Wednesday whimsy: Journalism circa 1940

I like to show a clip of this 1940 career film when I start my class unit on the challenges facing modern journalism.  (Although this copy is drawn from YouTube, the original comes from the superb Prelinger Archives.)

Of course, while the video is charmingly nostalgic and analog, it is also disturbingly simplistic and exclusionary. Both of these qualities make it a useful conversation-starter in the classroom.

Monday debate: The value of internships

Here at the School of Journalism & Mass Communication we’ve long had an internship course, J 697, that students can take for one credit to pair an academic experience with an outside work experience at a for-profit or non-profit media organization.  Many of our faculty serve as mentors for this course; my own version of J 697, perhaps unsurprisingly, involves a set of online collaboration experiences using weblogs, wikis, and shared reading repositories. We’re even moving forward on several projects to provide targeted scholarships to internship students to defray the cost of the academic credit.

The role of internship experiences as a useful supplement to academic training in a professional field like mass communication might seem obvious.  But increasingly the College of Letters and Science is looking at the way outside corporate and community internships of all sorts can productively complement a wide range of different majors.  One 2008 study found that 50% of all US graduating college seniors have had internship experience, so it’s clearly a trend that reaches beyond professional departments.  I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in a pilot project with the L&S Career Services office to offer a cross-college internship course, modeled on our own J 697, under the INTER-LS 400 course listing.  Last summer we had seventeen students participate in placements from all over the nation at a wide variety of organizations, from Merrill Lynch to the Milwaukee Brewers.  We’re running the course again this summer (sign up now!).

Delivering fair and useful internships can be tricky in times of tight labor markets, however.  A recent New York Times article on the subject pointed out that employers are treading carefully in order to stay within the bounds of labor law, especially with unpaid internships at for-profit organizations:

With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.

The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Rules for unpaid interning with non-profit organizations are different, and the situation remains in flux.  (Read the full article for more info.)  But for today’s Monday debate I wanted to ask: How do you think internships should fit into a journalism & mass communication education?  Into a general arts and sciences education?  Into the mass communication industry itself?

Friday blog rescue: Common Breath Media on WORT

Several SJMC students have developed their own weblogs related to their classroom, professional, and community work.  This Friday’s blog rescue pulls from Common Breath Media, the weblog of SJMC graduate student (and freelance reporter) Steve Furay.  Early in March Steve profiled our local community radio station, WORT:

WORT is an honored institution in Madison, a community radio station providing a voice for those concerned with world affairs, politics, local events and music that typically evades the airwaves. Established in 1975, the station is dependent upon contributions made from the local public, both in their programming and their revenue. WORT is now in the midst of its fund raising campaign, running through March 10, urging its listeners to pledge their support to help sustain its regular operations.

Community radio has long been an important medium for independent news outlets, and in a time of great change in the media landscape, there is a need to reemphasize its importance to the public. Radio is a medium that is not likely to evaporate due to the rise of the internet, and will perhaps increase in importance given the declining news coverage of the larger corporate press.

Community radio is often associated with progressive liberal opinions, but it is important to note that organizations of all political leanings benefit from and take advantage of the format, particularly faith based groups.

Norman Stockwell serves as the Operations Manager for WORT, and is a contributing host to the program “A Public Affair”. He has provided coverage of events such as the 1999 WTO protest in Seattle and multiple World Social Forum conventions around the world. Stockwell is also active with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, an alliance committed to community radio stations.

Stockwell explains that the community radio movement began as an outcry for those in support of peace, at a time when regular media outlets were unanimously calling for war.

“Community radio started in 1949 by a guy by the name of Lewis Hill, who was a conscientious objector during WWII,” says Stockwell. “He had also worked in commercial radio and he said, ‘there really needs to be a radio network that’s non-commercial, that’s not the slave to advertisers and advertising dollars. And there needs to be a radio network that promotes peace, because all the rest of the broadcast media is beating the drum for war.’ So in 1949, he started the Pacifica radio network, starting with one station, KPFA in Berkeley.”

KPFA became an originator of the community broadcasting format, the first listener supported station that relied upon the people’s pledges for its financial wellbeing. The station did not begin in isolation, as other community stations began to appear in its wake.

“There were other community radio stations popping up throughout the world,” explains Stockwell. “The Bolivian tin miners started a community radio station in Bolivia in 1949. In Columbia there was an educational community radio station that was started in 1949. So this idea was popping up around the world.”

The programming of KPFA had a knack for presenting views outside of the mainstream, in particular challenging the dominant narrative of the Cold War and the buildup of the military industrial complex. The station also gave voice to many artists, including the emergence of spoken word poetry.

“Here in the US, community radio developed in parallel track to the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and so on.  So the early community radio stations were very much in that spirit,” says Stockwell. “Lots of ideas, exchanging different theories and religious philosophies, all kinds of new avant garde music and so on. They were a patchwork quilt of all different kinds of programming, you never knew what was going to be on.”

See the full article for more — and click over to Common Breath Media on Facebook if you’d like to support Furay’s venture.

Wednesday whimsy: SJMC faculty & staff circa 1973

Here’s another photo from the archives, this time from around 1973, shortly after Vilas Hall opened.  (You can see that we still have the same furniture in the Nafziger Room, although the chairs have all been upgraded with wheels!)  How many do you recognize?  (Click on the image for a larger view.)

Monday debate: Politicians turned media personalities (and vice-versa)

Welcome back from break, everybody. Scanning my morning news diet for an interesting “Monday debate” topic, I came across an article in today’s New York Times by David Carr on Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s relatively rapid metamorphosis from unknown political actor to multi-million-dollar media property:

She was paid a $1.25 million retainer by HarperCollins. Her book, “Going Rogue,” has sold 2.2 million copies, according to its publisher, and she has another tentatively scheduled for this fall.

She now has an actual television career, including appearances as a pundit on Fox News, her gig as the host of “Real American Stories” four times a year, and a coming eight-part series on TLC called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which will cost, according to some media reports, $1 million an episode (a lot more than governors make for “Come visit!” P.S.A.’s).

Other people have crossed the border from politics to media to very good effect — George Stephanopoulos, Patrick Buchanan and Chris Matthews, to name a few — but the transition was far more gradual. Ms. Palin turned on a dime and was a ratings sensation from the word go: her first paid appearance, as a commentator on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Jan. 12, was good for an extra million viewers.

Her appeal doesn’t stop at the red states. When Ms. Palin stopped by to chat with Oprah Winfrey — not exactly friendly territory — the show achieved its biggest ratings in two years.

(You can read the rest of the piece here.)

This is a revolving door that we’ve seen before (wasn’t one of our former presidents a major Hollywood actor?) but in the era of digital networked media and 24-hour broadcast channels it may take on new significance.  What do you think?