Follow @neilsteinbergGood for Medill.
I admit, when I first heard that my alma mater, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (we’ll get to its official name later) had let its academic accreditation lapse, my immediate instinct — call it “Columnist’s Reflex” — was to draw back my foot and deliver a kick.
What is college but reputation? And Medill Dean Bradley Hamm’s assessment of the review process — “It’s relatively superficial, extremely time consuming and doesn’t lead us to a goal of significant improvement. It’s sort of a low bar.” — is true for college in general. And yet they still encourage young people to attend.
Then I reconsidered. Why does a journalism school — excuse me, a journalism, integrated marketing, storytelling and whatever else they fancy themselves this week school — need official sanction? A merit badge, a Good Housekeeping seal, a kiss on the forehead from some pooh bah? Look around. The number of newsroom jobs is half what it was 20 years ago. Circulation and ad revenues hemorrhage. People get their news from three bullet points on their smartphones. While the president of the United States daily damns the entire profession to his millions of reality-challenged followers who lap it up, being the sort of people who believe the “Fast and Furious” films are documentaries.
Follow @neilsteinbergDo you really need to go to an accredited journalism school to slave for some obscure website? I don’t think so. Fog a mirror, agree to grind out steaming piles of content for whatever Dickensian online workhouse they’re running and you’re in. Frankly, the higher quality school you went to, the more galling the penury that awaits. Five years after graduating from Medill, I was unemployed for the third time, telling myself that my patchwork of humiliating low-level jobs was a freelance career.
Although, now I think of it, Medill was not accredited back then either. The winter of my senior year, 1982, Medill gave the accreditation team the bum’s rush, midway through its inspection tour, because NU did not want to reveal what its staff were paid — or, more likely, not paid.
Didn’t matter. Employers generally don’t care what school you once attended, but what you can do right now. The most dynamic editor I ever worked for, who ran four, count ’em four, major North American dailies dropped out of school at age 16.
I don’t know whether the school he dropped out of was accredited or not.
The entire notion of journalism requiring elaborate education is a post-war hiccup, long fallen into ridicule.
“Journalism is not a profession or a trade,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 1971 in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” “It is a cheap catchall for f—offs and misfits, a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy, piss-ridden little hole . . . .”
You get the idea. Dentistry is a profession. Plumbing is a trade. Journalism is performance art, like doing magic tricks in the street — conjuring up wonders out of the ordinary for the benefit of the uninterested, and doing it with consistency.
The public hurrying by don’t care if you went to school or what that school was. By now, even attending college suggests a certain lack of initiative. If two young entrepreneurs were in your outer office, one who graduated with honors from Northwestern and one who dropped out junior year to focus on a tech startup, which would you see first?
Back to Medill. For the past decade it has called itself “Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.” Besides being in desperate need of an ampersand, that name is like your granddad showing up at a frat kegger with rouged cheeks and a polyester toupee. Fooling no one but himself. No graduate in the world ever said he had a degree in “media.” And “Integrated Marketing Communications” sounds like what happens when your refrigerator tells your smartphone you’re low on milk and conjures up a coupon. Maybe now that Medill has rejected being officially approved, it can really go out on a limb and return to using a name that doesn’t make loyal graduates cringe.