"There's a great future for you": Studies in Crap presents 1965's Your Career in Journalism
Your Career in Journalism
Author: M.L. Stein
Publisher: Julian Messner, Inc.
Discovered at: Salvation Army
The Cover Promises:
While permanent, established institutions are not immune to change, so one of these pictures has some chicks in it.
- "The journalist enjoys good standing in his community. He is even likely to be held in awe." (page 47).
- "The day may not be far off when a city editor will say to a reporter, 'Check your space gear. You're going to the moon.' " (page 86).
The easy thing would be for your Crap Archivist to treat M.L. Stein's perversely optimistic Your Career in Journalism like I would Edgar Whisenant's 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 or Rudy Giuliani's Leadership: as Crap proved so absurd by time that its chief value comes from strip-mining it for hilarious quotes.
That's especially tempting thanks to jewels like these:
- "If you are a college graduate in journalism, you may land a job before you even leave the campus."
- "The story that a reporter worried and sweated over will be read by thousands and perhaps millions of people who will be informed, enlightened or amused... He has prestige and influence that most persons can never hope to attain."
And there's this, on landing that first big break:
- "By far the best idea is to go directly to a newspaper and ask the city editor for a job."
Or this goofy thought:
- "There is an accepted tenet in the newspaper business that an experienced copyreader can always get a job."
Experienced copyreaders? But it's so much easier to crowdsource those jobs to online commenters!
Easy as it is too laugh at Stein's optimism, remember that he writes with all the certainty of 1965, the last possible moment when it still made sense to hold an absolute faith in journalism, government, or most other chunks of the all-American bedrock. (These also included segregation, Frank Sinatra, and the idea that youth culture wasn't the only culture.)
Sometimes, Stein seems admirably forward-thinking. He writes, "The door is no longer closed against you, girls, and you can often compete with men for the same positions at the same salary."
But then he offers the girls this advice:
"Let's assume the Indian ambassador to the United States and his wife visit your city. Someone from your paper will interview him on such weighty matters as East-West relations, India's neutrality policy, and so forth. But, as a reporter from the women's section, you will talk to Mrs. Ambassador about the problems and pleasures of being a diplomat's wife, her role in Washington, her views about American women, etc."Perhaps he would think more highly of women if the world's most famous girl reporter hadn't failed for decades to crack that Clark-is-Superman case.
As he trumpets the power of daily papers and promises that even an eager kid with no interest in j-school can climb the reporting ranks from the community to the suburban to the metropolitan paper, it's mostly just Stein's belief in journalism as an institution that seems dated and impossible.
He promises, "If you are interested in public service and you can measure up to journalism's obligations and standards, there's a job on a newspaper for you."
That's no longer true, of course, and even if it were that job is likely part-time, low-paying, and dependent upon hit-count. But just because we can no longer conceive of the wealthy career journalist who inspires awe among his -- or, what the hell, her -- neighbors, that takes nothing away from journalism itself as a calling with standards and obligations worth living up to.
"Inevitably, journalism is changing," he muses in a chapter that recommends daily reporters learn to write context and analysis rather than attempt to out-scoop TV and radio. "Hacks, mediocrities and dabblers will fare poorly. Unless you have something to offer a newspaper besides eight hours a day of your time, you will soon find yourself on a treadmill -- assuming you get on a newspaper at all."
As the old institutions die, and the new ones harden into orthodoxies of their own, who's to say you need a damn newspaper at all?
Other Things Stein Gets Right:
- "Today, many newsmen and women work in the city and live in the suburbs."
- "Tomorrow's journalist must be enterprising. He must initiate and develop news stories, not just wait around for them to happen."
- "There is one other category of newspapers you might want to consider. This is the neighborhood weekly published in large cities. Among them are The Village Voice in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, the Progress in San Francisco, and the Redford Record in Detroit. Some of the neighborhood weeklies are well-written and popular. Others are amateurish and more shopping guide than newspaper. Many are one-and-two-man operations and offer no employment."
[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice's sister paper, The Pitch.]
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