I had a number of factors converge in the past few days -- a wave of editorials, e-mails and other news -- so I could no longer contain myself. I wrote the following editorial and sent it to the Medill School of Journalism alumni listserv. Here it is:
"I'm thoroughly enjoying our discourse on preserving the name and reputation of our beloved Medill School of Journalism... Seems like it's long been simmering, and it makes me proud to be an alum and a subscriber to this listserv. I'm more convinced than ever that Dean Lavine's truncated name and focus change for his Medill is dangerous for the school's place in the J-school universe -- and is coming at precisely the wrong time.
We are now well into our sixth full year of seeing the maddening machinations of a wholly neutered D.C. press corps, with polite hand raising and (what appear to be) unnecessary allowances for a challenged Commander in Chief; we are constantly seeing journalists put in the line of fire and, some would argue, have been complicit in advancing a single line of rationale as we charged off to a devastating conflict (I am still, to this day, angered by CNN's "TARGET: IRAQ" series in the fall of 2002); and our credibility as a profession as a whole is, shall we say, "peppered" by people of dubious credentials and training.
I'm not writing to make a political statement, quite the contrary, so please don't read it that way. Bottom line: Are you satisfied with the quality of journalism you're seeing, and if not, does that make Lavine's change appropriate? The answer is categorically "No."
I'm not surprised for us to have heard from Donna Leff, one of my most prized and memorable Medill professors, due to her leadership on journalistic ethics and law -- a topic that I found gravely lacking in my Medill education. I want us to spend more time on theory and practice, on the "classics," and not be tantalized by how blogs, news feeds and on-demand e-mail have somehow eclipsed the import of traditional reporter training. It's absolutely preposterous.
We also heard from Abe on how we can thankfully count on *at least* keeping the brand name "Medill," due to donors' displeasure. To say I'm relieved is an understatement. To that I'd also add this: we as alums are donors ourselves, and I'm curious if you would hesitate giving back to a school that is seemingly abandoning the very spirit and letter of the journalism law that we signed up for, that many of us are indebted to, both financially and otherwise. I myself will curb all gifts until we re-shift back to what I see is our true purpose.
Friedman refers to Medill as the "Sellout School of Journalism." I agree.
If an alum, a leader in Internet reporting, is impugning Medill's direction and decision-making to lean more in favor of new media, I'd say it's time to rethink what we're doing. Also, the D.C. Rotation for Medill students is a good litmus: What do our news partners -- from MarketWatch to the Lake County News-Sun in Peoria -- think of this rebranding? (Art Janik's "Clairvoyant Journalism" post last month was dead on the money.) Medill's D.C. Web site also has been stripped of any mention of the word, "journalism." Further, Medill's main Web site now looks like it could be a third-rate cable company's Internet splash page -- not one from a storied, respected institution. Hardly any Northwestern purple, and again, no "Journalism."
One last point: Medill needs the IMC and Journalism arms both separate and strong. I was part of the Magazine sequence (Urban Classroom) at Medill and yet I snagged a long-term, corporate-writing gig through the IMC listserv after graduation. I am proof of the unbelievable connection that both arms of our school have. Dropping the "journalism" is just absolutely the WRONG direction -- it will weaken, and has already weakened, that dual-pronged strength we have embodied for coming up on 100 years.
Let's dump the Kool Aid down the drain and return back to what we're known for: real-world, feet-on-the-pavement JOURNALISM. In the coming years we will be called to be even better, more seasoned, at-the-ready professionals in an ever-growing definition of what "journalist" means. If anything, we should redouble our efforts in classic Medill training and not go further down this troubling path."
I've gotten a few great responses -- I'll post them later.