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Different Views on the Future of News

Count me among the “traditionalists who are in a tizzy” over the fact that the highly respected Medill School of Journalism now has decided its mission is to produce graduates capable of writing short, snappy prose for entertainment magazines, TV shows and web sites [“The Future of News,” fall 2006].

Scholars in universities all across the nation are decrying the damage to democracy that has been created by media corporations treating journalism as a product to be marketed, not information vital to the citizenry. As a result, most Americans believed Iraq attacked the United States on 9/11, most senior citizens were shocked when hitting the “doughnut hole” Congress put in their Medicare drug coverage, and polls showed that most folks could name three of the Seven Dwarfs but not three of the nine Supreme Court justices.

But at Medill, professors will be showing students how to write a probing podcast about Angelina and Brad because, in the 21st century, good journalism is about “giving the people what they want.”

I weep for the future of news reporting.

Charles McKenna (J75)
New York City

I enthusiastically support Medill Dean John Lavine’s approach to a curricula redesign at the school. While I still very much value my Medill degree (even 30 years later) and the tremendous education I received while in the graduate program in Evanston, I sincerely believe Dean Lavine is on the right course when it comes to the types of challenges today’s Medill grads will face — and the skills they will need to excel in an industry that is undergoing continuous technological and editorial change.

As a longtime television news executive and a past chair of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, I’ve had the alternating delight and frustration of having to hire or review applicants for a variety of news posts, both on- and off-air. Too often young journalists present themselves without any real understanding of the role of market research as it relates to how we produce our products. Of even greater concern, too many applicants lack any real familiarity with the current tools of our trade, especially in this increasingly digital world.

Bravo, Dean Lavine, for leading the effort to position Medill as a “cutting-edge” leader in journalism education, while still respecting the school’s fine reputation and storied history.

Mike Cavender (GJ77)
Duluth, Ga.

I found it very interesting that in the story about the future of news not a single mention was made of the need to be truthful with the news. Most of the news media (with very few exceptions) is nothing more than a biased editorial, and it is not labeled as such. It is no wonder then that readers and viewers turn to alternative sources for their news!

Larry McGregor (EB59)
Scottsdale, Ariz.

One of the potential casualties of the rush to new journalism is a loss of older skills such as careful proofreading. For example, in “A New Vision — Medill 2020,” author Josh Kwan writes that the president and provost “ … have given Lavine free reign to transform the school.”

The expression “free rein” refers to giving a horse, guided by reins, the freedom to choose its own path. Kings reign; reins steer. Remember not to spell by ear.

Kristen “Kris” Gallagher (KSM89)
Oak Park, Ill.

With respect to the “The Future of News” article by Josh Kwan, in one of the photo captions in the sidebar on Kevin Sites, the editor writes “In Indian-controlled Kashmir, Sites walks … .”

Please allow me to remind you that the entire state of Kashmir belongs rightfully to India. It was bequeathed to India by Maharaja Hari Singh at the time of partition [the division of the former British colony into India and Pakistan when British rule ended] in August 1947. [Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union in October 1947.] The Pakistani incursion into Kashmir is entirely illegal and has led to naming that occupied portion as “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.”

That does not mean that the remainder of Kashmir (the portion not occupied by Pakistan) is Indian-controlled Kashmir! It is territory rightfully belonging to India no matter what the U.S. government and its citizens think or are ignorant of.

The main reason I point out this mistake is that the longer it goes unchecked, the higher the likelihood that this perception will be considered reality.

I think that a school of journalism that calls itself “world class” should be well aware of the fact that Pakistan is in clear violation in the state of Kashmir.

Manbir S. Nag (GMcC90)
Oak Ridge, N.C.

I consider Josh Kwan’s story “The Future of News” an excellent and comprehensive review of today’s media environment. We’ve come a long way since the days of black-and-white television when I attended Northwestern.

Bob Lewis (C47, GC48)
Lawrence, Kan.

Your fall cover story was an extremely interesting and exceptionally well-written article about what is going on at Medill. For once I could understand what the “digitalization” of the contemporary news business is all about. Now someone should do a similar article on the School of Communication’s new thrust into the “digital age.” Isn’t it time there is some real meaningful collaboration between the two schools, with joint degree programs similar to those at Medill and the Kellogg School of Management referred to in the article?

Richard H. Coyle (C52)

Bilingual? Sí, Como No!

I enjoyed the article “Becoming Bilingual: A Two-Way Street" [Purple Prose, fall 2006]. Considering the direction of this country, I think an ability to speak Spanish will be important to the success of all college grads. In the future I expect we will find Spanish courses popping up in the required studies of many Northwestern schools.

Leslie “Les” Inglis (McC56)
Nokomis, Fla.

Bridge Gap Widens

I enjoyed your photo of the bridge game with the story “Bridging the Gap” [News on Campus, fall 2006]. Too bad the hand of cards that is clearly visible only has 12 cards! At least the other three hands hold 13 cards.

Mark Wolfinger (G68)

Clothes Do Make that Man

Just wanted to commend you on the well-written article “Clothes Force” [fall 2006]. Clinton Kelly sounds like a great guy, and that really came across in Anne Taubeneck’s piece.

Natalie Jaikaran

Kudos on Using Renewable Energy

I loved the story detailing the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and Northwestern’s place as the “second-largest purchaser of alternative energy in higher education” [“Northwestern Commits to Renewable Energy,” News on Campus, summer 2006].

Thanks for actually making the commitment and for publicizing it to the alumni. It is an important issue to many of us!

Linda J. Hoyer (J71)
Whittier, Calif.

Student-Athlete Days

Your article on “Club ’Cats [summer 2006] brought back two memories of my student-athlete past. The first is of the game speedball, of which I had not heard before my time at Northwestern nor since. Played on a field with goals similar to soccer on either end, the play started at the center of the field by throwing the ball to players until the ball hit the ground, when the game then evolved into a version of soccer.

The second memory is of two ad hoc teams of coeds that played two-hand touch football. We were coached by a varsity football player. I still remember the time I left my position and batted down a pass.

I haven’t played speedball or touch football since graduation and confine my activity now to daily walking, but the memories remain.

Sally Farr Vasey (WCAS51)
New Haven, Conn.

Walkway Memory

I loved the beautiful photo of the walk from the arch to University Hall on the inside front cover [fall 2006]. It was on that very spot that I met President Walter Dill Scott on just such a pretty fall morning in 1931.

President Scott was walking down from University Hall when he noticed my green freshman beanie. He said, “Good morning, young man,” and asked about my first impressions of Northwestern. We chatted a few minutes, and it was a great experience for me.

Morris L. Rinehart (EB35)
Poway, Calif.

Editor’s note: The small arch pictured on the inside front cover of the fall 2006 issue, located on the east side of Sheridan Road across from Cahn Auditorium, was a gift from the class of 1906.