Michael Totten

Talented Air Heads

When I was a young 20-something I wanted to spend the rest of my life in college towns. That way I would always be surrounded by smart people – like me!
Well. I guess when I was nine years old I thought I was pretty smart, too. I was certainly smarter than when I was eight. And I was a lot smarter at nine than I was at five.
Someday I hope to be old enough to think people my age (34) fell off the lettuce truck, like, yesterday. That, apparently, is just how life goes.
In the meantime, I’d just like to thank fate and (apparently) my own good sense for getting the heck out of the alternate-universe bubble city where I was schooled. Dr. Frank reminds me yet again why this is so by pointing to this silly piece by Traci E. Carpenter at MSNBC. She just won an essay contest for college journalists all across the country.
Can I make a humble suggestion to j-school deans? Please make your students study history or some other subject that teaches them something. No journalist should ever write something as empty-headed as this:

Sometimes I feel that no matter how I vote, there will still be war, crime and poverty.

Or this:

I don’t know the difference between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry because they don’t take time out from kissing babies and the behinds of corporate executives to tell me.

Um, did she watch the debates? Check out their Web sites? Look at the news, ever, over the past four years? She’s a journalism student, supposedly the best in the country, and she doesn’t read the paper?
I don’t mean to pick on the youngster. I wasn’t half as smart as I thought when I was her age. I’m still probably not.
But, come on. Is this really the best our j-schools can produce? Talented air heads? A freshman in History would laugh at the first sentence I quoted. And a freshman in Political Science would scoff at the second.
Look. Journalism isn’t that hard. I’ve never taken a single class in the subject. I’ve received no training, and only a little advice. Yet I get assignments. It can be done. You don’t need a certificate, and you don’t need to have your hand held for four years.
However. If you want to write about something, you first have to know something about it. Want to cover politics? Study Political Science. Want to cover foreign policy? Study Military History. Want to write about globalization? Study Economics. But for all our sakes, don’t study Journalism. At least don’t study Journalism alone. I see little evidence that it does much good. Dumb sentences, cleanly written, are still dumb sentences.