A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

October letters to the editor

By Quill

August education issue should be read by all

To the Editor:

The August 2005 issue of Quill should be required reading for every new J-school grad, every editor, every manager of a newsroom, everyone who even thinks of training and professional development in the field.

In the “Training in Session” article on Page 8 alone, I found a number of tips and places to go that I didn’t already know about, and information from that article is going to my quality assurance staff (copy editors, proofreaders and page proofreaders) as well this summer’s editorial intern and our staff reporters. Great stuff!

Since Penobscot Bay Press publishes three small, community newspapers (total circulation 6,000), I was intrigued and appalled by the article on small-town papers on Page 16. Too much emphasis was placed on the co-mingling of the business and editorial sides of newspapers and not enough on the tough-love joys of publishing community news.

We are careful to describe the type of job potential reporters will have and try to ensure, during the interview process, that they will be compatible with the culture of both the company and our 10 communities before being hired. Also, PBP does not let ethics take a back seat to paychecks. Most small newspapers could not survive if, as one reporter said, “editors and publishers make deals with the locals” or, as Becky Blanton said, “the reality of small newspapers is they’re basically ads with stories on them.” Is there a different ethic in Maine?

Caroline Spear

Assistant Editor, Penobscot Bay Press

Stonington, Maine

Administrators upset with Quill, SPJ

To the Editor:

As longtime SPJ members, practicing professional journalists and administrators of a large journalism program, we were extremely upset by the tone and content of Joe Skeel’s “From the Editor” column in the August 2005 issue of Quill magazine.

He is entitled to his opinion about the value of a journalism education. In that, he’s hardly alone. Many journalists and journalism educators have raised these questions repeatedly since before the first journalism school opened its doors at the University of Missouri nearly 100 years ago.

Following the notion that journalism is merely a craft, Skeel dismisses classes such as ethics, law, history and others as learning “about the media.” We believe these classes are key to helping our students understand the profession in the context of a dynamic, democratic, diverse society. We do encourage our students to do internships, to work on student media; in our classes, we try to arrange for students to write for professional news organizations. We know there is no substitute for hands-on experience. But to say that our classes should be secondary to these experiences is insulting and demeaning.

Skeel’s statement, “College degrees have never translated into better journalism, and they never will,” is ludicrous on its face. It offends not only us, but also the hundreds of other dedicated academics who give countless hours of volunteer service to help SPJ build student chapters across the nation. It also undermines the work of SPJ members who serve on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, which is committed to the mission upholding high standards.

But even though we think Skeel is wrong, we are even more disappointed that the official magazine of SPJ would lend credence to his faulty and poorly fashioned arguments. After all, SPJ has more student members than any other professional journalism organization. SPJ’s board includes some very fine journalists-cum-educators, such as Terry Wimmer at West Virginia University and Richard Roth of Northwestern University. Across the nation, dozens of SPJ members work as adjunct journalism faculty members. Having the official magazine of an organization question the value of our service to the profession and our value to our students feels like a slap in the face.

Rose Ann Robertson

Wendell Cochran

American University

Quill right to take stance on J-schools

To the Editor:

I want to commend you for taking a stance on promoting the importance of better preparing journalism school students for careers in the field (“We all share blame when students aren’t prepared” by Editor Joe Skeel in the August issue of Quill). I haven’t seen an article of such power and importance for aspiring journalists.

I agree that universities, professionals and students collectively must take a stance on better preparing students for careers within the field.

As a senior at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, a staff writer for the Indianapolis Recorder and editor of IUPUI’s student publication, The Sagamore, I feel that students must step out from the classrooms and into internships to hone their stills and learn aspects of writing that can’t be taught in the classroom.

In your editorial, I found myself in the same situations you described. You told of universities not effectively preparing students, professionals’ lack of helping aspiring journalists and students who are concerned about their own careers or lack there of.

For four years I believe that I have done everything possible to prepare for a career in newspaper writing. I held two internships, embarked on writing for my university’s student publication and landed a professional job. Yet I am often told that I don’t have enough experience on my resume to snag an internship with one of the nation’s leading dailies.

So I say to organizations: Take a chance on those students who just need a little professional help. Organizations should stop worrying about how much it costs to train a student and take a chance. These students who are wanting and seeking help are the true dedicated journalists who often are pushed to the side. Professionals: Reach out and help students; become a mentor instead of a nonbeliever.

Ericka C. Wheeler


IUPUI School of Journalism