As a journalism major in the 70s, Watergate was always central to my image of what it meant to be a journalist. Even in the 20 some odd years that I taught high school journalism, I pointed to the work of “Woodstein” at the Washington Post as a model of the Fourth Estate, the watchdog function of the press in action. After dozens of screenings of “All the President’s Men,” I still get almost mesmerized by the process those reporters used to help bring down the presidency, and I love that moment when Jason Robards looks at his two young reporters, after asking them if they could really trust this Deep Throat guy, and says “print that baby” referring to the story that ultimately connected Nixon to the break in. It’s like every journalist’s grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win moment.
Jay Rosen’s deconstruction of the events of those times and the surrounding discussion of the “religion of journalism” takes some of the glimmer off of what he calls the “myth of Watergate” and rightfully so. But as I read his post and the accompanying notes and comments, I started thinking about two of my former students who are graduating in a couple of weeks and heading to U. of Iowa and Ohio U. (my alma mater) for journalism school. I wonder what their dream about journalism is. I wonder, in this very disruptive time for the profession, what it was that attracted them to it. We talk about how we can all be journalists now, about citizen journalism, about not having to have a degree or experience to participate. And I wonder what the role of reporter will be. (Jeff Jarvis has a great post on the changing nature of J-School that notes the challenges.) Their experience at school needs to be much different from mine, no doubt.
It will be interesting to see the answers. I know this, however, I learned more from Jay’s post than I would from the traditional sources. The amazing thing is reading his entry which, with commments, encompased more that 16,000 words, the equivalent of about 40 pages in a book, and realizing that this really is the new journalism, the collaborative effort to understand an event, to negotiate its significance, and to clarify its meaning. It’s a lot of work, much more than watching Fox. But it’s so worth it. If we could teach our kids to become parts of these conversations, to write about the things that mean something to them, they’d all greatly benefit, whether they became journalists or not.