While we're revising the journalism curriculum ...

The Baltimore Sun

At The Atlantic, Olga Khazan has followed up on an article disputing that journalists should be taught computer code, with one suggesting what they should be taught. I can heartily endorse some of her suggestions.

Statistics? Sure. If you could see how often professional journalists go awry on something as simple as computing percentages, you would want them to be more numerate. Take special note of opinion polling so that reporters don't fall for every shoddy, slanted survey that comes down the pike.

Data? Unavoidable. Some will recall how many stories the late I.F. Stone broke by methodically reading through government reports to discover information inexpertly concealed there. There is a wealth of information concealed in governmental and business reports and spreadsheets, if one only understood how to get at it efficiently. 

Since I am so broad-minded and receptive about Ms. Khazan's suggestions, perhaps you will allow me a bit of special pleading: Make sure that editing stays in the curriculum.

Civilians may be puzzled at that remark, unaware that some journalism programs do not offer an editing course, or it's a one-term copy editing course that include page design. Or that journalism majors are not necessarily required to take an editing course. It must strike them as resembling a medical school that doesn't require the study of anatomy. 

Oh, the students absorb something, I suppose, in the writing classes in which they discuss narrative strategies. But many wind up equipped with little more than "flow" and similarly gaseous terms to look at their work analytically. Grammar and usage are either taught no longer in the schools, or taught as a miscellany of schoolroom superstitions about grammar,* so reporters are ill-equipped to make informed judgments about usage. As for expecting their confidence in manipulating the tropes of classical rhetoric, lovingly set forth by Ward Farnsworth in Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric, you might as well be talking about reinstating the trivium and quadrivium.

The practical reason here is that these fledgling journalists emerge from university to discover that, as Ms. Khazan points out, they are expected to come up with and write multiple online stories in a day and their publications have turned all the copy editors out to graze. They may have one harried editor who can take a swipe at a text before publication, but they will be increasingly on their own, and their self-editing will be the editing their work receives. 

Dammit, show them how it's done.



*Don't even get me started on "over can't be used to mean more than" or "you can evacuate buildings but not people" or the other made-up newspaper nonsense. And if there remain any holdouts on the split-infinitive shibboleth, The Stroppy Editor has definitively demolished it in a post.  

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