1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

Malcolm Gladwell's advice to aspiring journalists

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Dick Whitman, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    My wife bought "What the Dog Saw" today, and I was reading an interview with him that is in the back (apparently reprinted from Time magazine).

    Anyway, I am posting it here because it echoes some of the advice that has been thrown out here when the occasional youngster comes along to seek advice.

    Gladwell talks about a Bloomberg reporter who broke the Enron story, and how he'll never lack for work because he "can read a balance sheet."

    Then comes the money quote, which I happen to agree with 100 percent and wish I had heeded back when I was young(er), mobile, and working with a clean slate:

    “Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master’s in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that’s the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter.”

    I recall an outstanding opinion piece I read after the BP oil spill about how the coverage was poor because journalists don't understand science and engineering. Thought of that today - wish like hell I could remember where it was at - as I read the New Yorker's BP mega-story this week, along with Gladwell's quote.

    If you are absolutely dedicated to sports, I would say things like salary cap expertise or college sports budget issue expertise might help set you apart.
  2. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    Also, funky hair = lifetime visibility.
  3. Untitled

    Untitled New Member

    Or you could just take those courses and go into a more lucrative field and say screw journalism altogether.
    Just a thought.
  4. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Just being fluent in another language would go a long way on some beats.
  5. Turtle Wexler

    Turtle Wexler Member

    I think having a degree or experience in another field is a tremendous advantage. However, I'm not a fan of people who have that econ degree or MBA thinking they can be a journalist without some sort of formal training.

    Yes, I know you can be a journalist without formal training. But people in that situation usually have a foundation: a few years of entry-level work under the wing of a veteran editor where they learn the craft.

    How are these engineering majors going to learn about journalism ethics? Or the difference between a column and profile and curtain-raiser? Or AP style? Or how to research public records or interview a public official? -- All while they're writing that big A1 explainer on the oil spill?
  6. Kato

    Kato Active Member

    This is interesting. I've often thought that a journalism major needs to include some classes from other departments. The reporting classes I took were great, J-history and J-law were were informative and interesting. Ethics was important. But, looking back, I should have taken at least on statistics class, maybe a business class of some kind. Those would have been really valuable, especially when you consider that the bulk of my journalism education wasn't in the classroom but three years on the student paper.
  7. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I think that what he is saying is that this is a way to actually make journalism a lucrative field, or at least well-paying and stable enough to go into when you factor in both money and love of the game. You've got to remember this is a guy who has been a staff writer at The New Yorker for a couple decades. His frame of reference isn't a $20,000 salary at the Hungry Horse Gazette. He's talking to/at people with major ambition.

    Reading between the lines, as it is a short quote, it sounds like he's talking more about journalism graduate programs than undergraduate programs. Not presuming to speak for him, but my interpretation is that Gladwell wouldn't have an issue with someone majoring in journalism in undergrad, but doing it in conjunction with a rigorous other major (hard science, economics, stats, etc., etc.) or supplementing the J-degree with a masters degree in such a topic. Again, maybe I'm projecting, but I think that is a reasonable conclusion to reach based on his quote.

    If I were a hiring editor, and two resumes passed by my desk, with person majoring in journalism and engineering and the other majoring in journalism and English, I would probably be inclined to hire the engineering person rather than the one who spent four years analyzing "Jane Eyre." And I am the "Jane Eyre" guy. And I think that this is a departure from traditional hiring philosophy. I can remember my parents and my high school journalism adviser pushing me hard to major in English because it will "make you a great writer."
  8. Boom_70

    Boom_70 Well-Known Member

    This exact philosophy is what makes Dr Atul Gawande such an effective and convincing writer for the New Yorker on medical issues.
  9. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    I might have agreed with him 5 years ago, but I think the industry has gone into specialization overdrive.

    Some of the great journalists are quick studies-- able to intake, parse and triage highly technical information on almost any topic-- then bring it down to a plain-English level.

    What's so bad about being a Renaissance man?

    If the BP coverage was bad, it's not because we don't have enough engineers as journalists. It's because the journalism industry has been decimated.
  10. Some Guy

    Some Guy Active Member

    It's like a doctor knowing everything one needs to know about the kidney in order to perform a transplant, except how to use the scalpel.
  11. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Gladwell is very smart, and sometimes right, but he's also almost always insufferable.
  12. bumpy mcgee

    bumpy mcgee Well-Known Member

    I think the also extremely insufferable Mark Cuban hinted at this years ago.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page