Degree of perspective

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 54 views 

Sincere kudos go to Joe Hardin, dean of the College of Languages and Communication at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and other university officials in gaining approval from the Little Rock higher education bureaucrats for a new bachelor’s degree in media communication.

The degree is intended as part of rebirth of the UAFS journalism effort, which was dismantled many years ago when school officials felt no love for the fourth estate. But please know that producing journalists is not the only reason for the new program. UAFS officials see the need to improve communication skills — visual (possibly excluding hand gestures), written, verbal, etc. — for a wide range of societal needs.

Fort Smith-based Baldor Electric Co. effectively doubled the size of its operation less than three years ago. The company will need effective internal and external communications to reach its growth potential. Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp. and Van Buren-based USA Truck are companies with a national footprint and rely on internal and external communications to connect with employees, vendors and consumers. Fort Smith-based Golden Living operates in a sector — long-term care, hospice, rehab therapies, etc. — that will see blazing growth as the baby boomer generation ages. People with communication skills will be vital to the efficient growth of Golden Living.

Other emerging groups — our new intermodal authority, Chaffee Crossing, regional economic alliance group — now need or will soon need people with solid communication skills.

But as the new degree relates to producing future journalists, The City Wire offers the following thoughts. We preface the thoughts by noting our significant deficiency of not employing anyone with a graduate degree or having university faculty experience. All we have are a few folks with a little more than five combined decades of real-world business, communications and journalism experience.

• Please produce journalists willing to challenge other journalists.
We are in the midst of this great oil drama in the Gulf of Mexico. To hear the leading journalists and media organizations tell it, we were mere hours from seeing oil-soaked coasts in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The breathlessness of the reporting quickly transformed into hyperbole that has yet to be debunked. The event was tragic, especially with the loss of life, and environmental harm is certain, but this great Oil Disaster proved yet again that the media is more interested in drama than perspective.

Speaking of perspective …

• Please produce journalists willing to think ahead of the story.
There are numerous examples where the big media doesn’t fully report on an issue until it’s too late. Did you notice how the media began reporting all the goofy, potentially destructive and anti-business elements of the healthcare reform bill and financial reform bill AFTER they had been signed into law?

If the media is indeed supposed to be a watchdog, it doesn’t help to bark after the house has been robbed.

And remember how ethanol was going to save the planet? Whoops. There were no journalists willing to challenge the conventional wisdom or think ahead of that story. Challenging convention wisdom requires a journalist or media company to venture into what may be politically incorrect territory. Which brings us to …

• Please produce journalists who use perspective instead of politics to develop a story.
We have enough political blogs, thank you very much. And before the political bloggers, we had too many newspapers with clear political slants. (Which results in much amusement when newspaper leaders — oxymoron? — complain about the lack of editorial discipline among the roving Mad Max tribes of journalism-destroying bloggers.)

• Please produce journalists who understand there is more to a community than crime news.
Traditional newsrooms go nuclear with excitement when the police scanner indicates a bank robbery is in process. When a robber walks out of a bank with a bag of cash — and, if we’re lucky, a hostage! — that’s big news. But when a small business owner walks out of a bank with loan proceeds resulting in new jobs or community investment, well, I mean, that’s pretty damn boring. In newsrooms where the politics are out of hand, the socially oppressed robber is treated with empathy and the greedy step-on-the-little-man business owner is vilified.

• Please encourage journalists to do something other than journalism, even if for a few months.
The best journalists I know are those who worked for several years in politics, business, non-profits and other important areas of society. They’ve seen other sides of the world. They have hard-earned perspective.

The worst thing you can do with newsroom is to pack it full of folks with impressive and extensive journalism credentials, but no other experience.

And that’s probably the worst thing a university could do to a new media communication degree program.