Curse of the webernet
 

They told me it was coming, but I didn’t listen. They warned me, “Turn back now! The end is near! Take another career path! Anything but this … !” But I didn’t believe it would ever happen.

The death of journalism, that is.

Oh excuse me, I mean “discontinuance.” Sort of how they “discontinue” life support for hopeless patients without any vital signs. Or how they “discontinued” the Pinto, the McRib and “Dawson’s Creek” (OK, I know they were all in their 30s, and Joey had to leave to marry Tom Cruise, but still.)

Yes, I am talking about the imminent demise of my beloved alma mater, those hallowed halls of learning I so cherished, the CU School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

I knew I should have listened to my mom and gotten an English degree.

OK, so as an ad hoc (some would argue “ad hack”) journalist, I guess I clarify that nothing’s been finalized yet. And if you happen to be a current student of journalism and mass comm. at CU, don’t throw yourself out the classroom window just yet (especially if it’s one of those basement rooms they stuck us in back in the ’90s.)

But be forewarned, changes are on the way, including talk of housing the new incarnation – being touted as an “information and communication technology” school – in the business school. Which is a little like operating the Drama Department out of the Physics School (if there is one, not that I would know.) It’s like trying to fit a right brain in a left-brained hole – it just won’t work unless you turn everything upside down and inside out.

And speaking of drama, no sooner had word gotten out about the J. School’s demise, than journalists everywhere worked themselves into a tizzy. See, if there’s one thing that makes them nervous, it’s the thought of change – clothing mostly. It’s a well known fact that the majority of journalists are wearing the same outdated loafers, button-down oxfords and khakis as when they graduated school back when Woodward and Bernstein were household names.

All joking aside, however, this is a very serious subject. A friend of mine works at an ad agency in Denver where two-thirds of the staff has a degree from the soon-to-be-defunct institution. “All of our degrees are worthless. We thought about having an origami contest with them.”

Of course, I reassured her nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, their degrees are more valuable now than ever – maybe they could sell them to the Smithsonian, or at the very least on Ebay.

Which, of course, is the whole root of this problem: the damned webernet. I mean, who knew that some day paper would be replaced with computer screens, and six-word strings of words would pass as “information.” Or that biased, one-sided tirades would constitute “reporting” or that the embarrassing forays of the rich and famous would pass as “news.” And don’t even get me started on infomer cials and reality TV.

Alas, there is no one to really blame about the current state of the media but the media themselves. For starters, how are we to be taken seriously in life if we can’ t even decide if we’re a plural or singular noun? Yes, I know it’s a vicious circle, like a dog chasing its tail. And speaking of pointless chases, I blame the entire fall of modern journalism on O.J. Simpson. If it weren’t for him and his stupid white Bronco, we wouldn’t be in this despicable, instant-gratification, voyeuristic mess we’re in. He and his pathetic low-speed ruse through L.A. paved the way for such three-ring debacles as Elian, Terry Schiavo, Balloon Boy (my personal favorite) and Tiger Gate, to name a few. And now, here we are, watching real-time footage of stranded miners through a hole burrowed two miles into the Earth (did anyone else notice the shameless placement of the “Coolmax” logo?)

And we wonder.

Sure, tweeting, texting, blogging and FB-ing are all handy, viable forms of communication in this digital age. In fact, one particularly savvy journalist being held captive used Twitter to inform of his status, which ultimately led to his release. Still, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m so bombarded with information – and misinformation – in all its variant forms that I don’t know which end is up. Sort of like those poor miners, I suppose.

It would seem that now, more than ever, is a good time to shore up the crumbling foundation of the so-called Fourth Estate rather than rip it down. Whether it be a full-on facelift of the big-city daily model or a little nip and tuck of the progressive online genre. One school has already taken a radical first step. Indiana University in Bloomington (ironically of “Breaking Away” fame, if I’m not mistaken) has introduced its new “School of Informatics and Computing.” While I’m not completely convinced if “informatics” is even a real word (would graduates be “informaniacs?”), I am pretty sure there will always be a basic human need to gather and disseminate factual information. So as we head forth into the new “www” frontier, let’s not lose sight of those other all-important “w’s:” who, what, when, where and why. And, of course, the nifty way of pulling them all together in a cohesive, intelligible manner, known as “writing.”

While it is important to instill the seemingly lost art of sentence structure, it is even more pertinent that we combine that with a sense of duty and ethics. It never ceases to amaze me when people call asking to “buy” a story. What is this? The “Wheel of Fortune?”

Sadly enough, this sort of thinking goes hand in hand with the blurred lines between good journalism and bad journalism, often disguised in a credible package. The problem arises when people are no longer able to differentiate between the two, or worse, stop questioning what they read or hear all together.

It is the journalist’s job to stand up and fight this downward slide into homogenized, corporatized and polarized sludge. Don’t give up now – the truthiness is out there.

– Missy Votel

 

 

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