The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The future of journalism

Okay. Time for a little rant. 

I’ve been sifting through resumes and cover letters from job applicants. These are from people who are already working in journalism. They are, supposedly, professional communicators.  Most have been out of school for a few years.  And this is the kind of stuff I’m reading:

My strong journalistic foundation from the University of Southern California, together with my anchoring at ABC, has polished my writing, editing and delivery skills of the news.

Or how about this:

While a cursory look at my resume may reveal a wide and varied selection of careers, further inspection will reveal a variety of experience as well as abilities suitable to many fields of endeavor.


Finally, there’s this priceless gem:

I became a broadcaster to tell motivating stories with compelling characters; something that advances our audience’s mind.

That sound you hear is my mind, boggling. 

I could go on.   But that gives you an idea of what’s out there — and what passes for acceptable prose in journalism schools and local TV stations.  

Here’s a little advice: if you’re looking for work as a reporter — a field that involves, you know, reporting and, not insignificantly, writing — take the time to have someone, anyone, look over your resume and cover letter.  (At the very least, use spellcheck.  Please.)   


Better yet: learn how to write a coherent, concise and grammatically correct English sentence before you start looking for a job that requires the ability to write.

Finally: I’m sure your parents are proud that you earned a 3.25 GPA when you graduated from college five years ago.  I’m not.  And if that fact is in the first paragraph of your cover letter, it doesn’t bode well for what follows.

There.  End of rant.  

Comments read comments(15)
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Steve P

posted November 3, 2010 at 10:14 am

I feel your pain, Dcn. Greg. I think what bothers me more is not even that there are poor examples of writing and journalism out there. Rather it’s the sense that expecting a certain standard, or judging someone’s work based on the quality of their written communication, is somehow unfair. Good writing matters. Great preaching matters. We shouldn’t simply settle for a broad “dumbing down” in journalism or any other field. What’s wrong with striving for excellence?
Sadly, I’m afraid some of this comes from the caliber of the discourse we get in comment boxes, tweets and text messages. It’s no surprise that this finds its way into the wider culture, into academia, and even into cover letters, when people are supposed to be putting their best foot forward.

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Gerard Nadal

posted November 3, 2010 at 10:44 am

Ummm… That was MY 3.25 GPA letter you just trashed…
Okay, seriously Deacon Greg, time for me to rant/commiserate with you. I’ve been teaching college students for sixteen years. In that time I have watched the level of functionality in the freshman decline steadily. Many college faculty have neither the time, nor inclination to pull double-duty by also acting as high school teachers to fill in the students’ many lacunae. Writing?! That’s dead and buried.
Most professors no longer assign term papers because they have wearied of reading papers that were obviously purchased online and are sick of having to play ever more increasingly sophisticated games of internet sleuth. Also, deans are increasingly skittish about litigation from students and will not back their faculty. It’s a vicious cycle. In lieu of term papers, many faculty resort to class presentations by students, which cuts down on the amount of time the professor has to lecture and impart vital information.
Then when all else fails, students have their parents call the school, visit the school to complain about the obvious lack of caring and competence in the professor as evidenced in little Billy’s C-.
Never mind that an appalling number sit and text their friends all through classes and look at me like I have seven heads when I tell them that every hour of lecture requires 2-3 hours of study to master the material (anatomy&physiology, microbiology, immunology, genetics). And these are the people who want to be pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
“I’ll learn what I need to when I get into the real world,” is their mantra, which means they think college unreal. They obviously don’t see the connection.
Now you get them. They’ve spent about $150,000 on average for a piece of paper that entitles them to, “tell motivating stories with compelling characters; something that advances our audience’s mind.”
You need to go address a freshman class and spit contempt at the cover letters and let them see the derision of a professional journalist. They won’t hear it from us. We’re just the oppressive faculty who are disconnected from their “real world”.
It’s so sad Deacon Greg. All that money and time, and they write like sixth-graders.
Rant over.
God Bless.

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posted November 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

The most truly pathetic part of the problem, is NOT the poor grammar and syntax…but the notion that it does not matter anymore. The last few papers I read in my 30 years as an elementary educator were more like extended text messages than attempts at concise writing.
U get what I’m sayin’?

