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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, April 18, 2008

Georgetown U. Journalists Underwhelmed by The Newseum

One of the great pleasure of the past year has been my role as "media advisor" to the four student newspapers at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. The role involves meeting with the editors and writers of each newspaper once a week to discuss what worked and what didn't in the most recent editions.

Georgetown University defines itself as a Catholic and Jesuit institution. Although the university prides itself on its liberal approach to many issues, I sense an inherent tension between the university's stated mission and the normal undergraduate instinct to rebel against authority. That makes the role of a campus newspaper at Georgetown much more intense and relevant than might be found at a non-demoninational institution.

Each of the four Georgetown newspapers provides a specific approach to editorial options.

There is the so-called establishment paper, "The Hoya" which appears twice a week, and is trying to overcome a reputation for being staid and respectable. So far, I think it's doing a good job in re-defining itself by breaking news and engaging in some sharply pointed commentaries to balance the obligatory weekly guest columns written by Georgetown University Jesuit priests.

There's the monthly, "The Georgetown Independent" which is staffed mostly by some very impressive and smart young women. The Independent's role is to present a more subtle and nuanced take on life on "The Hilltop" as the Georgetown University campus is known.

There is an African-American oriented newspaper, "The Fire This Time." It tries to present a more diverse view of into an overwhelmingly white and middle class Georgetown University student culture.

And there is "The Georgetown Voice" which has a more puckish and spritely tone. If the university has an alternative newspaper, this is likely it.

All four newspapers - and the extraordinary people who work long hours to produce them - share similar perspectives: that journalism is a vitally important aspect of university life and that newspapering has a real democratic value for the benefit of the Georgetown University community. These are idealistic journalists and I hope that they are able to find a role in the rapidly shifting media landscape that awaits them when they graduate.

Their idealism is frequently apparent in the stories they write.

This week, one of The Voice's reporters, Sara Carothers, reviewed the Newseum, that massively endowed and lavishly appointed paean to American journalism which recently opened on Pennsylvania Avenue, here in the nation' capitol.

Her review is a timely reminder that another generation will deal probably deal harshly with the legacy of commercial journalism that they will inherit.

Appropriately, her review is entitled, "The Newseum: Where The News Comes to Die."

Her report is a warning about the enormous disconnect between the anxious smugness of the media today, and the next generation of journalists that is nipping at the media's heels and committed to doing better.

I haven't seen The Newseum yet but plan to soon. I'll go mindful of a young journalist's skeptical attitude about how smug and self-congratulatory the mainstream media can sometimes be.

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