Wednesday, November 9

'Facts' is such a subjective term

Fern Greenbank, now the former Sidelines adviser, penned the following letter to the Scene:

Standards deviation

I am writing in response to your “Let the Kids Be” blurb in the Nov. 3 Desperately Seeking the News column. While I “get” the gossip nature of the column, I did think consideration of facts was given to those columns, such as the facts I relayed to you during a phone conversation but which seem to have been disregarded for some reason in your interpretive process.

If you read the body of literature related to journalism education, you’ll find that for decades media professionals have harshly criticized undergraduate journalism programs for not holding journalism students to high enough standards and for not exposing them to the impact, real and potential, of their actions. When an educator makes a concerted attempt to hold students to high standards under a new business (profit) student newspaper model and a local journalist suggests I should “let the kids be” to encourage experimentation, and to deceive advertisers and refuse to consider the impact their actions are having on revenue as long as they are not caught, it doesn’t help my efforts.

If you’ll visit MTSU’s School of Journalism, as invited, you’ll find a tremendous number of talented and dedicated students who hold themselves to high standards and want to learn all they can about all aspects of newspaper production, including the business side. The School of Journalism is currently in the process of revising and raising all its standards, from academic requirements to program requirements to engaging in relevant and useful cutting edge research. It would be helpful if local journalists would support local journalism educators in their efforts to exceed industry standards in terms of ethics, the law, reporting and writing technique and yes, even business management.

Fern Greenbank

MTSU Sidelines Interim Publisher


Look, I know Fern is trying to remain on her high horse while still stooping low enough to get her hands deep into the paper's editorial mud here, but her implication that somehow the J-School is populated with talent and that Sidelines is not is an affront to reality. I've had classes with these lusciously "talented" J-Schoolers, and they're no more talented than any of the Sidelines kids, who at least have the mental faculties to wander their way up the stairs every day to get to the office. Oh yeah, and they put out a paper three times a week — many of them poorly paid or unpaid, while holding up other part- and full-time jobs — all while battling an adviser who belittles their efforts at every turn.

If Fern is saying that the staff needs work, so be it. Of course it does. It always has and always will. That's the point of the paper, for god's sake! They're students. They make mistakes and missteps. Always have and always will. (To my colleagues, all I can say is "'fuck' on the front page, Advocare, a bowl of chili, and cartoon hamburgers.") That's part of it. But being led by someone who would rather, as an attorney told me, "cure a headache with a shotgun" than take an aspirin and learn how to avoid getting headaches altogether is not going to improve the quality of the paper or inspire the kids to want to do better.

I guess it's silly to debate this now, since she has resigned her post. Thank the journalism gods for that. She was belligerent to the staff — my friends, dammit — and she disrespected them in ways a true leader would be ashamed of.

The next adviser needs to have a very clear understanding of his or her rights (which Fern clearly didn't) and duties. He or she will need to find a comfortable position between proactively interested and hands-off. This means working with the staff, not around them, or behind closed doors with school administrators, to come up with systematic strategies that will improve reporting, photography, and content. This does not mean coming in on production nights and copy editing or writing headlines. This means working especially hard to beef up the advertising functions and "staff" so that the paper's money flow doesn't depend entirely on the two people running it now. This means resurrecting the Flash tab, which is a major source of income thanks to that lucrative back-page ad (which, if Fern was truly concerned about business consequences, she would not have killed). The next adviser should not be a voting member of the editor selection board. We saw how brilliantly that worked with Fern, who endorsed an outside candidate, alienated the staff, and pitted staffer against staffer in a subtle competition for her favor in case anyone wanted to run for editor in the future.

To the staff, congratulations on your victory. Now is the time to prove to yourselves and any who would doubt you that you don't need an overbearing micromanager who will subvert your authority and treat you like children. The time is now to stand up and show your most professional, hard-hitting, responsible side. You guys know I have every faith in you to overcome whatever adversity you face. And I expect you to kick ass in the process.


Blogger Wendy said...

Awww, thanks, Linners. Did you hear about my Sim engagement? Sim Johnny Depp and Sim Wendy are getting married!

And, you know, ding dong the witch is dead, or at least going to back the fuck off, which is just as good.

Wed Nov 09, 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger J. R. said...

Well, congrats to my former (and future?) colleagues at Sidelines, first of all.

Secondly, I can't believe this Fern lady, being a journalism professor, didn't know that "cutting edge research" should be "cutting-edge research." Does no one have respect for the adjectival compound noun hyphen? Are we beasts?

Thu Nov 10, 02:06:00 AM  

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