Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Graduate(s)

Yesterday my parents, Anita and I attended our younger daughter Rubina's graduation from the Columbia School of Journalism. Amidst the fun and revelry I found almost all of Rubina's classmates that we met to be remarkably pleasant and friendly. They were bright as I expected of Columbia students, and (from all the hugs enthusiastic hugs exchanged) had warm family ties.

Columbia may have done a good job profiling and selecting the right people into the program but is there also a self-selection dynamic at work here? Journalism is typically a tough career with lousy pay. So it may attract people for whom money is less important, and have a sense of idealism or a passion for sharing their news and views. So could such profession/schools attract more of the "nicer" types? This is analogous to the Anita's belief that school teachers tend to be nice people. Not that all journalists or media are ethical or objective by a long shot. Think Fox News. While in public service in India I saw a couple from The Indian Express (one of whom's now a bureau chief) who concocted news to make sensational headlines and try extorting favors.

So I do have some concerns about the type and nature of media coverage. But at least these graduating students show that many people of good caliber and outlook are entering and sustaining the profession in the US and abroad.

Here are some pictures of the graduation and related events (click left for more.) I'm glad my parents could attend this graduation ceremony - their first in the US. Rubina's in most of them, with a couple of our family (sans Sheena who is in Austin.)


Rubina said...

I tend to like journalists more than people in most other professions. I think it does depend slightly on personality type which careers people choose. This could explain why I'm not fond of most investment bankers I've met in New York (Nikhil and a few others excluded).

Of course it also depends on the medium. Newspaper reporters are in my experience usually goal-oriented, hard-working and dedicated to public service. Even among those there are those who sensationalize their stories or make them up entirely. Magazine editors can go either way -- while they're generally excellent writers, there are also some magazines that bring out the worst in them (see Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue or Atoosa Rubenstein, former editor of Seventeen).

Broadcast reporters are the same way. While many of them are excellent, some of the on-camera ones are in the field more out of narcissism than dedication to public service. It's impossible to generalize just based on profession, but there are definitely some trends. I've encountered enough bad editors to know they exhibit the same negative qualities as managers in every field.

Sandip Madan said...

Yes, Rubina, as you said while we cannot overly generalize there is some truth to the saying of birds of a feather...

That was an interesting comment about investment bankers (or more generally about the Wall Street types.) There are actually pronounced differences in culture among the firms. Goldman Sachs seems to have a more nurturing and value-driven environment while Merrill Lynch is a dog-eat-dog world. It's no coincidence that more Goldman Sachs types enter public service and generally do good (Jon Corzine, Robert Rubin, even Henry Paulson though he is handicapped as a part of the GWB team.)

About broadcast reporters we had noticed that most of your classmates were very nice looking and wondered if it was because they were going into broadcasting. You said that would account for only about a fourth of the class. Well, maybe it was more of a matter of beauty coming out from the inside. :-)

Anonymous said...

Rubina, Congratulations on graduating from such a fine school. I see beads of perspiration coming from your father's picture thinking of the bills he had to pay:))

My question to you is: Do you think Judith Miller, the reporter from the NY Times do the right thing by not disclosing her
source? Do you feel a reporter have to go to the authorities if she knows a crime has or will be committed? After all, even a lawyer or priest will go the police if a murderer says he will kill. Where is the line? Is Miller honorable or being used?

Anonymous said...

Rubina, Is the newspaper business model dead? We get more and more from the internet, Youtube, magazines etc. In a sense everyone is a journalist because we have our cell phones which can snap pictures anywhere.

Do you find that news reporting is becoming too editorialized? Decades ago we would see news and then there was an editorial section with the publisher's bent. Today the whole station or paper has a certain bias. Fox says they are neutral but have one or two right wing hourly programs. MS NBC says they are neutral with one or two left wing programs. But I find Fox right leaning and MS NBC left leaning and sensational.

Rubina said...


On the Judith Miller question, I'd say most journalists are against using anonymous sources at all. When they do, it's a matter of the issue severely outweighing the ethical implications of using anonymous sources. It's problematic because the reporter is not being honest with the readers about the source's motivation. For example, a candidate can smear the other candidate's campaign without facing any consequences if s/he hides behind being an anonymous source. I've written hundreds of articles, and never used a single anonymous source. I'd have to think long and hard before doing it.

