. When people advance quickly, they can create a gap between how others see them and how they see themselves. They believe they're protecting the secret of terrible inadequacies and are in constant fear they will be unmasked."

Either way, I can sympathize with his experience at the Post. Although I'm not from a working-class background, I appreciate his observation that one's talent only partly determines one's success in the newsroom. Being able to fit in with the newsroom culture -- with the culture of any working environment, for that matter -- also indicates whether or not one will survive there.

If New York City is the center of the American media industry, I also see it as relentlessly corporate and competitive. I don't know if that's the kind of environment I want to be in.

On a slightly related note, I recently read Laura Hillenbrand's "A Sudden Illness," published in the Jul. 7, 2003, issue of the New Yorker. Hillenbrand is the author of one of my favorite books, Seabiscuit.

Hillenbrand came down with chronic fatigue syndrome while studying at Kenyon College. Despite having to drop out and despite her illness, she went on to become a freelance writer on equine issues and a bestselling author.

Two stories from writers who found their niche. It makes me wonder whether or not that's what I should spend my time doing: thinking less about available jobs in journalism and more about the topics that I feel passionately about as a writer.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

"Caste and Class"

I recently read an interesting article in the latest issue of Utne -- "Caste and Class at the Washington Post," reprinted from the Columbia Journalism Review. More on this later.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Accessibility of Media

Some people might be interested to know that in September, the New York Times plans to start charging readers a fee to access portions of its Web site. By signing up for TimesSelect, which will cost $49.95 a year, readers will be able to access online articles written by Times columnists as well as the newspaper's online archives, among other features. (Home-delivery subscribers will not have to pay a fee to access the same material.)

At first glance, this plan makes sense to me because the observations of the Times's columnists are unique to the paper. One can get news and cultural listings from a variety of free sources, but by paying for this service, one pays for access to the Times's personalities. (One analogy that comes to mind is the people who are getting satellite radio just so they will be able to continue listening to Howard Stern.)

Because I rarely read opinion pieces in newspapers, I don't know if the service is something I'd subscribe to. It might be worth it just for access to the Times archives; once I graduate, there'll be no more free Lexis-Nexis for me.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Anonymous Sources

In a case illustrating the peril of relying upon anonymous sources, Newsweek retracted its story that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the toilet. Read a BBC report about the situation here. Read a statement from Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker here.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Value of Media Education

Someone circulated a link to a Mediabistro article, "If Your Journalism School Says It Knows What's Best For You, Check It Out," on my department's mailing list. As someone who will be graduating from journalism school this year, I read the article with interest.

Article writer Greg Lindsay argues the following:

You [2005 j-school graduate] thought you were buying a set of skills, credentials, and quality time with the placement office. And you did. But your professors also sold you a mindset, a worldview, an ideology -- one in which newspapers are God's work, bloggers are pagans, and your career trajectory is a long, steep, but ultimately meritocratic climb to a heavenly desk at The New York Times or 60 Minutes. ...

Because journalism as we know it and j-schools are themselves caught up in a larger struggle for relevance. ... You are the only hope for the future they've got; they're desperate to make believers out of you.

Lindsay concludes that j-school professors should acknowledge what they do and do not teach. Are they teaching students to accept Journalism or are they teaching them to be aware of opportunities?

This past school year, my department brought in many established journalists to speak to me and my classmates. The majority had not studied journalism in school. They had degrees, bachelor's and advanced degrees, in areas like English and philosophy. They got involved in journalism because they liked to write, they knew how to get and how to tell a story, and they were persistent.

I decided to go to j-school -- despite warnings from a few people about the usefulness of such a move -- because I wanted to learn the nuts and bolts of journalism. I knew I wasn't going to get that anywhere else, not at my age.

I think the days of internships or entry-level positions where one learned on the job are over. I thought I wouldn't be able to get an internship without any journalism experience, and I think my difficulties in finding an internship, even now with j-school experience, attests to how competitive the field is.

So do I regret going to j-school? Maybe I'll feel differently once I graduate and have to start paying off my loans.

At this point, there are certain aspects of school that I'm dissatisfied with. I agree with Lindsay that j-school sometimes struggles to be relevant. For example, there's a magazine production class in the fall. The class that teaches students how to be entrepreneurs -- how to conceive of and develop a new magazine -- is only offered this summer when most students are gone.

At the same time, I'm treating j-school as an experience like any other. There were times when I wasn't happy with my undergraduate experience, but I took out of it what I could. There were times when I wasn't happy with where I used to work, but I took out of it what I could. As with the other institutions I've been a part of, I've treated j-school with a degree of skepticism. So what that I haven't been entirely happy there? I've learned by now that I always have options.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Mainstream Rebellion

Over the years, I'd heard bits and pieces about the Suicide Girls. I'd seen an ad for a touring burlesque show involving Suicide Girls, but otherwise they had infiltrated popular (punk) culture without my fully knowing who or what they were.

Then I came across an article about an alternative porn Web site, and the writer -- or maybe someone she interviewed for the article -- took a swipe at the Suicide Girls, claiming that this Web site, unlike the Suicide Girls', would be truly inclusive. Probably because I trust skepticism more than I do enthusiasm, I decided to find out who the Suicide Girls were exactly.

What I found out is that the Suicide Girls are "pin-up punk rock and goth girls," in a nutshell. Women audition to be Suicide Girls, and if they are accepted, they are paid to have their photos taken, photos which are then posted online and accessible to paying members. The Suicide Girls Web site also includes interviews with celebrities, forums and groups, and the Suicide Girls' online journals. Suicide Girls have a say in how they want to pose in their pictures, and many use their celebrity to focus attention on creative projects they might be involved in.

My problem with the concept of the Suicide Girls is that, other than the fact that the women have tattoos, piercings and dyed hair, they do not really challenge accepted ideals of beauty in our society, i.e., big eyes, oval faces, narrow noses, white.

I did a Google search and found one girl had written in her blog about how it's a relief to see a photo of a Suicide Girl with small breasts, as she has small breasts herself. So the Suicide Girls might not be busty blonds. But take a look at mainstream media, and I think one will find plenty of models and actresses with small breasts.

I think what would be really radical would be taking an overweight woman -- or one with big hips and small breasts, or a woman of whatever figure is not already portrayed as attractive in the media -- and presenting her as an object of desire.

Writer Annie Tomlin makes a more eloquent argument than I do here in her article "Sex, Dreads, and Rock 'n' Roll." She writes, "Imagine giving the varsity cheerleading squad makeovers at Hot Topic, and you wouldn’t be too far off. Most of the models here (and on other indie-porn sites, too) are thin, white, and traditionally beautiful. ... It’s not that punk and indie scenes are devoid of these women [women who are not thin, white, and traditionally beautiful], so their apparent exclusion from the site suggests that Suicide Girls and others aren’t seeing the alternatives in 'alternative.'"

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