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Institutional Rumblings and Modernization

Posted by Tina Casagrand on September 10, 2008

by Kristina Casagrand and Chad Hesson

When Chad Hesson and I met before the event at 1:15, in our dress shirts and jeans, YouTube pins tacked to our messenger bags, we struck an appropriate image of freshmen trying to act experienced.  We arrived early, we looked sharp, but we sat at the back of the room, not daring to take a place at the fancy tables with the alumni. We’re the bloggers.  They’re the professionals.

The question of professionalism permeated the Institutional Rumblings and Modernization roundtable.  A board of distinguished MU grads and professors, who were obviously bribed into writing a book, discussed their contributions to Journalism—1908: Birth of a Profession.

Bill Taft, an ornery elderly man of the distinguished age of 93, composed a chapter of the book detailing the history of newspapers up to 1908. He adequately described them as country newspapers and rural publications, simply because those were the communities before that time. The outlook towards journalism must have been along the lines of  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but surely a more archaic phrase.  He claimed that on the edges of the 20th century, the idea was to simply change the demographics and not the wording.

Next we heard about Stephen Banning’s research (part of which he attributed to resources in Taft’s basement) on the influence of press associations in 1908.  In particular, the Missouri Press Association formed in 1867 to bring about unity in the field.  At the time, there were too many puff pieces, too many untrained editors.  And journalism, noted Banning, is “too noble of a calling to be left untrained.”

Lee Wilkins then “teased out the philosophical roots” of founding the journalism school, noting that journalists should be loyal to the public, only to be cancelled out by Fred Blevens’ talk of political and partisan press in 1908.  He described how some newspapers boasted how much control they had over public policy, and how newspapermen were hired to run campaigns, ending his thought with “and Olbermann and Matthews got the axe?”

Advertising in 1908 had yet to blossom into its current artistic force it is now, and Caryl Cooper’s enthusiasm for the subject mirrors the lack of inspiration educators felt for the field at the time.

During the question-and-answer session an alumnus argued that journalism is not a profession, saying it’s “not the same thing as what you have institutionalized in medicine and law.”  Betty Winfield countered, citing Walter Williams’ creed as proof of the profession.

Yet with technology and blogs rising as a form of communication it’s becoming harder to define journalism and professionalism.  One of the panel speakers pointed out that in the 1700’s, newspapers carried more analytic and critical essay writing.  Journalists have been working with the information collection model that has served us very well for 100 years, he said, and now we have a chance to examine that model.  He also added:

“We are people of moral worth beyond the money that we earn.  We count in a way that’s rooted in ethics and morals.  We need to recover OUR part of that conversation.”

Do bloggers reflect the new model, a return to the critical/analytic side of the pendulum?  We may not be professionals (yet), but as bloggers, we’re definitely the future.

One Response to “Institutional Rumblings and Modernization”

  1. absolutelyape said

    “We’re the bloggers, they’re the professionals.”

    Hmmm… you make it sound like there was a huge divide between the experienced people and those in the audience (young, not-so-experienced) during the roundtable discussion, but this was not the atmosphere of the roundtable discussion at all.

    Don’t have reservations about speaking up just because you blog or because you don’t have a lot of experience in the field. These professionals value your opinion and want to hear what you have to say.

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