Being Bob Schmuhl

by Jack Rooney

Imaginary internet points to you if you get my title reference

I like this assignment because it literally requires only my unfiltered opinion on something. And being 19 years old, I have irrationally strong opinions on everything. Not surprisingly, I have strong opinions on my education, especially when it comes to journalism. I agree with what has been said in class before (and by our friend Hedrick Smith) that we at Notre Dame benefit from a journalism minor, allowing us to major in whatever else we want. Professor Ciccone said last semester it would greatly benefit us to “become an expert” in something other than journalism before actually becoming a journalist. I also agree Ciccone’s notion that journalism graduate school is kind of B.S. Still, there are a few things that all aspiring journalists should know, especially looking into the uncertain future of the profession. Ranging from the practical to the philosophical, the following courses need to be at least offered in any journalism curriculum.

1. Reporting/Researching

I haven’t taken it yet, but I know Notre Dame JED offers “Advanced Reporting” with Jack Colwell from the South Bend Tribune. I plan on taking it at some point because more than anything, journalists need to know how to report. As a research institution, Notre Dame provides a good foundation for all students on how to effectively research, but journalists need to take their research out of the library. In our current discussion of the need for knowledge-based reporting, Patterson offers a shift in information as a possible solution. Instead of relying on official sources, journalists ought to rely on the official documents that are available to the public (or can be made so through the Freedom of Information Act). In the pursuit of the truth, journalists should not shy away from pouring over thousands of pages of documents to find significance. On a more basic level, journalism students need to be able actually report. I learned how to report by writing for The Observer more than I did in any classroom (side note: everyone in the JED program should also work in student media in some capacity. There’s a wide enough variety of options that there’s really no excuse not to). Journalism students, before going after internships, need to know how to conduct an interview and how to fact check. 

2. Ethics

In a story on The Observer‘s website from earlier this week (due to space shortage it didn’t actually appear in the paper), former CFO of HealthSouth Weston Smith said, “When I hear people say business ethics I cringe because I think ethics is ethics. It’s just a question of where it’s played out.” Take the same concept and apply it to journalism. The fundamentals class touched on ethics, but seeing as it’s right there in the title of the minor, we should probably place more of an emphasis on it. Requiring JED minors to use their second philosophy university requirement on an ethics class is not out of line, and neither is including an “Ethics of Journalism” class. 

3. Sociology of News/Journalism and American Democracy

For this course, I am imagining our current class, but with a little more emphasis on Schudson-like reading. This class has fundamentally changed the way I look at the media and its role in Democracy, which again, since it’s in the title of the minor, should be a point of emphasis. Any journalist should understand why they do what they do, and a class like this one at least gets that internal conversation started. A class like this not only forces journalism students to think about the press in the context of American Democracy, but also brings sociological issues to the forefront. Personally speaking, this class has made me actively consider sources, framing, and audiences (among other issues) in my own work with The Observer.

4. Coding

This recommendation stems from a point of personal ignorance because I have not the slightest clue how to write code, or exactly what it means to do so. Nevertheless, I have read, and continue to read, countless articles that urge modern journalists to know how to code. So, I figure I, and other journalism students, should probably get on that while we’re still in the part of our lives where learning is our only actual job. 

5. Statistics

This is another “modern” thing, and something we have spent a good deal of time talking about in class. If Nate Silver and 538 is the future of news coverage, shouldn’t journalists be statisticians, too? I’m not saying all JED minors should be ACMS majors (though the thought has crossed my mind more than once that I should study stats more rigorously), but all journalists, in sports or news, should know how to understand and analyze numbers. Journalists have always been good at facts, but figures are a different story. One of the strongest ways to make an argument is by effectively incorporating verifiable numbers into the argument and analyzing their significance and meaning. Journalists, in their role of informing the public, should be able to digest and properly interpret important statistics and use them to their advantage. 

6. Journalism Law/The First Amendment

Last year I took a class entitled “Intro to the First Amendment,” and until I took this class, it was my favorite at Notre Dame. The class was a blend of history and case law surrounding the most treasured American constitutional rights, and provided me with a solid foundation in the law behind speech. As we mentioned in class this past week, journalism is the only profession explicitly protected by the Constitution, so I think it behooves all journalists to know the law behind their profession. 

7. Internship

This one was a no-brainer, and thankfully something that JED already requires. For as much as we want to talk about journalism education, if anybody is serious about actually becoming a journalist, the best way is to learn by doing. Journalism has always been a learn-as-you-go type of job, so why not get some practical experience before actually entering the profession. If anything, internships will help some journalism students arrive at the conclusion that this isn’t really what they want to do with their lives, which frankly saves a few years of your life and what I imagine to be a decent amount of unhappiness. I can’t wait to go do my internship(s) because I’m ready to take my journalism education out of the classroom and into the newsroom (full disclosure, that was taken essentially verbatim from my cover letter any new-related internship I have ever applied for). Ciccone preached the necessity of internships, and every subsequent interaction I have had with anyone in professional journalism has echoed his sentiment. Internships are the foundation of a career in journalism, and if the purpose of an education is to prepare for a career (though I personally don’t believe it is), then internships should be a part of any journalism school or program. 


For those of you keeping score at home, I referenced The Observer three times this blog. That’s a new record. 

And the title is a reference to the 1999 cult classic Being John Malkovich. It was a bad joke. I apologize (but not really)