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Watching the watchdog: Tell Columbia's news media what you think

Thursday, May 15, 2008 | 7:11 p.m. CDT; updated 8:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Tom Warhover is the Columbia Missourian's executive editor for innovation.

In September, an international community of journalists will descend on our town for the centennial celebration of the Missouri School of Journalism and, not coincidentally, the Columbia Missourian.

Tell them what you really think about the news media.

Columbia has shaped future journalists for nearly a century now. Our town has been the proving ground for journalists now working around the globe. Those journalists get paychecks from every organization imaginable.

In other words, alumni from the Missouri School of Journalism can claim some responsibility for the news you read, listen to or watch.

So here’s your chance.

The Missourian is collaborating with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Columbia Human Rights Commission through its Study Circles program to create a series of conversations on the state of the news media. The dates (get your calendar; I’ll wait) are June 26, July 14 and Aug. 4. The objective: Create conversation about the state of the news media today and what it might be tomorrow. Volunteer facilitators will guide the group. The local news media can attend – but as spectators, not participants.

This isn’t idle talk.

If all goes well, the groups will produce suggestions, complaints, questions – points they think all those journalists in September should hear. Then participants will be given VIP passes to all the panels and events during the official centennial hooplah Sept. 10-12. You’ll be able to ask the questions and make the comments that you and your fellow Columbians have developed.

My students say I’m burying the lede: free food. They are generally a hungry bunch, and short of cash.

The institute has kindly offered to help fund refreshments and hors’ d oeuvres at each of the summer gatherings. And, if the new building is finished in time, one or more of the conversations could be held there. It would be a fitting christening for the institute, which is most interested in the intersection of citizens and journalism.

I hope to see you there.

Tom


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Comments

Mike Martin May 16, 2008 | 9:52 p.m.

Speaking as a professional writer, and longtime member of many professional writing organizations, what bothers me most about local media -- including the Missourian -- is that many local media outlets and publications have writers and other regular contributors they aren't paying.

At the Missourian, this includes regular columnists such as David Rosman and Karl Miller. It did include John Merrill, dismissed by the Missourian for plagiarism.

Journalism's greatest contemporary shortcoming is compensation and job
security. With the exception of a few superstars at the top, it's a
hard-knock life out there for the average journalist.

That a teaching institution -- the world's top journalism school by many accounts -- would actively contribute to the problem and set such a poor example is mind-boggling.

What's more, David, Karl, et. al. function with the voice and authority of professionals, observing and writing through that lens. The Missourian holds them to professional standards, like not plagiarizing. The reading public consistently expects professional behavior from them.

But being a professional means being paid for your work. After all, the other professionals at the Missourian don't work for free.

I've heard the argument that the Missourian is non-profit -- but so what? The entire university is non-profit. What's more, the Missourian sells its paper; sells advertising; and MU charges tuition to its students. Not paying writers who help make the paper what it is, is inequitable on just about every front.

Journalists are the heralds of social and economic justice, and thank God we are.

But we also need to practice what we preach. In the case of compensation, no less than our future as a profession is at stake.

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