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posted November 3, 2010 at 11:21 am

I’ve been teaching college freshmen for 20 years, and I haven’t noticed a drop off in skills. Of course, I teach history, where papers and essay exams are still the norm, so my sample is not indicative of larger trends.
Now that said, journalism majors, to judge from the college newspaper, have neither knowledge nor writing skill.

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Sensus Fidei

posted November 3, 2010 at 11:31 am

Perhaps someone in this forum is qualified. Would faithful dissidents be considered for the position?

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posted November 3, 2010 at 11:50 am

As a parent who continues to correct my children’s grammar, I have tried to emphasize that no matter how smart you are or how terrific your idea, few people will spent any time on you if you cannot communicate effectively in proper English. By the time kids get to high school, classes spend more time focusing on literature rather than grammar. Most kids don’t know how to diagram a sentence; neither do some teachers.
There is hope! I had to smile at a facebook post/comments among my son and friends who teased a friend into rewriting his post from “text-speak” into proper English.

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Elizabeth M

posted November 3, 2010 at 11:58 am

My husband has been a working journalist for 20 years (magazine writing primarily). We’ll often have friends or acquaintances tell us their son/daughter/niece/brother wants to be a writer/reporter etc. My husband’s advice is ALWAYS do NOT go to journalism school or get a degree in “communications.” Granted, he may be biased (having a double major in English and Film). But this is exactly the kind of thing he’s talking about. “Journalism” majors are not (apparently) taught the fundamentals of writing or clear communication. If you learn how to write and think critically, you can later learn the mechanics and protocols of writing for different media. This doesn’t mean that some professions might need some specific courses or internships. But learn to write FIRST!
(Captcha phrase: devenly language)

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posted November 3, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I have to proof-read a parish bulletin every week written by a college graduate who doesn’t understand the difference between “Confirmation” and “Conformation”. Ouch. I could go on, but you get my drift.

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posted November 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I know, I know…. it’s so sad! What happened to hunger for knowledge and zeal for creating captivating work? Not only does hardly anyone proofread, but hardly anyone cares that there’s so much sloppy work. It’s tragic.

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Joe M.

posted November 3, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I received an undergraduate degree in business from a nationally-ranked state university – a “Public Ivy”. In order to ensure that its graduates had received a broad-based liberal arts education, the school did not permit students to declare a major until the completion of sophomore year. So, instead of taking accounting, finance and marketing, I registered for English, History, Philosophy and even Astronomy!
“A’s” were hard to come by at this school, so when I earned one in an intro-level English class, I decided to continue with some upper level classes (I eventually wound up 3 credits shy of a minor). I will never forget my professor in “Reformation and 18th Century Drama.” – It was an upper level class of about 10 students, mostly Junior and Senior English majors. I was one of a handful of sophomores taking the class. When the professor handed back my first paper, it was inserted into a book. A grammar textbook. Written on the top of the paper were the words “Please revise and resubmit”. Ouch.
The teachers I remember are not the ones who gave me the best grades. My fondest memories are of those instructors who knew I was capable of far more and were not afraid to challenge me to achieve it.

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Paula Wethington

posted November 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I’m a working journalist in both print and digital formats.
I can’t contribute to the discussion of what is being taught now because my college degree was earned in 1988.
But I have this thought:
Perhaps a prayer to St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, is in order. : )

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Cindy H

posted November 3, 2010 at 8:40 pm

I’m picturing my high school journalism teacher taking his red pencil to these sentences. They read as if the writers swallowed a dictionary and skipped learning basic grammar.

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Mike L

posted November 3, 2010 at 10:01 pm

This is not new! When I was in 8th grade 60 years ago I was far enough ahead of my English class that the teacher gave me the special assignment of of learning how to diagram sentences. Well, I can still find the noun and the verb, but I wouldn’t promise that I could remember anything else. I seriously doubt that most 8th graders today would even know what it meant to diagram a sentence.

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posted November 3, 2010 at 10:53 pm

It’s not limited to journalists. I received an e-mail from my son’s teach today, loaded with misspellings, poor grammar, and sentences that ended in questions marks. As we become a more visual society, we appear to be losing our ability to read and write. Ugh.

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posted November 4, 2010 at 8:04 am

This is just another example of style over substance in a narcissistic culture that tells children from the very day of their birth how wonderful they are without demanding that they enter into any sort of discipline or self-examination. On the other hand, surely the occasional qualified candidate stands out like a gem!

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