That said, I do think there should be a shield law for journalists protecting them from revealing their sources. Judith Miller isn't the best example because she was a pretty awful reporter. She personally was responsible for a lot of NY Times articles saying weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq. Incidentally, she has been spotted at the Journalism School several times this year (though, thankfully, she is not an alum).

As for newspapers, I don't think they're dead, but their current model isn't working. There will always be a demand for information, and so there will always be reporters. One thing you notice about bloggers is that VERY few of them do their own reporting. They take their information from other sources and then write up their own analysis and opinion. Until they're the ones making phone calls and doing investigative journalism, I'm not too worried.

In the future, I foresee several kinds of journalism surviving:
1. the wires (Reuters, Associated Press, Dow Jones) -- reporting on national and international issues for most newspapers (I should add I'm biased because I interned for Reuters and am interning for the AP this summer.)

2. community newspapers -- ones with a very local focus. People are always interested in the new roads coming up, what's happening in their kids' schools and within their municipal government. Before coming to Columbia, I was the education reporter at a small newspaper, which was actually growing in circulation every year. Newspapers should primarily be focusing on community news.

3. opinion journalism -- I don't think the model of objectivity is necessarily the best, and it has a short history. The rise of blogs and web magazines have made readers flock to people who don't just give the facts, but context and what they mean. American newspapers may in the future stop pretending to be objective and be more open in their biases, just as they are in the U.K. Already many of the most popular newspapers are tabloids that have definite slants.

Sorry for the long response. Hope that answered your questions!


Anonymous said...

Sorry I keep having to log in as anonymous. Google never seems to recognize my password. Any hints blogmeister?

Rubina, thank you for your insight. I can see why NYT made Judith Miller walk the plank. What areas of journalism are you persuing... business, science, arts?

Rubina said...

I really could write about anything. I was an education reporter before, so that really interests me. I did business/technology reporting for Reuters until recently. Most of what I'll be doing for the AP is general assignment.

david mcmahon said...

Dear Rubina,

Congratulations. I'm sure you are a great credit to your parents.

Sandip and Anita, congratulations too. You've done a great job.

Wonderful to be associated with your family ....


Anonymous said...

Rubina, Do you feel the whole media business is going "shock". 30 years ago we never had anyone use foul language on the air or print. Today we have Stern,Imus etc.

30 years ago we had very credible but bland headlines in our newspapers. Today, Paris Hilton's jail sentence frequently makes the front pages. Do we have to shock to be in business?

Rupert Murdoch has been accused of transforming the media into this manner. He's taken a few boring newspapers and Fox TV and made them sensational but profitable enterprises. However, others argue that these papers were dying a slow and boring death and Murdoch has simply injected life into the business. Today he wants to take over Dow Jones? Would and should the Wall Street Journal look like the New York Post?

Rubina said...

Thanks, David. I appreciate that.

Jadra, I'm not really one for censorship on the airwaves. Honestly I don't think a lot of kids today listen to talk radio (besides NPR) unless their parents are irresponsible enough to put on Howard Stern. I do think it's probably better he went to satellite radio.

Newspapers were much more sensationalized 100 years ago than they are today. Take a look at old issues of the New York World or the New York Herald. There's a reason they call the Spanish-American war "Pulitzer's War." They just blatantly made things up to sway public pressure.

I don't have a problem with the New York Post, though I don't think it should be the only way people get news. I think they do a tremendous job at what they do, and their circulation numbers reflect that. Their reporting is usually equally good (if not better) than the New York Times on local issues. It's just their writing that takes on a sensationalistic slant. Plus coming up with those headlines requires a certain level of genius.

I have no desire to work for the tabloids full-time -- I have worked a few shifts for them and it has been very stressful. I certainly respect the New York Post and the New York Daily News because I know a lot of reporters there and they're excellent.

And even if Rupert Murdoch took over the WSJ, I think he'd be smart enough to maintain most of the current features of the newspaper. It already has one of the highest circulations in the country, higher than either of the NYC tabloids or even the New York Times.

Anonymous said...

Rubina, Thank you for all your well thought out responses. What is your opinion as to why the media is accused of being "liberal"? Every GOP candidate has sprouted that line. I find the NY Times liberal because there is always a front page sob story of some orphan in some obscure place. But with Murdoch controlling so many aspects of the media how can it be liberal? Do most press reporters, or people in your class vote left?