What You Do Is More Important Than What You Say

Mark Glaser at MediaShift published an article a few weeks ago that was an insider perspective from a NYU journalism student. She is taking a class called “Reporting Gen Y (a.k.a. Quarterlifers)” and she wrote a blog piece about the class. The piece itself is surprising, containing observation that she was the only one of the 16 students who actually had a blog before the class amongst others. What’s really interesting is what the follow-on reaction was.

Her professor – the one teaching young budding reporters how to use new media – was not happy at the budding reporter’s use of new media. This class requires all of the students to blog, but when the subject was about the inadequacies of the class itself as reported by Alana, the professor claims that was an invasion of privacy because she did not ask permission to do so. I’m no journalism student or a journalist, but is that how it works? You need permission to write a piece about your experiences from everyone else in the experience?

Even more fascinating to me are the comments on Glaser’s follow-up about the reaction to the original post. It reflects the clear divide to me between the defenders of the status quo and those willing to upset it. I find the latter group more valuable because, to quote Dr. Horrible “the status is not quo!” The impression I got from those defending the actions of NYU and Professor Quigley is that reporters should know their place, only report on things that the subjects want reported on, not upset apple carts. Thinking back a century or so, what important pieces of journalism were comfortable for anyone involved or did the subjects desire to have written? The argument seems to be on the ethics of writing the blog post without telling people she was doing so – in a class required to write blog posts. That whole line of debate is at best disingenuous.

I can tell you that if I paid my money to go to NYU, took a class on blogging, blogged about the class and then had a policy applied to me ex post facto that I was not to blog about what happens in the class on blogging, I would be pissed off at the minimum. What it would give me is a teachable moment, but the teaching is not what the professor wants. It is clearly “Listen to what I say but ignore what I do.” My favorite moment in any Subgenius ritual is when the speaker says “Question Authority!” and the whole audience yells out “Why?” If this journalism professor feels that authority can appropriately quash things from being written that the authority doesn’t want out there, then that explains a lot to me about our modern times.

I don’t create journalism. A few years ago when I was doing interviews at an SF convention and they made me get a press pass, I wasn’t happy because I didn’t like being labeled press. To my mind that’s a value subtraction from what I was trying to do. I have no reverence for the position of Professional Journalist as a career. That’s great kid, now report on something meaningful to me in an illustrative way and we’ll be getting somewhere. More and more these days, I’m not happy with the journalism I do experience. It doesn’t ask the hard questions, doesn’t provide what I need to know and generally fails to question authority in the ways that I feel it is obligated to. Now I’m slowly beginning to understand why that is, and the outlook for that improving in the future is that much bleaker.

Let me close with an appropriate quote from one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries:

Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived
We got to pump the stuff to make us tough
from the heart
It’s a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange
People, people we are the same
No we’re not the same
Cause we don’t know the game
What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved lets get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say…
Fight the Power